This year is the 25th anniversary of the Simpsons episode “Homer at the Bat,” which first aired Feb 20, 1992 – it was the 17th episode of season three. As any fan of the show and of baseball well know, the story featured Mr Burns’ Springfield Nuclear Power Plant softball team hiring nine ringers who were actual MLB players of the time. They were pretty big names (well, mostly), and each was voiced by his real-life counterpart. For perspective, if there had been some 1967 Flintstones special featuring the likes of Clemente, Yastrzemski, and Gibson, it would’ve been as old in ’92 as “Homer at the Bat” is in 2017. And Jim Creighton has now been dead for 155 years.
Instead of another review or set of screenshots, we thought it might be unique to not only look for 2017 MLB parallels, but to also provide artist’s renderings for each. Each of the ringers was also beset by a comical “misfortune” – but since it would be impossible to create new ones that were nearly as funny, we just kept the originals and switched everything around for better fits or comic potential. So weather buff Trout does not get sucked into a cyclone, but the original misfortunes were fairly random to begin with.
The initial plan was to make an all-star team, but it would’ve resulted in obvious omissions (and there were some in ’92). So it seemed appropriate to just look for statistical/skill comps, given this site’s inclination towards sabermetrics (which is way more fun than doing your taxes). Some judgement calls still had to be made in cases with no obvious match. Special thanks to Darius Austin for his Baseball-Reference research. BRef WAR is cited herein.
Odds and Ends:
- The league average OBP from ’82-’91 was .324, and it was the same from ’07-’16. But while average SLG from ’82-’91 was .389, from ’07-’16 it was .407.
- Going into the ’92 season, the original team averaged 9 seasons played. The new team average is about 7 seasons.
- Six of the originals played for the Yankees at some point (Mattingly and Sax then; Boggs, Canseco, Clemens, Strawberry later). None of the current team have, yet.
- Four had won MVPs before or after, and it’s a bit of a surprise that none won more than one (Canseco, Griffey, Mattingly, and Clemens – in addition to his seven Cy Youngs). Four of the current team have five combined.
- Three made it to the Hall of Fame (Boggs, Griffey, Smith).
- Two became managers (Mattingly and Scioscia).
- One went on to play with Michael Jordan in the minors (Sax).
So let’s see how one updated lineup might look, in chronological order of the episode’s misfortunes. The original players’ stat lines/awards are before the ’92 season. The modern players’ are their careers to date.
2017: Mike Trout (LAA) 5 yrs
9.7 WAR/162, 5 ASG
Right out of the gate, we have to cheat somewhat. Going into ’92, Griffey was a sensation but had only played three years, with a merely good rookie year. Based on body of work, Rickey Henderson (who played LF and CF) or Eric Davis may have been more deserving, but even back then it was hard to pass up Griffey.
If we took Griffey’s best five non-consecutive years, we’d have a .313/.397/.619/164 slash line with 9.4 WAR per 162. That would be comparable to Trout‘s 5-year career thus far. Andrew McCutchen’s career (138 OPS+, 5.1 WAR/162) might be a better comp to Griffey’s first three, but right now it’s hard to pass up Trout.
Misfortune: Originally, Eddie and Lou arrest Sax, presuming that he’s responsible for unsolved murders in NY, by virtue of being from NY. While our new list does have a NY player/resident, another mishap seemed more suited to him, so we’ll have Trout get arrested for being from Jersey – which is close enough to NY. This would also imply he plays upright bass in the Mike Trout Trio (and really, he seems like he’d play bass).
2017: Adrian Gonzalez (LAD) 12 yrs
3.9 WAR/162, 5 AS
Going into the ’92 season, Mattingly was coming off of two relative down years, with an 81 and 103 OPS+. Before that came a six-year peak in which he averaged a 147 (with a .371 OBP and of .529 SLG). Mark McGwire would provide some dingers in a later guest spot.
Our comp is Gonzalez, who, despite a decidedly less memorable nickname, shares a similar slash line and great defensive reputation. “A-Gon’s” six-year peak from ’06-’11 also resembles Mattingly’s, averaging a 144 OPS+, .371 OBP, and .520 SLG.
Misfortune: During Mattingly’s tenure as Dodger manager, Gonzalez was free to sport a beard – and he’ll still be able to here. Instead, after his own power plant stint gone horribly wrong, this current Dodger will find himself stuck in a hospital bed after coming down with the same tragic illness as former Dodger Mike Scioscia.
2017: Salvador Perez (KC) 6 yrs
4 WAR/162, 4 AS
Catchers weren’t counted on for much offense, including Scioscia, so working close by may have helped him get the guest spot. He had a good defensive reputation at a defensive position, often associated with words like “leader,” “heart,” and “rock.” The first choice was Carlton Fisk (whose rookie year was ’72 and last was in ’93), but Sosh would be invited back years later to appear in the “MoneyBart” episode.
From today’s crop, we went with Sal Perez, who shares Sosh’s catcher-ish labels and league-average bat (after a trade-off between OBP and SLG). Perez clearly loves to play, having played in 2014’s November exhibitions in Japan despite playing 165 games from April to October. So in comparison, a few softball games would be trivial for Sal. With Scioscia as the model, we apologize for the lack of Lucroy, Molina, and Posey.
Misfortune: Griffey gave us one of the episode’s most fondly remembered lines: “It’s like there’s a party in my mouth – and everyone’s invited!” With Perez’s penchant for playing, including a stint on this year’s Venezuelan WBC team, it’s possible he’d turn to Burns’ tonic for a boost. Of course, one side effect is extreme gigantism, but only in rare cases.
2017: Giancarlo Stanton (MIA) 7 yrs
5.4 WAR/162, 3 ASG, 1 SS
Fortunately, there’s been no discernable “Homer at the Bat” curse, but Strawberry had the most striking before-and-after: In his nine seasons before ’92, he’d averaged 139 G for the Mets and Dodgers, and ranked among the NL’s top 7 in HR each year. In parts of eight seasons after, a string of health and personal obstacles limited him to an average of 42 games.
Stanton‘s slash line and production thus far probably make for the lineup’s best comp. A freak hit-by-pitch to the head limited him to 74 G in ’15, but he was able to come back last season with numbers that were good but not quite yet Stanton-esque.
Misfortune: Stanton’s the biggest guy on the team and known for his prodigious homers, so it’d make sense for him to replace Canseco in helping a lady by clearing out valuables from her burning house.
2017: Andrelton Simmons (LAA) 6 yrs
Despite having 14 seasons behind him, the 37-year-old Smith was coming off a career-high OPS+ of 112, and would go on to play another five. He was also quite a base-stealer, racking up 580 by the end of his career. But at short, he was arguably the greatest ever. No word on whether the show’s first choice was an under-the-weather Cal Ripken Jr.
Finding a veteran starter with a great glove and wheels was basically impossible, so the closest we could get to Smith was a defensive wizard without a great bat in the 27-year-old Simmons. The range doesn’t translate to SBs, as his 10 in ’16 was a career high.
Mishap: Simmons hails from Curacao, a Carribean island country that’s actually part of the Netherlands. The European connection is the best we can do in hoping Simmons has some strong opinions about British statesmen.
2017: Josh Donaldson (TOR) 5 yrs
7.3 WAR/162, 3 ASG
Boggs wasn’t the classic 3B: He was an on-base machine from ’82-’91 with a .435 OBP – 50 points higher than runners-up George Brett and Mike Schmidt. Conversely, he had little power: his .126 ISO was almost half of Schmidt’s in the same timeframe, and he mainly had mid-single-digit HR tallies outside of a fluke year of 24.
This was the toughest match, as there pretty much aren’t any high-OBP/low-SLG types active at 3B going into ’17. The initial pick was David Wright, who has a good lifetime OBP (.376), and got at or above .390 five times, but has struggled to stay on the field. Matt Carpenter was next, with the same OBP, but he’s set to play 1B this season. Kris Bryant has a .377 OBP but has only played two years. We settled for Donaldson, whose OBP the last two years was .371 and .404, albeit with 41 and 37 homers.
Misfortune: Donaldson is active on social media, including Instagram. Given his penchant for snapping photos, he would surely not pass up the chance to get a look at Springfield’s Mystery Spot. Watch that first step, Josh.
2017: Dee Gordon: (MIA) 6 yrs
2.1 WAR/162, 2 ASG
While Sax‘s inclusion was perhaps even more puzzling than Sosh’s, he did have five All-Star appearances and average 40 SBs going into the ’92 season. Perhaps famously, the original choice was Ryne Sandberg, who had the same rookie year of ’82, but double the WAR.
Like with Ozzie, it was tough to find a veteran 2B comp. Speed was Sax’s calling card, and there aren’t many now who rack up SBs, so here we went with Gordon, who didn’t see full-time duty until 2014. He currently has 218 SBs (an average of 64 per 162 games), and only Jose Altuve comes close with 199 (average of 39). But Gordon’s subpar bat also puts him more in line with Sax.
Misfortune: Two of the original team had public steroids scandals. Only one on the new team has thus far, though it was probably the one you’d have least suspected two years ago. Hypnotism isn’t against the rules, but its effectiveness is questionable, and one bad session could have Gordon clucking like a chicken.
2017: Clayton Kershaw (LAD) 9 yrs
2.37 ERA, 159 ERA+, 2.55 FIP, 9.8 K/9, 2.4 BB/9
6.8 WAR/162, 6 ASG
Clemens was dominant for eight seasons before the episode aired, but he was only a third of the way through his career at this point. His best three-year stretch was probably ’91-’93, in which he racked up ERA+s of 211, 165, and 174. In terms of star power at the time, the one other starter who might’ve deserved consideration most was Nolan Ryan.
bWAR prefers Clemens, though Kershaw‘s adjusted stats have the edge, even accounting for the pitcher-friendliness of his home park. He’s coming off a four-year run with ERA+s of 194, 197, 173, and 230 (in a 21-start 2016).
Misfortune: Simply put, “The Claw’s” hippie look won’t fly with Burns, but will the sideburns ever meet his exacting standards?
2017: Bryce Harper (WAS) 5 yrs
5.3 WAR/162, 4 ASG
Though Canseco wasn’t exclusively a RF starting out, he was at this point. He won the ROY in ’86, and became the first member of the 40-40 club in ’88 (which only three others have joined since). He went on to have the quite the up-and-down career after the episode, and probably the most… unique post-career.
Since Canseco was pretty much a regular in right, we took the same liberty and put Harper over in left. By his standards, Harper is coming off a disappointing season, following an amazing 2015 in which he had an OPS+ of 198 and a WAR of 9.9, which almost doubled his next-best high of 5.1 from his rookie year. Still, he’s one of the biggest stars in the sport and his numbers put him fairly in line with Canseco.
Misfortune: In the original, Strawberry was the only ringer to make it to the final game unscathed, but as a lefty, he’s replaced by Homer for the platoon advantage in the final at-bat. Harper also being a lefty allows us to have him suffer the same fate. And considering his gruff on-field demeanor, it was hard to pass up having Harper shed a single tear due to fan taunts.
As for the closing song, who better to sing it than perennial meme sensation (and no stranger to animated guest spots): Smash Mouth? Just don’t tell them no Giants made the team.
Well, Mr Burns had done it.
The power plant had won it
With Dee Gordon clucking all the while.
A-Gon’s tragic illness made us smile
While Andrelton laid unconscious on the bar-room tile.
We’re talkin softball, from Maine to Colorado.
Talkin’ softball, Donaldson and Giancarlo.
Sal Perez’s grotesquely swollen jaw.
Mike Trout and his run-in with the law.
We’re talkin’ Homer… Harper and the Claw.
Thanks to Darius Austin, Nick Strangis, Tim Livingston, Andrew Patrick, Brandon Lee, Eric Hartman, and Mike Carlucci (you may know the last four from such podcast episodes as The Simpsons Draft).Next post: Season Preview: The 2017 Red Sox
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