If the fact that I created a website devoted to baseball wasn’t proof enough, let it be said that I am a very big baseball fan. Another thing I’ve been a fan of for basically as long is The Simpsons, a highly influential animated sitcom which satirizes American culture as poignantly and hilariously as anything I have ever seen. And while I continue to enjoy and think endlessly about baseball, The Simpsons went off the air in 2000, after its shaky but still mostly funny eleventh season concluded with one of the show’s high points, the brilliantly meta VH1 parody “Behind the Laughter”. And while I wish The Simpsons were still on the air today, it’s probably for the best that it went off the air when it did. The show never could have maintained that level forever.
In one glorious Season 3 episode, these two great joys of my childhood converged to form “Homer at the Bat”, which celebrated its 27th anniversary on Wednesday. And while I don’t think it’s the single greatest episode of the series (though this is more a reflection of the overall quality of the show than the episode itself, which most shows would be proud to trot out as its crowning achievement), it’s understandable why a generation whose comedic sensibilities were so influenced by The Simpsons would find particular joy in it.
The series had delved into celebrity guest stars before, but “Homer at the Bat” took this to a new extreme. The sheer volume of the episode, in which nine active Major League Baseball players contributed their talents to the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant’s company softball team, is almost a gag by itself. Unsurprisingly, the series shot the moon, trying to land as incredible of a roster of baseball talent as was possible, but occasionally, they had to settle for second-tier stars. They still did a far better job of casting than the producers of Space Jam, who for some reason decided that the super-genius aliens would settle on a starting five in basketball of two centers (one of whom is Shawn Bradley?!?!?!), two power forwards, and the shortest player in NBA history at point guard.
But even these second-tier stars don’t seem second-tier to a generation raised on this episode. The show very well may include the greatest starting pitcher of all-time and it includes a solidly okay second baseman, but as far as the episode is concerned, they’re both elite talents. And if this episode managed to exist in 2019, people would mentally equalize the nine players. As they should.
So here is a look at the 2019 equivalent to the Springfield Nine. This is based more on being similar types and quality of player than personality for a couple reasons. Most obviously, I don’t know the players (though I will most definitely be excluding Addison Russell and Aroldis Chapman from this team, for obvious reasons), so I don’t have much knowledge of who would actually be good at acting. And second, it’s not like Simpsons producers in the early 1990s were necessarily aiming for the most personable players. And in many cases, some of the blander players work well for comedic effect. I am not the first person to do this but I haven’t seen anybody do it this year (it was a big thing for the episode’s 25th anniversary in 2017).
1992: Roger Clemens
2019: Chris Sale
This is perhaps the most obvious comparison there could be. In 1992, Roger Clemens was a 29 year-old Boston Red Sox ace who was the consensus best pitcher in baseball. In 2019, Chris Sale is a 29 year-old Boston Red Sox ace who is the consensus best pitcher in baseball. In “Homer at the Bat”, Roger Clemens is hypnotized into believing that he is a chicken, and frankly, seeing the 6’6″, 180-pound Sale strutting around as such sounds hilarious.
1992: Mike Scioscia
2019: Francisco Cervelli
The 33 year-old Scioscia wasn’t a superstar the likes of Clemens, but he was a well-respected two-time All-Star and two-time World Series champion before taking a job in Springfield, being cajoled to join the company team, and then suffering from radiation poisoning and being forced to miss the big game. Cervelli has never been an All-Star, but the Pirates backstop, who turns 33 next month, has become a respected veteran in the pitch framing era.
1992: Don Mattingly
2019: Joe Mauer
Although Mattingly was just 31 at the time of “Homer at the Bat”, the former MVP was hobbled by back problems and started to decline somewhat rapidly, to a point where after a Hall of Fame-worthy twenties, he was out of baseball by 34. And although Joe Mauer is now retired and a few years older than Mattingly (he’s 35), the former MVP (as a catcher, which adds to the sadness of his decline) evokes the spirit of what Mattingly was. Mauer gets a bonus for having been in several national advertising campaigns as a younger player. And Mattingly’s enduring legacy in the episode, Mr. Burns telling him to trim his sideburns, becomes even more absurd with the extremely clean-cut Mauer at the helm.
1992: Steve Sax
2019: Jason Kipnis
According to the director’s commentary for “Homer at the Bat”, the producers initially wanted Ryne Sandberg, probably the best second baseman in baseball, but ended up with Sax, a five-time All-Star but somebody who, at 32, had seen the best years of his career pass him by. Sax played in parts of three more seasons after the episode aired, hovering around replacement level in 1992 and performing poorly in more abbreviated duty in 1993 and 1994. I’m not in the business of predicting sudden evaporations of baseball ability, though the two-time Cleveland Indians All-Star Kipnis, who turns 32 in April, brings the requisite level of grittiness (meant as both a compliment, as both are genuinely gritty, and an insult, as neither is good enough to really be on this team).
1992: Wade Boggs
2019: Justin Turner
Boggs, 33, was still near his Hall of Fame peak by the time this episode came around, and was still one of the most outstanding contact hitters in the game. No modern player can compete with Boggs’s hilariously low strikeout rates, though the 34 year-old Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman maintains a moderate rate compared to other top third basemen. And while it may seem unlikely that Turner, who uses Ed Sheeran as his walk-up song strictly because he kind of looks like him, would be so humorless as to get into a bar fight over who the greatest British Prime Minister was (Pitt the Elder!), I doubt anyone expected this behavior of Boggs, either.
1992: Ozzie Smith
2019: Andrelton Simmons
At 37, Ozzie was the oldest moment of the Springfield Power Plant’s lineup, but he was timeless (three of his teammates retired from Major League Baseball before he did, despite Smith playing a position as grueling as shortstop). At 29, Andrelton Simmons seems far too young for this role, but there aren’t really any premium shortstops in 2019 that are close to Smith’s 1992 age, particularly ones whose skill set (capital-E Elite glove, rapidly improving offense) so perfectly matches the role.
1992: Jose Canseco
2019: Rhys Hoskins
Canseco was deeply unpopular with The Simpsons staff, with executive producer Al Jean commenting that all of the players were very nice except for “one whose last name rhymes with ‘Manseco’.” Among his surlier acts was forcing a rewrite of the scene in which he was inhibited from playing in the championship game, nixing a The Graduate parody in which he is seduced by elementary school teacher Edna Krabappel in favor of a scene that goes out of its way to make him look heroic. I have no reason to believe that Rhys Hoskins would be this particular, but he is similarly an all-bat, no-glove player who doesn’t really have a position (Canseco was a right fielder, but it is a plot point in the episode that somebody else plays right field, so he is presumed to play in left field).
1992: Ken Griffey Jr.
2019: Mike Trout
Griffey was the sport’s best center fielder, and he was 22. And while the 27 year-old Trout lacks Griffey’s youth, he certainly has his star power. There isn’t another young center fielder who could really surpass Trout in these rankings (the closest alternative is the 23 year-old Cody Bellinger, who is a fine player but 1. Mostly plays first base; 2. Ain’t Griffey), so in this case, I’m opting for sheer star power. Plus, since Griffey’s main gag in the episode is being diagnosed with gigantism after diligently drinking a nerve tonic provided to him by his manager, who better to fill that role than a guy with an enormous neck?
1992: Darryl Strawberry
2019: Bryce Harper
The just-shy-of-30 Strawberry is the star of the show among the players, serving as the foil for Homer Simpson by taking his position on the field (and being a relentless suck-up, for good measure). This is the only position for which I am insistent on a handedness, as Strawberry’s lefty bat provides a specific plot purpose (if you don’t know what that is, go watch the episode or something). Harper is slightly younger, as he is currently 26, but perfectly matches Strawberry’s #1 overall pick status, his left-handed power, and if there is a current Major Leaguer at any position I could imagine crying because two kids are heckling him from the stands, it’s the ultra-intense Harper.