Homer at the Bat: 20 Years Later

February 20, 2012
Well Mr. Burns has done it The power plant had won it With Roger Clemens clucking all the while Mike Scioscia's tragic illness made us smile While Wade Boggs lay unconscious on the barroom tile We're talkin' softball From Maine to San Diego Talkin' softball Mattingly and Canseco Ken Griffey's grotesquely swollen jaw Steve Sax and his run in with the law We're talkin' Homer Ozzie and the Straw It's been 20 years since the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant softball team prevailed in the championship against the Shelbyville Nuclear Power Plant team. Although only one of Mr. Burns' ringers panned out, he's determined to build another winner the same way. Since the Negro Leagues are still defunct and players like Honus Wagner and Three Finger Brown are still dead, we'll have to stick with active players. In honor of Springfield, only Texas League alumni are eligible for the softball team because the Springfield Cardinals are the only active Springfield in professional baseball. Oddly enough, there's also a Shelbyville in Missouri, but unlike The Simpsons, the Missouri cities aren't neighboring rivals but nearly 200 miles apart from each other. Before we get to today's ringers, let's check out how the 1992 team is doing now. C Mike Scioscia Scioscia retired after the 1992 season, likely due to the effects of radiation poisoning. It was an unfortunate end to a very good career that saw him win the World Series twice. After a few years coaching and managing in the Dodgers organization, he became Anaheim's manager which saw him win another World Series. His teams are usually very successful, but some of his tactics are often questioned. However, his tragic bunting makes us smile. 1B Don Mattingly Mattingly was already on the downside of his career when Mr. Burns chose him to play first base. He could have had a Hall of Fame career if he had more durability, and these problems were surely exasperated by a loss of confidence due to shorter sideburns. He only played in one playoff series in his career, but he was always a fan favorite. He became a valuable member of Joe Torre's coaching staff on the Yankees and followed Torre to the Dodgers in 2008. He was named Torre's successor and has one year of managing under his belt. 2B Steve Sax Over his career, Sax was generally nondescript. In the middle of his career, he inexplicably had problems throwing to first base but eventually gained his confidence back. When Mr. Burns chose him for the softball team, Sax was coming off the second year of his career, but he would never be the same player again after that. It's fair to say that he was probably distracted by all the legal problems he was facing, being charged with every unsolved crime in New York City. He's been cleared of all charges since, but crime has declined significantly in the 20 years since. Coincidence? SS Ozzie Smith Smith still had a couple solid seasons left in him after his unfortunate visit to Springfield ended. He won his last Gold Glove in 1992 and had an average season the following year, but he finished his career with three poor seasons after that. Did his ill-fated stop at the Springfield Mystery Spot affect his performance in road games? His poor road splits after 1991 make that an overwhelming yes. 3B Wade Boggs Bar fights are nothing new in the baseball industry, so Boggs was able to shrug off his incident with Barney and successfully finish his Hall of Fame career. However, 1992 was perhaps the worst season in his career, so it's fair to say the effects of his bar fight lingered for a year. After that, he managed to bat over .300 in five of his remaining seven seasons. Since he retired, Boggs never spent much time in baseball. Many attribute it to becoming so disillusioned with society after Tony Blair's handling of Iraq nine years ago. LF Jose Canseco Canseco was one of the most prolific power hitters of his time even if some of the numbers he posted may have been a bit artificial to say the least. Since his career ended, Canseco wrote two telling books about performance enhancing drug usage in baseball while admitting to his own use of steroids. He has engaged in several celebrity boxing matches and even made a return to baseball in Independent Leagues. On Twitter, he has made pleas to be given an invitation to a major league team's spring training trying to make a comeback, but there's a widespread belief that he's unable to be a good teammate at this stage in his life due to a feeling of being taken advantage of, particularly people needing assistance saving their possessions from burning buildings. CF Ken Griffey Jr. Griffey was the young superstar on the original softball team. He was only 22 when Mr. Burns recruited him. Fortunately his bout with gigantism due to an overdose of nerve tonic did not stop him from having an incredibly productive career. From 1992-2000, he was mostly healthy and posted a .982 OPS. Injuries caught up to him in the second half of his career, and he wasn't able to reach Hank Aaron's home run record like many had hoped. Is it possible that his leg injuries were caused by compensating for his massive head swelling? Yes, but with 10 years between the nerve tonic incident and when his injuries really started piling up, so it's unlikely. RF Darryl Strawberry Prior to his stellar performance in the championship softball game, Strawberry was one of the best power hitters in baseball. He made eight straight All-Star games and was instrumental in the Mets' 86 World Series team. In the second half of his career, Strawberry battled personal problems, substance abuse and cancer. He often had trouble meeting the expectations of fans, and that was made clear in the softball championship when he struggled to endure incessant heckling from some Springfield fans. P Roger Clemens At this point, it's well known that Boston believed Clemens was too old to re-sign when his contract expired. He quite clearly proved them to be wrong, but at the time, I couldn't blame them. Just four years earlier, he was unable to participate in the softball championship due to being hypnotized to believe he was a chicken. At that point, Clemens was nearing 30 and had pitched over 1700 innings. It could've been a sign that baseball was wearing him down mentally and more susceptible to a hypnotist. Now for the 20th Anniversary Springfield Ringers: SS Troy Tulowitzki (2006 w/ Tulsa: .291/.370/.473 2011 w/ Colorado: .302/.372/.544) The former top 10 pick has blossomed into a superstar and is a cornerstone for the Rockies. He went right from AA to the majors in 2006, and in his career he's only been to AAA two times for rehab appearances. Tulowitzki burst onto the scene with a tremendous 2007 season that helped lead Colorado to their first World Series appearance. On this team, he bats leadoff not because of outstanding speed, but a great ability to make contact and get on base. He also plays Gold Glove defense, and he locks down the middle of the infield as part of a great defensive tandem that we'll complete later in the lineup. RF Carlos Beltran (1998 w/ Wichita: .352/.427/.687 2011 w/ Mets/San Francisco: .300/.385/.525) Like Tulowitzki, Beltran went right from the Texas League to the majors in 1998 with Kansas City. That breakout season earned him the #14 spot on Baseball America's top 100 prospects list, and it's safe to say he outperformed all but maybe two players in front of him. He won Rookie of the Year in 1999 that saw him make six All-Star teams, a couple Silver Sluggers and three Gold Gloves. Unfortunately, knee injuries have taken their toll on Beltran which have confined him to Right Field and reduced his speed. He's not a base stealer anymore, but he can still bat second here thanks to smart baserunning and on base skills. 1B Adrian Gonzalez (2003 w/ Frisco: .283/.326/.393 2011 w/ Boston: .338/.410/.548) It's rare if not unprecedented for a first overall pick to be traded twice before he makes his debut, but that was the case with Gonzalez. Looking at the minor league numbers, it's clear that he's a completely different player now than he used to be. If he had continued to post the meager numbers he had been in the Florida and Texas organizations, he would have never made it as a major league first baseman. In San Diego, he underwent a transformation and became the perennial MVP candidate he is now. He's batting third in this lineup because he's the definition of a complete hitter. He hits for a very good average and has great power to every field. C Mike Napoli (2005 w/ Arkansas: .237/.372/.508 2011 w/ Texas: .320/.414/.631) Whatever changes Napoli made after his trade to Texas paid off in a big way. In the minors, he was close to a three true outcome player as over 45% of his at bats ended in a home run, walk or strikeout. He showed great power in Anaheim, but apparent deficiencies behind the plate and an all or nothing approach at the plate caused him to fall out of favor with Mike Scioscia. After an incredible 2011 season where he hit .320 with 30 home runs and a 1.046 OPS, one of the best all-time seasons for a catcher, he replaces his former manager on Mr. Burns' roster. With Texas, his defense improved to a level no one in Anaheim could have imagined. LF Matt Holliday (2003 w/ Tulsa: .253/.313/.395 2011 w/ St. Louis: .296/.388/.525) Today, Matt Holliday is one of the most underrated hitters in the league. His career slash line is a tremendous .315/.388/.541, and he's not just a product of Coors Field; his OPS with the Cardinals is only one point lower than his OPS with the Rockies. For a long time in the minors, it appeared that he wouldn't become the star that he is. His power wasn't really developing the way people expected, but the Rockies still had to sign him to a major league contract to prevent him from going to play college football. After his subpar 2003 season, Holliday debuted in the majors the next year and eventually broke out. 3B Adrian Beltre (1998 w/ San Antonio: .321/.411/.581 2011 w/ Texas: .296/.331/.561) Adrian Beltre was a big deal as a prospect. He impressed the Dodgers so much in the Dominican Republic that they signed him at 15 years old which is quite clearly against the rules. In the minors, he appeared that he was going to live up to the hype, and that includes his tremendous half season with San Antonio before he was promoted to the majors. Most of his Dodgers and Mariners career was marred with inconsistency at the plate, but now with Boston and Texas he's had two consecutive great seasons. His great defense at the hot corner was always an asset even when he was struggling as a hitter. 2B Ian Kinsler (2004 w/ Frisco: .300/.400/.480 2011 w/ Texas: .255/.355/.477) Kinsler sometimes frustrates Rangers fans with prolonged slumps, but it's clear that he's a very valuable member of the back to back AL champs. He may never duplicate his 2008 season when he posted a .892 OPS batting over .300 with power, but he's still a really good power hitter. He has a patient approach and good glove, and he completes his all-around game by being a great baserunner. He could bat higher in this lineup as he does for Texas, and if he made better contact in 2011, he would definitely deserve to bat 1 or 2 in the softball championship. CF Dexter Fowler (2008 w/ Tulsa: .335/.431/.515 2011 w/ Colorado: .266/.363/.432) Centerfield was probably the most difficult position to fill. The other candidate was Adam Jones, but this lineup has enough power and could use some more athleticism and on-base skills. His major league career has been up and down so far, but Fowler had a great second half in 2011, and the Rockies hope that it carries over to 2012 and proves to be the long term option in CF. He doesn't put the ball in play enough, but his patience makes him a potential top of the order hitter. His defense needs to improve, but he certainly has the athleticism to do it. P Jered Weaver (2005 w/ Arkansas: 3.98/1.44 2011 w/ Anaheim: 2.41/1.01) In most other years, Weaver's 2011 season would've earned him a Cy Young but competing with Justin Verlander proved to be too much. For a few years, Weaver couldn't replicate the dominance he showed in his rookie season, but he's been outstanding in 2010 and 2011. His stint with Arkansas was actually the low point of his entire career, posting a career high in WHIP. It didn't take him long to reach the majors and become Anaheim's ace. That's a formidable roster that Shelbyville will have a tough time contending with. Everyone knows that in one baseball game, anything can happen. The worst team can beat the best team on any day, so by no means would the rematch be a lock for Springfield. What if one of the following happened? What if all of them did? Mike Napoli injured in a bar fight arguing about austerity measures taken by Italy Adrian Gonzalez quits the team after finding out it was being played on Sunday night Ian Kinsler fails to show up while he's helping the Lady of White Rock Lake find her home Troy Tulowitzki suffers from altitude sickness Adrian Beltre sustains a concussion after having his head rubbed Matt Holliday contracts Letospirosis from a wild squirrel Dexter Fowler gets cut for tweeting too much Jered Weaver is blinded by a teammate hitting an apple back to the box Of course Carlos Beltran is able to show up, leaving Homer on the bench again. It's always possible that Mr. Burns plays a hunch with the game on the line again. Even if Beltran is locked in, striking out looking to end the 2006 NLCS has to be in the back of Burns' mind, and he could elect to go with the proven clutch hitter on the bench. Image: Last Exit To Springfield

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