Wade Boggs batted at least .300 15 times, won five batting titles, earned a spot on 12 All-Star teams, won a World Series, finished with a .328 career average and sailed into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. So how do fans sometimes greet him in an airport?
"People will come up and say, 'Weren't you on "The Simpsons"?'" Boggs answered. "And I'll say, 'Yeah, among other things.'"
Ozzie Smith says the same thing happens to him. Which is understandable. After all, the Hall of Fame is filled with guys who hit homers but how many can say they played ball alongside Homer in the greatest episode ever of "The Simpsons"? The cartoon goes big screen this week but for many fans, the show reached its zenith 15 years ago with "Homer at the Bat," the episode in which Mr. Burns hires nine major league ringers to play for his nuclear plant softball team.
"Oh, God, I didn't realize how many people watched that show," Don Mattingly said. "All I heard at the stadium after that was 'Mattingly, I told you to shave those sideburns.' I still hear it."
Ken Griffey Jr. says that he only saw the episode once when the studio sent him a copy before it aired and that his kids have never seen it, which puts them in an even lonelier minority than if they owned a comic book store. After Mariners reliever Ryan Rowland-Smith made his major league debut last month against Griffey, the Australian pitcher said he was glad to face Junior because the outfielder was the only active player his friends back home would recognize. "And the only reason they would know him is because he was on 'The Simpsons' years ago," Rowland-Smith said. "If I gave them the name of any other superstar they wouldn't know him. But Griffey and Babe Ruth they would recognize."
Hell, the only way you could have missed "Homer at the Bat" is if Kang and Kodos abducted you before it aired and still have you imprisoned inside a cell on their spaceship. But if that is the case, just know that Mr. Burns signing all those big leaguers worked about as successfully as the Yankees signing Carl Pavano. Boggs gets in a fight with Barney at Moe's over who was Britain's greatest prime minister, Lord Palmerston or Pitt the Elder. Ozzie falls into a bottomless pit in the Springfield Mystery Spot. Mattingly is kicked off the team for not cutting his sideburns. Griffey's head swells from gigantism after drinking too much of Mr. Burns' "nerve tonic." Roger Clemens imagines he is a chicken after undergoing hypnosis. Mike Scioscia is hospitalized with acute radiation poisoning from working in the nuclear power plant.
Eventually, only Darryl Strawberry is able to play in the big game, replacing Homer in the outfield. (When Homer asks Strawberry whether the outfielder is better than him, he replies, "Well, I never met you before but ... yes.") Strawberry hits nine home runs but Mr. Burns chooses to "play the percentages" by pinch-hitting for him in the final inning, sending in the right-handed Homer against a left-handed pitcher with the score tied 43-43 and the bases loaded. Homer drives in the game-winning run when he is hit in the head with a pitch.
Even George Steinbrenner can't match the money of Monty Burns. (D'oh! Should have been a Spoiler Alert there.)