There was no Simpsons episode this past week so we’ll take a look back at one of the all time greats.
Unlike most shows The Simpsons bears the distinction of having different ‘eras’. ‘Homer at the Bat’ can arguably be said to be the beginning of the ‘golden’ age Simpsons which (depending on who you ask) ran from season 3 until season 9. The episode also marks the first time The Simpsons beat The Cosby Show in the ratings, a then powerhouse at the time.
First airing on Fox in February 1992, the season 3 episode assembled a literal all-star lineup of future MLB hall of famers and is widely recognised as one of the funniest and best episodes of all time. It was the first episode in which The Simpsons took the leap from off-beat, yet (reasonably) naturalistic, depiction of blue-collar America, to a show with boundless realms of possibilities. It was the episode that finally grasped the potential of their animated universe.
The episode itself follows the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant softball team, led by Homer, having a winning season and making the championship game. Mr. Burns makes a large bet that the team will win and brings in nine ringers from the big leagues to ensure his success.
At the beginning, Homer crows that he has a “secret weapon,” to help win the league and we’re treated to his co workers daydreaming on just what Homer’s “secret weapon” might be; each fantasy being more ridiculous than the last. First, Homer has a giant glove able to snare anything in its path. Then, he’s able to bounce from base to base on crazy spring-loaded shoes, before he ultimately simply zaps the opposite team with a laser. It’s a funny sequence and also serves as a sign of crazy things to come.
On its surface, ‘Homer at the Bat’ is a sports movie genre parody, with overt nods to everything from The Natural to The Pride of the Yankees. There’s a slick riff on the sports hero origin story early in the episode, when Homer shelters under a tall tree during a thunderstorm and—trying to cover himself (of course) with sheet-metal—discovers a magic stick, which he fashions into his “Wonderbat.”
However, the craziness begins once Smithers is tasked with assembling the all-star team within 24 hours. In The Simpsons’ cartoon universe, Steve Sax plays stand-up bass in a jazz combo, Mike Scioscia yearns to work in a hydroelectric plant, Ozzie Smith is the ultimate tourist, and Don Mattingly is insanely domestic.
The craziness continues when each of the players enlisted suffers a different misfortune causing them to miss the game. Steve Sax is arrested on suspicion of being responsible for all the unsolved crimes in New York and has to serve 6 consecutive life sentences, Scioscia comes down with radiation poisoning after working in the plant that renders him incapable of speaking normally, Ken Griffey Jr. overdoses on nerve tonic and develops gigantism, Jose Canseco gets smoke inhalation after saving every item from a burning house, Wade Boggs gets knocked out by Barney in an argument over British political history, Ozzie Smith gets sucked into a strange alternate-universe wormhole, Roger Clemens thinks he’s a chicken, and Don Mattingly simply won’t trim his damn sideburns.
Daryl Strawberry survives though and takes Homer’s place. The dynamic between the two and Mr. Burns is another highlight of the episode. Daryl plays the part of suck-up very well and often chimes in: ‘some of these guys have a bad attitude skip’ or when Mr. Burns says the team doesn’t play with heart he once again adds: ‘no hustle either skip’. Two of the funniest bits with Daryl however, involved him not saying anything at all. When Homer goes to catch a flyball in practice Daryl intercepts it by jumping off-screen for a whole 3 seconds. Then, when Bart and Lisa heckle Daryl by saying his name and Lisa proclaiming that these things just roll of their back, he sheds a single tear.
This episode will always be remembered for moving The Simpsons from fringe animation to mainstream powerhouse and cultural icons. The rapidity, the montage, the running gags, the cultural pastiche, the banality of Marge’s sports-commentary all contributed to making it a classic. Not a single frame was wasted and nothing ever fell flat.
Ultimately, Homer wins the game the only way he can by getting hit in the head with a baseball and being knocked out. The end credits then feature a parody of “Talkin Baseball” that runs along sepia toned artificially aged footage of the episode we just saw. It was an ingenious way to end an episode, one that marked it as an instant classic.