A cultural milestone will be reached on February 20th.
It was on that day, 16 years ago, that Homer At The Bat debuted on Fox.
For those not up on their Simpsons trivia, Homer At The Bat was the 52nd episode of the series and featured nine baseball superstars who, at the time, were considered some of the best in baseball. The episode was also the very first episode of The Simpsons to beat The Cosby Show in the ratings.
A brief plot synopsis: After an undefeated season for the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant softball team, plant owner Mr. Burns bets his Shelbyville rival that his company's softball team can beat Shelbyville in the championship. In order to ensure a victory, Mr. Burns hires nine ringers from the majors, only to have eight of them succumb to a number of crazy mishaps just prior to the big game. It forces Mr. Burns to rely on his employees to win the championship which they do after Homer takes a softball to the head, thereby bringing in the winning run.
Sixteen years on, let's see what those nine ringers have been up to in the majors:
Mike Scioscia - Scioscia has always been a hard-working man and in his Simpson debut, he took on a job at the power plant hauling nuclear waste, telling fellow employees he enjoyed the job. Ultimately, he contracted radiation poisoning and missed the final. In the majors, the plate-blocking, hit-taking catcher has moved on from a pretty solid playing career to a very solid managerial career, leading the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to a World Series win in 2002 and a number of AL West division titles, including last season.
Don Mattingly - Mattingly was already on a career-slide when he signed on to play himself on The Simpson. He spent his entire career with the New York Yankees before calling it a career in 1995. He stayed on with the organization as a hitting coach but has since moved on with former Yankees manager Joe Torre, landing a job with the Los Angeles Dodgers as the somewhat cryptic "Special Assignment Coach". Mattingly was kicked off the softball team by Mr. Burns because he had issues with his Mattingly's sideburns, prompting Mattingly to mutter "...he's still better then Steinbrenner."
Wade Boogs - After being punched out by Barney Gumble over a dispute about England's greatest Prime Minister, Boggs moved on from the Boston Red Sox in 1992 to sign with the New York Yankees before finishing out his career with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He had a stellar career overall, averaging .328, with 3010 hits and 1513 runs, earning him an induction not only in to the Devil Rays Hall-of-Fame in 2004, but in Cooperstown the following year. More recently, he was called on to testify at Congressional hearings in to the use of steroids in baseball.
Roger Clemens - In 1992, Clemens was already considered one of the best pitchers the game had ever seen and in the following years, struck out the best batters the game had to offer. He stared them down one-by-one but never got to prove his Simpsons softball worth, after a hypnotist made him believe he was a chicken. Clemens has won more Cy Young Awards than any other pitcher to ever take to the mound, finishing out his career with a win/loss record 354-184 and close to 4,700 strikeouts. In December of 2007, he was named in the Mitchell Report as one of several players believed to have used steroids. He appeared before a Congressional hearing, insisting he never took steroids and noting that no matter what happened, "I am never going to have my name restored."
Ken Griffey Jr. - Considered one of the best defensive players in the last fifty years, Griffey continues to play the game. In 2007, he hit his 2500th hit and surpassed Frank Robinson to secure himself the sixth spot on the all-time home run list. He was not named in the aforementioned Mitchell Report but did succumb to gigantism after getting hooked on a nerve tonic supplied to him by Mr. Burns, preventing him from playing against Shelbyville in the softball final.
Steve Sax - Sax already had two World Series rings when he supplied his voice for the Simpsons. An average, all-around kind of player, Sax retired from the game two years after "Homer at the Bat " first aired and now works as a financial consultant to professional athletes. He missed the softball game after Springfield police pegged him responsible for all of New York's unsolved murders.
Ozzie Smith - Smith apparently found his way out the Springfield Mystery Spot to continue a spectacular career as one of the best defensive players of all time, winning 13 consecutive Golden Gloves and earning a spot in Cooperstown in 2002. Following his retirement from the game in 1996, Smith took over hosting duties of This Week In Baseball and was also the color-man for Cardinals games for a local station. He still resides in St. Louis, where he runs a restaurant. He regrets never having made a second appearance on The Simpsons, to explain what happened after falling in to the Mystery Spot.
José Canseco - Canseco called it a career in 2002 but attempted in comeback in 2004 that went nowhere. He had good numbers throughout his career, finishing with 462 home runs and more than 1400 RBI's. Unfortunately, he hits outside of the diamond made more headlines, culminating in a dust-up outside of a Miami nightclub that resulted in a couple of aggravated battery charges back in 2001. His actions go against his heroic efforts during Homer at the Bat, where he last seen removing everything and the kitchen sink from a burning building. It can be argued that his book, Juiced, broke open baseball's steroid scandal and he has since gone on to write a sequel, Vindicated, due to hit shelves on opening day of this year.
Darryl Strawberry - Strawberry's is an eight-time all-star and was a member of two World Series teams but his cocaine habit has overshadowed his baseball achievements. Most recently, he got in to some tax trouble with the IRS and has promised to pay back more than 430-thousand dollars to the revenue service, having already paid off some $8,600 already. In 2006, Strawberry was given the duty of throwing out the first pitch during Game 2 of the National League Championship Series between the Mets and the Cardinals. He was given a standing ovation. Of the nine softball ringers, he was also the only one to play in the final game but, despite nine home runs, was yanked by Mr. Burns in the final inning because Burns wanted a right-handed batter against a left-handed pitcher.
As for The Simpsons itself, it has gone on to become one of the longest running programs in TV history, wrapping up its 18th season and securing its place as a pop-culture phenomenon.
So, on February 20th, raise a glass for Homer at the Bat and remember, "We're Talkin' Softball".
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