Homer at the Bat

D’oh? No! Homer and The Simp­sons team earn Hall of Fame trib­ute

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - BEN WALKER

Steve Sax won two World Se­ries rings, was a five-time All­Star and got nearly 2,000 hits in the big leagues.

Yet to many fans, it’s those half-dozen lines he ut­tered to a bunch of yel­low car­toon char­ac­ters a long time ago that re­ally made him fa­mous.

“I get asked as much about be­ing on ‘The Simp­sons’ as I do about base­ball,” Sax said this week. “They don’t want to know how it was to hit against Nolan Ryan. They want to know about be­ing on that show.”

All thanks to “Homer at the Bat.”

Still hugely pop­u­lar 25 years af­ter it first aired, that Simp­sons episode fea­tur­ing the voices of Ken Grif­fey Jr., Dar­ryl Straw­berry, Jose Canseco and a lineup full of lu­mi­nar­ies gets a fit­ting trib­ute Satur­day from the na­tional pas­time.

That’s when the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., will present a plaque to Homer — well, re­ally a piece of pa­per. Plus, a Simp­sons-themed ex­hibit will open in­side the shrine.

Ac­tual Hall mem­bers Ozzie Smith and Wade Boggs will be in town to talk about tap­ing their roles as Homer’s team­mates on the rin­gered-up Spring­field Nu­clear Plant soft­ball squad, as will Sax.

Miami Mar­lins man­ager Don Mat­tingly was play­ing for the New York Yan­kees when he lent his voice to the an­i­mated show that was sweep­ing the na­tion.

“I didn’t know a whole lot about it, hon­estly. I knew it was hot and my kids watched it, but I didn’t re­ally know that much,” he said.

Doesn’t to this day, ei­ther. He’s never seen the half-hour episode from start to fin­ish.

“No, not the whole thing,” Mat­tingly said.

But plenty of peo­ple saw “The Simp­sons” the night it aired on Feb. 20, 1992. In their third sea­son, Bart & Co. out­drew “The Cosby Show” for the first time in a head-to-head matchup, and also topped the tele­cast of the Win­ter Olympics.

The show took months to as­sem­ble, with play­ers tap­ing when their teams played at Dodger Sta­dium or the An­gels in Ana­heim dur­ing the 1991 sea­son. Mem­bers of “The Simp­sons” staff divvied up which guys they would di­rect.

Ex­ec­u­tive story edi­tor Jeff Martin, a Red Sox fan from his days of root­ing for Carl Yas­trzem­ski, drew Bos­ton pitcher Roger Cle­mens.

Great, only one hitch: Martin had to in­form the im­pos­ing Cle­mens the script called for him to cluck like a chicken. Over and over. D’oh! “I had vi­sions of telling him and hav­ing him stomp out,” Martin re­called this week from Fen­way Park. “But with­out miss­ing a beat, he started cluck­ing away.”

Cle­mens was fine with his char­ac­ter be­ing put un­der a spell by a hyp­no­tist. In the car­toon, Sax was ar­rested for hun­dreds of un­solved mur­ders in New York.

“I liked mine in the show. Got to show off my rough side,” Sax kid­ded.

The only player who wasn’t happy with his part was Canseco — rather than a scan­dalous plot, he wanted to be more gal­lant. And the Simp­sons crew got ev­ery star it wanted ex­cept one, with Ryne Sand­berg pass­ing and Sax tak­ing his place at sec­ond base.

In the episode, most ma­jor­lea­guers hired by the evil Mr. Burns to play for Spring­field in the cham­pi­onship game vs. the Shel­byville Nu­clear Plant are be­fallen by some odd fate. Straw­berry is the lone starter, and Homer pinch hits for him in the bot­tom of the ninth in­ning with two outs and the bases loaded.

This time, Homer turned out to be a hero. He gets hit in the head with a pitch, giv­ing Spring­field a 44-43 win. There were a lot of un­usual twists, in fact, even by Simp­sons stan­dards.

“At the time, I think we thought maybe this show is too weird for some peo­ple,” Martin said.

As it came out over the years, a cou­ple of ac­tors who voiced prom­i­nent char­ac­ters in the show no­tably didn’t like the episode writ­ten by Simp­sons great John Swartzwelder.

Los An­ge­les An­gels man­ager Mike Scios­cia liked it then, and now. He was catch­ing for the L.A. Dodgers when he did his part, which had him miss the big soft­ball game be­cause of acute ra­di­a­tion poi­son­ing.

“I’m still sign­ing Simp­sons items,” he said. The resid­u­als are nice, too. “The cheques come in, usu­ally they’re about 79 cents,” he said, laugh­ing. “A big one might be six bucks.”

Com­mis­sioner Rob Man­fred said he was fa­mil­iar with the show. “Among the var­i­ous items that I was given as a gift when I was elected was peo­ple at Fox sent me a Simp­sons car­toon with me as part of it. ... so I do know a lit­tle some­thing about the Simp­sons,” he said.

Added up, this was a per­fect time to hon­our the episode, Hall pres­i­dent Jeff Idel­son said.

“The mu­seum is al­ways cog­nizant of base­ball’s con­tri­bu­tion, not only to the game, but the cul­ture,” he said.

Boggs, Smith, Sax, Martin and sev­eral other mem­bers of the Simp­sons team will hold a roundtable dis­cus­sion Satur­day, be­fore Homer is “in­ducted.” A pos­si­ble topic: Would the show try for a re­play, 25 years later, with cur­rent All-Stars?

“Just imag­ine all the talent you could as­sem­ble,” Martin said. “But how would you draw Bryce Harper’s beard? Would it look like Bart’s head up­side down?”

FOX

Homer, Mr. Burns and the­p­ower-plantsoft­ball team from "Homer attheBat." Back row, from left: Don Mat­tingly,Jose Canseco, Dar­ryl Straw­berry, Roger Cle­mens, Ken Grif­fey Jr. Fron­trow: Steve Sax, Ozzie Smith,WadeBoggs and Mike Scios­cia.

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