- Nov 10, 2006
‘Homer at the Bat’ turns 30: A collection of memories from all nine All-Stars in ‘The Simpsons’ classic
"The Simpsons" episode is also sprinkled with obscure baseball history references usually associated with Ken Burns, not Mr. Burns.
Some of the children have no idea he played baseball at all.
"They just want to know, 'How did you get on 'The Simpsons'?" Strawberry once told me.
Wade Boggs experiences a similar phenomenon during his travels around the country. For some reason, it happens a lot at airports.
"People stop me and say, 'Hey, I saw you on 'The Simpsons!'" the five-time batting champion said. "It's not, 'Hey, you had 3,000 hits.'"
Such is the lasting impact of "Homer at the Bat," a baseball-palooza that debuted 30 years ago this Sunday, on Feb. 20, 1992. The episode featured a cameo lineup of major-league superstars: Strawberry, Boggs, Ken Griffey Jr., Don Mattingly, Roger Clemens, Mike Scioscia, Jose Canseco, Ozzie Smith and Steve Sax.
"And all of us," Strawberry noted, "were in our primes."
In the show, Montgomery Burns attempts to win a bet with a fellow billionaire by hiring ringers to play for the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant softball team. But it's not just the star power that makes "Homer at the Bat" such a blast for seamheads.
The episode is also sprinkled with obscure baseball references that reveal a depth of baseball history usually associated with Ken Burns, not Mr. Burns. The baseball jokes are so elite that the episode itself wound up in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Cooperstown welcomed Production Script 8F13 in 2007, and "The Simpsons" cast and crew all autographed the cover. Dan Castellaneta, signing on behalf of Homer Simpson, added this inscription: "Finally, what took you guys so long to elect me!?"
Not bad for an episode that struggled to make it out of the first inning. According to the DVD commentary of the episode, Julie Kavner, the voice of Marge Simpson, and Harry Shearer, the voice of Mr. Burns and other characters, argued vehemently that the script was below the show's standards. Kavner and Shearer thought "Homer at the Bat" ventured too far into surreal territory. Worse, they didn't find it funny.
"The episode also had one of the worst table reads ever," producer Al Jean told the Hall of Fame in 2017. "We had two table reads on the same day, which we hadn't done before or since. And it was the second script read and no laughs. Just complete dead silence. So my initial thought was: I hope I keep my job."
Thirty years later, it's safe to say it all worked out. The episode became a critical smash and is often ranked by fans as the best episode in the history of the show.
On a personal note, I savored that episode — and so many other sports-themed Simpsons episodes like it — so much I set out to write an entire book on the topic. It wasn't just "Homer at the Bat." Over the lifespan of a show now in its 32nd season, more than 50 athletes have visited Springfield — a cavalcade of MVPs, All-Stars and Olympic medalists.