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February 19, 2012
The Springfield Nuclear Power Plant All-Stars
This Sunday Fox aired the 500th - yes, five-zero-zero - episode of its flagship program, "The Simpsons". Once one of the greatest shows on television, the show has had it's ups and downs since the turn of the century, but it's still going strong ratings-wise. To celebrate the remarkable occasion, I've pulled out an old favorite from the Wezen-Ball archives. The post doesn't quite analyze the single-greatest "Simpsons" episode ever - sadly, Hank Scorpio bought Homer the Denver Broncos and not, say, the Chicago Cubs for helping him take over the East Coast - but it does analyze the single-greatest baseball-themed Simpsons episode ever.
So - how good would a 1992 baseball fan have considered the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant team of ringers to have been?
In the "Homer at the Bat" episode entry on Wikipedia, it notes that the episode first aired on February 20, 1992, putting it right in line with that spring's preview guides. A Simpsons viewer watching the episode that night would have been in the same preseason mindset about these players - how good will he be? will he make the actual all-star team? - as the preview guides themselves. These quotes from the 1992 Sporting News preview guides are about as apt as possible then.
Catcher: Mike Scioscia (Mr. Burns' initial pick: Gabby Street)
At this point in his career, Scioscia was getting a little old, but was still mostly effective. Apparently, Carlton Fisk was the writers' initial choice, but he turned them down. If I recall, it was pretty well accepted that Mike had a great head for the game, which is probably why he became a successful manager so quickly. Whatever the reason they chose him, he worked out perfectly. His desire to work in the blue collar world, and his subsequent radiation poisoning, seemed so... plausible.
First-base: Don Mattingly (Cap Anson)
This was also a turning point in Mattingly's career, as his injured back was beginning to take its toll on him. Still, there were plenty of reasons to believe that Donnie Baseball would be able to finish out his Hall of Fame career. The funniest thing about this is that Mattingly's trouble with Burns over his "hippie sideburns" actually preceded the real skirmish over his hair.
Second-base: Steve Sax (Nap Lajoie)
The Yankees traded Sax to the White Sox only a month or so before the airing of the episode, in order to make room for prospect Pat Kelly. He seems to have been a welcome addition in Chicago, providing a good batting average and some speed. Of course, if they knew about all those murders he committed in New York, they probably would have never made the deal...
Shortstop: Ozzie Smith (Honus Wagner)
Ozzie had long ago solidified his reputation as the Wizard of Oz, and was already considered a (likely) Hall of Famer. The reference to his "last year with St. Louis" was regarding the Cards' management saying they wouldn't offer him any guaranteed money beyond 1992. He stayed with the team 4 more years, though, to the delight of St. Louis fans everywhere. Of course, everyone is grateful that he found his way out of that bottomless pit. I just wonder how long it was before he ran out of film for all those cameras.
Third-base: Wade Boggs (Pie Traynor)
Ten years into his career, Boggs had proven himself to be one of the best pure hitters in baseball history. Sure, he had some strangeness associated with him - feuding with the Red Sox, eating chicken everyday, an affinity for British Prime Minister Pitt the Elder - but, in the end, he was an excellent ballplayer who earned his way into the Hall of Fame.
Leftfield: Jose Canseco (Shoeless Joe Jackson)
At the time, it was difficult to find a better player in baseball than Jose Canseco (who normally played rightfield). We all know what happened to him since that time, but, in early-1992, he was a bona-fide superstar on and off the field. I'm not a fan of Canseco's, personally, but I do wonder if anyone ever took into account his heroic saving of that poor woman and her cat (and her washing machine and her...) from that fire when they were considering him for the Hall of Fame. Character counts, after all.
Centerfield: Ken Griffey, Jr. (none?)
Okay, maybe Griffey had already taken the crown as best player in baseball away from Canseco. Thankfully, Kid Griffey has been mostly free from steroid talk all his career. It's good to see the nice guys succeed so tremendously sometimes. If I had been the Mariners trainer, or even an MLB official, though, I would've been worried about that addiction to nerve tonic. That had to have had some affect on his numbers...
Rightfield: Darryl Strawberry (Harry Hooper)
Of all the players to visit Springfield on Mr. Burns' dime, it was Darryl Strawberry, who played Homer's rightfield, who was able to keep things clean the entire time. I don't know if that's technically "ironic", considering all of Strawberry's other problems, but it certainly makes for one heckuva coincidence. That tear, though, after the chants of "Darr-yl! Darr-yl!", always got to me. What if he was that sensitive? What kind of damage were we inflicting on the poor guy?
Pitcher: Roger Clemens (Three-Finger Brown, Jim Creighton - though I think Burns put Creighton in the outfield)
Clemens' talent and status as one of the greatest pitchers of all-time has never really been debated. Clearly, Clemens was an amazing pitching talent, and had already proven that by the time he joined the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant softball team. His attitude, on the other hand, has definitely been questioned, especially since his poorly judged day in Congress. I imagine his friends and family wished that they had hypnotized him to think he was a chicken before he made that decision.