(originally aired February 20, 1992)
Well this certainly was a change of pace. After three shows in a row, and many more in seasons prior, we’d plumbed the emotional depths of the show, with stories focusing on real people and real conflict. And now we have this show: a completely preposterous and bonkers episodes catering to nine, count’ em, nine special guest stars. This is easily the most ridiculous episode to date, and a real stepping stone for the show. It further expanded the universe to contain more potential for celebrities to lampoon themselves (and occasionally get screwed over by the writers), but still fit in with the established world and the story they reside in. Moreover, the series pushed its boundaries into wackier territory. A comically engorged Ken Griffy, Jr. and Ozzie Smith literally falling into another dimension are jokes that feel insanely foreign to the subtler humor we’ve seen so far, but would pave the way for the joyful craziness we’d see in later seasons, particularly five and six.
The episode begins a bit more grounded with Homer’s unusual enthusiasm over the company softball team, and his even more unusual skill for hitting homers, thanks to his crudely homemade “wonder bat.” I suppose even someone as grossly incompetent as Homer is allowed a few choice skills. Our plot kicks into gear in waiting for the final game against the Shelbyville power plant team; in attempts to win a million dollar bet, Mr. Burns decides to bring in a few ringers. Not one or two, but nine: Steve Sax, Jose Cancesco, Wade Boggs, Roger Clemens, and so on. This is not only incredible overkill in hiring an entire team of major leaguers, but the stakes of the game are entirely nil; when asked what he’ll do with his million, Burns half-heartedly comments, “I dunno. Throw it on the pile, I suppose.” The real matter here is a matter of pride, for Burns, and also for Homer, who becomes greatly discouraged losing his top rank on the team.
Now I don’t know a thing about baseball, so I can’t say anything in regards to how the guest stars were represented. Juggling nine guest stars is an incredibly challenge, yet the show manages to create memorable moments and lines for pretty much all of them. I like how some of their ridiculous introductions mirror their ridiculous fates: Mike Scioscia yearns for a more blue-collar job, so enjoys his phony plant position, under he gets a horrible case of radiation poisoning. Perhaps the greatest runner is the subtle rivalry between Homer and Darryl Strawberry, who is a big kiss-ass the entire show. When he is switched out during the last inning for Homer, he’s understandably shocked (“But I hit nine home runs today!”) Despite the silliness and full plate of characters this show had to manage, there still is a layer of sweetness to it, in Homer’s final “triumph” at the end and the magnificent win for the team. This is really a cornerstone episode for the show, in its ability to just go nuts and reach as far out of the box as they could without wrecking the foundations of the series. Seasons further down the line would break said foundation, but for now we can revel in the sweet, sweet absurdity.
Tidbits and Quotes
– When Homer announces he’s got a secret weapon, the plant workers are all curious as to what it could be, from Charlie who dreams of a giant glove to Lenny (with an amazing grin on his face) who believes Homer has access to laser gun technology and can incinerate the other team. It’s classic Simpsons dream fodder, but perfectly lays the groundwork for the show in blending baseball and crazy, over-the-top jokes.
– The epic retelling of the origins of Wonderbat is filled with great Homer moments: his safety precautions in the thunderstorm, his shelving of his homemade football, and how he, for some reason, needs to hammer nails and use a acetylene torch to construct a wooden bat.
– Their first game is against the Springfield police force. The umpire sets the ground rules: “Okay, let’s go over the ground rules. You can’t leave first until you chug a beer. Any man scoring has to chug a beer. You have to chug a beer at the top of all odd-numbered innings. Oh, and the fourth inning is the beer inning.” Wiggum indignantly interrupts, “Hey, we know how to play softball.”
– I do like Marge’s play-by-play narration as she’s filming the game with a camcorder: “And the man wants to hit the ball, too. And he does. And there he goes, off in that direction. And everyone is happy.”
– The sl0w-motion replay of Homer’s winning hit is wonderful. Slow-motion is always difficult to do in animation, since it requires more drawings, but the grotesque jiggling of Homer’s flabby body is absolutely hysterical, complete with his slowed down grunts and aghast shock over his hit.
– Second, and last I believe appearance of Aristotle Amodopolous, this time briefly voiced by Dan Castellaneta. I wish he’d have appeared more often, or maybe I just think that because I want to hear more Jon Lovitz.
– Burns’ initial line-up is a great moment, populated by players who haven’t played the game, or even been alive, within the past century.
– Some classic Homer advice I think of time to time: “No matter how good you are at something, there’s always about a million people better than you.” Bart completely understands: “Gotcha. Can’t win, don’t try.”
– The different ways the players get indisposed ranges from psychotic to even more psychotic. Eddie and Lou continue to be hard-ass cops in accusing Steve Sax of committing every crime ever taking place in New York, Jose Conseco apparently spent the entire night and following day rescuing items from a woman’s perpetually burning house, Wade Boggs is knocked unconscious by Barney over an argument over the best English prime minister (“LORD PALMERSTON!!”), and of course, Mattingly’s sideburns (“Don’t argue with me, just get rid of them!!”) I like the continual build that it seems like Homer will finally get the play, only to finally reveal that Strawberry is still present. Speaking of, his one tear in response to the taunts is the best moment in the show.
– The show getting wackier also gets us closer to more big laughs. I’ve laughed my fair share at these past seasons, but sometimes the most insane shit gets the biggest laughs. The brief sequence of the fast-talking crazy peanut vendor hawking bags of nuts at the fans and into the parking lot had me in hysterics as soon as the scene started.
– Then, of course, there’s “Talkin’ Softball.” The song itself is fantastic, but showing it over the credits with rough sepia tone footage of the show’s events is icing on the cake. It creates this bizarre instant nostalgia for events you just watched unfold a mere twenty minutes ago, but in a weird way it just makes you like the episode even more. It sure worked for me.