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Recap / The Simpsons S3 E17 "Homer at the Bat"

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Episode - 8F13
First Aired - 2/20/1992

A Baseball Episode where Homer and his homemade bat carry the power plant's softball team into the championship game. However, Mr. Burns hires a team of Major League Baseball players to guarantee a victory and win a million dollar bet.

This episode contains examples of:

  • Alliterative Name: Steve Sax.
  • Always Someone Better: Darryl Strawberry is this to Homer. As Homer puts it, Darryl is bigger, stronger and faster than Homer, and he already has more friends around the plant than Homer does.
  • Anachronism Stew: Burns's initial team of ringers is full of this, which is part of the joke. For instance, Cap Anson played between 1871 and 1897, Mordecai Brown between 1903 and 1916, and Pie Traynor between 1920 and 1937. And as Smithers implies, Jim Creighton died in 1862, before the next-oldest player had even started his professional career!
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  • And the Rest: When Mr. Burns introduces his Super Ringers:
    Burns: Now, I'd like to introduce the new members of our happy power plant family. Our security guard, Roger Clemens.
    Clemens: Hello.
    Burns: Our janitor, Wade Boggs.
    Boggs: How you doing?
    Burns: Our lunchroom cashier, Ken Griffey Jr.
    Griffey: Hey, what's up, guys?
    Burns: Our new— well, uh, we'll make up jobs for these fellas later. Say hello to Steve Sax, Don Mattingly, Darryl Strawberry, Ozzie Smith, Mike Scioscia, and Jose Canseco.
  • Animation Bump: The "super slow mo" footage of Homer swinging his bat.
  • Artistic License – Sports: Zig-Zagged. Lisa states that Homer knocked out by the pitcher counts as a hit, though she doesn't clarify whether it's a base hit or a hit batsman. Plate appearances where a player is walked or hit by a pitch don't get factored into batting averages.
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  • As Himself: Wade Boggs, José Canseco, Roger Clemens, Ken Griffey Jr., Don Mattingly, Steve Sax, Mike Scioscia, Ozzie Smith, and Darryl Strawberry are the ringers Mr. Burns hires, basically most of the big name baseball players of the early '90s.
  • Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny!: While screaming in the Springfield Mystery Spot, Ozzie Smith pauses to take a picture of a giant E=MC2 equation floating by.
  • Author Appeal: The episode was written by John Swartzwelder, who is a big baseball fan, as were many of the other writers on the show's staff at the time - at the recording session, all the guest stars spent a few minutes recording their lines, then about an hour signing autographs for the writers.
  • Back for the Finale: Ozzie Smith appears on the ending group photo in astral form, due to being trapped in another dimension.
  • Bait-and-Switch: When Homer chokes on a donut, Lenny looks for a first-aid chart and appears to find one for the Heimlich Maneuver, but he's actually making note of a notice for softball sign-ups. (Fortunately, Homer manages to cough up the donut.)
  • Baseball Episode: The episode has become one of the most famous instances of this trope and is one of the show's most popular episodes. Steve Sax admitted that people like talking to him about the episode more than his playing career and its popularity even resulted in Homer being inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
    • Wade Boggs, Ken Griffey Jr., and Ozzie Smith are also in the same hall as Homer while Mike Scioscia (Anaheim Angels) and Don Mattingly (Miami Marlins) are currently managers as of the 2018 baseball season.
  • Berserk Button: Do not tell Barney that he's wrong in thinking Lord Palmerston was England's best Prime Minister. Wade Boggs learned this the hard way.
  • Black Comedy: "Mike Scioscia's tragic illness made us smile." Said illness being radiation poisoning from working at the Springfield nuclear plant. But he does get better.
  • Blunt "Yes": Homer finds himself on the receiving end of several of these in a row.
    Homer: You're Darryl Strawberry!
    Strawberry: Yes.
    Homer: You play right field.
    Strawberry: Yes.
    Homer: I play right field too.
    Strawberry: So?
    Homer: Well, are you better than me?
    Strawberry: Well, I've never met you, but... yes.
  • Brick Joke: The episode's chalkboard gag has Bart writing "I will not aim for the head." Homer is hit in the head by a pitch near the end of the episode.
  • Call-Back: When Ken Griffey Jr. tries the nerve tonic for the first time, he claims that "it's like there's a party in my mouth and everyone's invited!" Behind the scenes, Griffey hadn't seen the episode, so the line confused him.
  • Captain Obvious: After Mr. Burns introduces the major league ringers to the plant workers and announces his intent to have them play for him, Lenny worriedly points out to him that if he plans to use the major leaguers, he'll have no further need of the plant workers, to which Burns responds with a glorious "Well, duh!"
  • "Cavemen vs. Astronauts" Debate: Barney and Wade Boggs argue over who was the greatest British Prime Minister; Pitt the Elder or Lord Palmerston. The debate gets so heated that Barney punches out Boggs, then punches out Moe for sarcastically agreeing with Boggs.
  • Cheaters Never Prosper: Oh yes they do. Despite losing most of his Super Ringers, Mr. Burns still subverts this trope by winning the championship and his bet with Aristotle Amidopolous.
  • Chronic Hero Syndrome: Jose Conseco didn't make it to the game because he encountered a burning building and saved the owner's baby and pet - and then the woman insisted that he save literally all of her other stuff from the inside. By the time we cut away from them for the last time, she is leading him in arranging her furniture on the front lawn.
  • Comically Missing the Point:
    • Mike Scioscia doesn't get that his job at the plant was just a token position so he could play on the softball team and shows up to work there every day. He winds up getting radiation poisoning.
    • Burns frequently orders Don Mattingly to shave off his sideburns, which Mattingly never has in the first place. It gets so ridiculous that he is kicked off an already declining team by the end.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Eight of Burns' ringers simultaneously suffer misfortunes that prevent them playing in the game the following day. Discussed and lampshaded by Burns himself.
  • Dick Dastardly Stops to Cheat: Burns wastes 450,000 dollars (if the salary he gave Canseco is any indication) for the sake of a game that the nuclear plant's solidly-excellent team could have probably won on their own, and only one of the players even gets to play due to Burns having them mingle in Springfield. In the process, the morale of the team gets shot by Burns's dismissal and their lack of practice, and Wonderbat gets broken.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Steve Sax is pulled over by the Springfield police, and once he gives his license to Wiggum which shows he's from New York, he's arrested for just about every unsolved crime in New York City for no particular reason (although perhaps the boys were still bitter about losing to the Power Plant at softball earlier in the episode). And according to a Continuity Nod in "Springfield of Dreams", Sax is still under investigation 25 years later.
  • Down to the Last Play: Homer is called upon to pinch-hit for Darryl Strawberry with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the ninth. Thanks to Mr. Burns and his weird Hand Signals, Homer becomes distracted and gets knocked out by a pitch to the head, forcing the winning run to score.
  • Dudley Do-Right Stops to Help: The reason why Jose Canseco couldn't make it to the game is because he is too busy saving a baby, a cat, and a series of appliances from a house fire.
  • Eldritch Location: The Springfield "Mystery Spot" is a tourist trap... that happens to have some kind of inter-dimensional portal in it. Ozzie Smith enters it and (as far as we know) disappears from the face of the Earth never to be seen again. The chuckling of the ticket man as he hears Smith's scared scream implies that the man put the trap in place as Schmuck Bait.
  • Exact Words: Mr. Burns states that, although there is an outside chance of seven misfortunes, nine misfortunes befalling his players is virtually impossible. This proves accurate as nothing happens to either Darryl Strawberry (who Burns sends to the showers during the last play, since he wants to play the percentages and pit a right-handed batter against a southpaw pitcher) or Don Mattingly (who was kicked off the team by Burns for his non-existent sideburns).
    • Burns has this exchange with Smithers:
    Burns: Smithers, I've been thinking. Is it wrong to cheat in order to win a million-dollar bet?
    Smithers: Yes, sir.
    Burns: Let me rephrase that. Is it wrong if I cheat to win a million-dollar bet?
    Smithers: No, sir. Who would you like killed?
  • Foreshadowing:
    • The episode basically tells you in the third act that they are going to destroy the ringers which they do in the most bizarre and interesting ways possible.
    • Homer's first use of his magic bat hints towards how the last game of the episode ends: it occurs when the bases are loaded, and results in someone getting knocked unconscious.
  • Firing in the Air a Lot: The cops in the dugout celebrate a home run hit by a teammate by firing their guns into the air, causing Chief Wiggum to make them stop.
  • Follow the Leader: An In-Universe example happens when Homer kicks ass with Wonderbat and his teammates all start getting "magic bats" of their own. Carl's magic bat is the leg of a grand piano, while Charlie's sister let him use her wooden leg.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: They're only onscreen for a few seconds and pretty blurry, but Burns's entire team of dead players is possible to make out. (His right-fielder, Jim Creighton, had indeed been dead for 130 years - he played before there was even a professional league.)
  • Gretzky Has the Ball: Subverted. Lisa says Homer's hit by pitch counts as a hit, though she is technically right because the play goes down as a hit batsman in the box score.
  • Group Picture Ending: The episode ends this way, with the whole team present, including an unconscious Homer, Ozzie Smith's spirit, Steve Sax handcuffed to Lou, José Canseco covered in ash, Roger Clemens standing with his arms positioned like wings, Wade Boggs with a black eye, Ken Griffey Jr. in a wheelchair, Mike Scioscia covered in bandages, and an angry-looking Darryl Strawberry.
  • Halfway Plot Switch: The first act revolves around Homer and his "magic" bat, but afterwards the plot switches to the Ringers Mr. Burns hires. The bat even breaks during the first practice with the pros.
  • Hypno Fool: Zig-Zagged: Burns hires a hypnotist/motivational speaker for the team, only for his attempt to make the team give more than they had already ("110%") be defeated by the entire team, while hypnotized, pointing out that it's impossible for someone to give more than 100%. Then Roger Clemens turns out to have reacted badly to the hypnotic therapy and ends the episode thinking he's a chicken. And when Burns gets on the hypnotist's face about that faux pas, the hypnotist hypnotizes Burns into forgiving him.
  • If It's You, It's Okay: A non-romantic variant in that Smithers agrees it's alright for Mr. Burns to cheat, but not for anyone else to do it.
  • Jerkass: The woman whose house is burning down, making José Canseco get everything out of the house for her and then complaining that the dryer goes elsewhere.
    • Eddie and Lou. See Police Brutality below. Wiggum also allows this, even telling Sax that he's seen too many films when Sax asks for his One Phone Call.
    • The guy that mans the Springfield Mystery Spot chuckles when he hears Ozzie Smith screaming in fear as whatever the hell is inside that tent makes him disappear from the face of the Earth. The whole scene implies that he put the tourist trap in place as Schmuck Bait for kicks.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Would anyone actually disagree with the idea that Darryl Strawberry is a better player than Homer?
  • Karma Houdini:
    • The hypnotist.
    • Mr. Burns wins his bet after nearly wrecking the team for the employees who worked hard to get the championship and inadvertently causing several MLB stars to suffer horrible calamities.
    • Barney for punching out Wade Boggs and Moe just for disagreeing with him over who was the best Prime Minister of England.
    • The bottomless pit purveyor, who not only tricked Ozzie Smith into going in, but also laughed at him for falling for it.
  • Kick the Dog: Even though he's right, Strawberry did this to Homer when he told him he was better at softball than Homer was, despite having never met Homer before.
  • Know-Nothing Know-It-All: Burns micromanages the ever-loving hell out of his ringered team, and pretty much every call he makes in the episode is a bad one. From using outdated nerve tonic and quack hypnotists to attempting to draft Civil War-era players to swapping out Strawberry for Homer, he basically only avoids snatching defeat from the jaws of victory by dumb luck.
  • Mockumentary: In 2017, to mark the episode's 25th anniversary, it received one called "Springfield of Dreams" featuring new animation, and contributions from Bob Uecker, Bob Costas, Joe Buck, Mehmet Oz, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Russell Brand. Its format parodies Ken Burns's Baseball. Of the original episode's guest stars, only Strawberry is absent.
  • Negative Space Wedgie: The "Springfield Mystery Spot", a shack attraction ("Where logic takes a holiday and all laws of nature are meaningless"). Ozzie Smith goes into it and...
    Smithers: ...And Ozzie Smith seems to have vanished off the face of the earth...
  • Non-Verbal Miscommunication: Homer zones out while Mr. Burns is explaining what the signals are, and later, when Homer is up to bat, Mr. Burns starts doing a series of strange actions. Homer has no idea what he's trying to say, and gets hit in the head with the ball and knocked out as a result.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Ralph Wiggum has a surprising amount of knowledge with baseball stars, including Jose Canseco. This aids him in a baseball game against Bart's (most likely boned) team.
  • Offscreen Inertia: Mentioned by Ozzie Smith. During the episode, he visits the "Springfield Mystery Spot" which turns out to be some kind of interdimensional portal. Smith said in an interview years later he'd like to do another guest appearance so he can get out, as for all we know he's still hurtling through time and space, snapping pictures of weird stuff floating by.
  • Parody Assistance: Terry Cashman sings a version of his song "Talkin' Baseball" based on the events of the episode during the credits.
  • Police Brutality: Steve Sax is arrested for just about every unsolved crime in New York City by the Springfield Police for no particular reason. Also Disproportionate Retribution (perhaps the boys were still bitter about losing to the Power Plant?)
    • According to "Springfield of Dreams", he's still under investigation 25 years later.
  • Race Against the Clock: Mr. Burns gives Smithers only 24 hours to recruit a bunch of professional ringers for his company softball team.
  • Reality Ensues: Homer hits a lot of home runs with Wonderbat when playing against other local teams. However, the first pitch he faces from a major leaguer breaks his bat in half.
  • The Rival: Darryl Strawberry becomes this to Homer. Homer sort of wins in the end when Burns sends him in to pinch hit for Darryl, and he gets beaned to force in the winning run.
  • Rousing Speech: Parodied:
    Mr. Burns: All right, you Ragtag Bunch of Misfits! You hate me, and I hate you even more! But without my beloved ringers, you're all I've got. So I, uh, want you to remember something inspiring that someone else may have told you during the course of your lives, and go out there and win!
    (team cheers)
    • Also Averted with the hypnotist:
      Hypnotist: You are all very good players.
      Players: [chanting in unison] We are all very good players.
      Hypnotist: You will beat Shelbyville.
      Players: [chanting in unison] We will beat Shelbyville.
      Hypnotist: You will give one hundred and ten percent.
      Players: [chanting in unison] That's impossible. No one can give more than one hundred percent. By definition that is the most anyone can give.
  • Running Gag: Darryl Strawberry being a kiss-ass to Mr. Burns.
  • Sarcasm-Blind: After Barney punches Wade Boggs for saying Pitt the Elder was a better prime minister than Lord Palmerston:
    Moe: Heh, that's showin' him, Barn. (derisively) "Pitt the Elder".
    Barney: Looooord Palmerston! (punches Moe)
  • Serious Business: Barney and Wade Boggs both take their British politics very seriously, to the point where Barney knocks Wade Boggs unconscious simply for disagreeing with him on who the best British prime minister was: Lord Palmerston or Pitt the Elder.
    Moe: That's showin' him, Barney! (derisively) "Pitt the Elder"...
    Barney: Loooooooord Palmerston!!!
    (Moe has an Oh, Crap! look; Barney punches him too)
  • Skewed Priorities: Even once he realizes most of ringers will not be playing, Mr. Burns still fires Mattingly over his nonexistent sideburns mere minutes before the big game begins.
  • Smart Ball: Not only is Homer a baseball prodigy this episode, but he can make his own baseball bat.
  • Southpaw Advantage: Subverted; Mr. Burns benches Darryl Strawberry and replaces him with Homer because both Strawberry and the pitcher are left-handed, and Homer bats right-handed.
  • Stout Strength: Homer is as fat as ever—and a slow motion video he watches with Bart and Lisa shows his fat actually sloshing out loud—but he also hits better than anyone except the big-league ringers.
  • Super Ringer: Burns' plan to win against Shelbyville is getting an entire team's worth of these. Subverted in that, in the end, only one of them (Darryl Strawberry with nine home runs) ends up doing anything (most of them don't even arrive to the game).
  • Take That!: After Mr. Burns kicks Mattingly off the team for not getting rid of his nonexistent sideburns, Mattingly angrily storms off but notes that he still likes Burns better than Steinbrenner (the controversial owner of the New York Yankees who was very much a Mean Boss and treated everybody with George Jetson Job Security, including infamously firing and re-hiring Billy Martin as team manager five times before Martin died in a car collision).
  • Taking Advantage of Generosity: During the montage of misadventures that affects the Super Ringer team, Jose Canseco risks his life to save some random woman's kid and cat from a burning building. After a Time Skip to the morning after and the start of the game, we see that the woman has forced Canseco to save literally everything that was inside the now-smoldering building and is telling him where to place her washing machine in the cluttered front yard by the time we cut back to the game.
  • Tempting Fate: Subverted. Burns finding the idea that his nine players would befall nine calamities before the Shelbyville game hilarious. By the time of the game, only seven players were subject to ridiculous calamities. Mattingly is kicked off because he still didn't get rid of the nonexistent sideburns Burns kept screaming about, and Strawberry still makes it and hits nine home runs.
    • After hitting his walk-off grand slam in the season opening game, Homer goes over the cops' dugout to taunt them. Chief Wiggum tells Eddie to get Homer's license and registration. Eddie affirms his compliance.
  • This Is Gonna Suck: Bart's increasingly-frustrated reactions to Ralph selecting the professional players for his team as they happen to be walking past, leaving Bart to pick his classmates, show that Bart can tell what must await him.
  • Truth in Television: Don Mattingly was actually benched by the New York Yankees - along with three teammates - in 1991 for not getting a haircut. When he became the manager of the Miami Marlins in 2016, Mattingly enacted his own facial hair ban during Spring Training, something he didn't do during the previous five years, when he managed the Los Angeles Dodgers.
  • Two Decades Behind: Mr. Burns' original list of the ringers for Smithers to recruit includes early 20th century players like Honus Wagner and Shoeless Joe Jackson. Then when he tells Smithers to recruit current players, he tells him to scour the Negro Leagues in addition to the American and National Leagues.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight/Noodle Incident: At the beginning of the episode, as Homer chokes on doughnuts for eating them too fast, his coworkers are casual about the whole thing, as it has happened before, and Carl even suggests that they scare him (although Charlie rejected this, as that's what you do when someone has the hiccups).
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Inverted. Mr. Burns getting involved is what allows Homer to win the game.
    • Played straight with Mr. Burns instigating the fates of Mike Scioscia, Ozzie Smith, Steve Sax, and Ken Griffey Jr. Less so with Roger Clemens, and Wade Boggs (and by extension Moe).
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: We never do find out how (or if) Ozzie Smith escaped from the Springfield Mystery Spot. He's even expressed a willingness to make another guest appearance for the specific purpose of doing so.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: For the twenty-fifth anniversary of the episode, Fox filmed a false documentary that aired prior to the airing of the episode called Springfield Of Dreams, which had most of the baseball players that appeared pretending that working for Burns actually happened and what life was for them in the aftermath. Among other details, Steve Sax is still under investigation thanks to Wiggum pinning 'all of the unsolved crimes in the state of New York' on him for no good reason.
  • Whole Plot Reference: To The Natural, particularly the film version starring Robert Redford as a baseball player using a bat of Thunderbolt Wood from a lightning-struck tree.
  • You Watch Too Much X: After the police had jailed Steve Sax under suspicion for every murder that's ever happened in New York just because he was from New York:
    Wiggum: Nice work, boys. I think we'll close the book on just about every unsolved crime in our fair city.
    Sax: Don't I least get to call my lawyer?
    Lou: You watch too many movies, Sax! (they close and lock the cell door)

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