Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Talking Nessman...Homer and the Bugs...

                             I would like to talk about baseball on T.V.  Don't worry, I'm not going to go off about baseball commentators.  So (for now), I'm going to lay off Joe Buck and Tim McCarver...for one, McCarver is retired, and two, baseball season been over for a month.  In fact, this entry won't have anything to do with modern day baseball games on T.V., or even real games in general.  Instead, I'm going to write about my three favorite baseball related T.V. episodes.  Over the years, there have been many movies about baseball, but precious few shows dealing with it.  There was a show called " Hardball" that lasted for about six weeks in the fall of 1994.  The fact that it aired during the strike season may be a coincidence, but another television event that aired around the same time was Ken Burn's "Baseball."

             Anyway, there hasn't been a ton of shows with episodes dealing with the national pastime, but I've selected three from, coincidentally enough, three of my favorite shows ever.  All three were/are comedies, and two of them are cartoons.  Technically, only one of the episodes I've selected were about baseball, as the other two were actually softball related...

                        When people try to tell me that Mickey Mouse was better than Bugs Bunny, I look at them like they just said they preferred E.L.O. to the Beatles...there's no contest.  There are many classic episodes featuring the lovable trouble maker known as Bugs Bunny, but one of the undeniable classics has to be the baseball short from 1946.  The game took place at the Polo grounds, although some of the park's nuances screamed old Yankee stadium.  The game featured the fearsome "Gashouse Gorillas", which was made up of huge, well, gorilla-like players, who smoked cigars while they played, against the Teetotalers, a team made up of skinny old men.
              The name "Gashouse gorillas" referred to the 1934 Saint Louis Cardinals, who were a bunch of reprobates who went on to win the World series that year, with players such as Dizzy Dean, Ducky Medwick, Ripper Collins, Pepper Martin and Leo Durocher.  The term "teetotaler" refers to a person who doesn't drink, which, during the '30s and '40s in baseball, was probably seen as a sign of weakness, as there were many a alcoholic player in those decades. ( Hack Wilson, anyone?) 
                       Needless to say, the Gorillas were pounding the teetotalers, hitting bomb after bomb out of the park so frequently, they started forming a conga line around the bases.  Meanwhile, out in center field, Bugs- eating a hot dog bun with a carrot inside of it- starts to taunt the Gashouse Gorillas, calling them a "bunch of doity players", then claiming he could beat them all by himself with "Wam! a homer. Wam! another homer."  This doesn't sit well with  the Gorillas, and they challenge him to make good on his promise.
                  Bugs starts by striking out their players by throwing fastballs, then running behind the plate in time to catch the balls, all the while, essentially giving himself a pep talk. ("That's the pepper, boy...). When he bats, he hits (literal) screaming line drives; one of which is hit to an outfielder, who keeps yelling, "I got it, I got it." When he tries to catch it, it drives him so far into the ground, a tombstone replaces where he once was, which says, "He Got it!"
        The second time he pitches, he decides to "perplex them with my pulverizing slowball", in which he makes a ridiculous windup, and then throws it so slow, all three batters strike out on the same pitch...strikeone,striketwo,strikethree you're out, strikeone, striketwo, strikethree, you're out, strikeone, striketwo, strikethree, you're out...When you hear modern day players talk about pitchers with great change-ups, such as Pedro Martinez or Johan Santana, they often refer to the pitch as the "Bugs bunny change-up." 
              Bugs has other tricks up his sleeve-distracting the catcher with a pin-up poster while trying to score, disguising himself as the umpire, and then tricking one of the Gorillas into calling himself out- but perhaps the most famous scene is right at the end.  With Bugs ahead 96-95 and an out to go, one of the Gashousers-using a tree he just cut down as a bat- launches one completely out of the Polo Grounds.  Bugs gives chase, hailing the first taxi he sees;unfortunately, the driver turns out to be the same guy who hit the ball...eventually, Bugs runs into the Empire state building, goes to the top, hurls his glove into the air to catch it. An umpire appears , calling the batter out. When the batter complains about the call, the Statue of Liberty chimes in, saying "That's what the man said, you heard him."
WKRP.  "Baseball." (1979)
                WKRP newsman Les Nessmen gathers his fellow employees into a room to make an announcement; he has challenged rival station WPIG to a softball game.  They're not too enthused...WPIG are a good team, who- according to station manager Andy Travis- even beat the Baptists.  However, Les tries to convince them by saying how he was never allowed to play ball as a kid, and had to instead take violin lessons.  The crew remains unconvinced, until secretary (and blond bombshell) Jennifer Marlow agrees to her tight red shorts.
                KRP's team has some decent players, with Venus flytrap, well, catching flies in the outfield (When trying to convince the team to play, clueless Les says he knows Venus is a good athlete...simply because he's a Negro), Travis at short, Bailey at second, and so on.  At first, PIG's team is hitting Arthur "Big guy" Carlson pretty well, until Doctor Johnny Fever has two good ideas; first, he tells the Big guy how to put some spin on the ball, and second, he has Jennifer stand by the mound, distracting the hitters. (While I thought Jennifer was attractive, I was always more of a Bailey guy, but anyway...)
                   The biggest problem they have, of course is Les's complete lack of skill at playing the game.  At the start of the game, he wants to pitch, but after throwing a few balls nowhere near the strike zone, they convince him to move to third, telling him that Pete Rose played there.  When that proves to be a bad idea, they move him to first, telling him that Pete Rose plays first. (the fact that Rose played a lot of different positions in his career certainly helped this premise)  And when first proved to be too much, they finally move him to right field, telling him that Roberto Clemente played there.  Even though Les does the sports for the station, he has no idea who Clemente is.
       As bad as he was in the field, he was even worse at the plate, striking out every time.  At the plate and in the field, he is constantly having flashbacks to his childhood, and his mother telling him it's time for violin lessons.  Despite Les's shortcomings, the team- Venus, Travis, Bailey and even Herb Tarlick- keep the game close.  One of the best plays is third baseman Bucky Dornster catching a line drive with a beer still in his hand, a feat I have tried many a time at softball games myself (I'm a third baseman with a love of beer too.)
                      With the bases loaded in the top of the ninth, Arthur Carlson-who the other team's captain keeps calling "Moose", which the Big Guy was called when he played ball in college- has a chance to put them ahead, despite the fact he hasn't hit anything all day.  Then, WPIG's captain pulls a dick move, telling all of his fielders to come in, which is actually illegal.  In the rule book, it says that all nine of the fielders have to be in the field of play during the game.  I'm sure the producers of the show were trying to recreate the whole Satchel Paige thing, when he tried the same thing.  However, Satch actually had all the fielders stand around the mound, thereby making it nice and legal.
                       Anyway, the Big Guy hits it pretty deep, and PIG's players have to run from their bench to the outfield.  All the runners on base score, and Mr. Carlson-taking his time going around the bases- does as well.  When the ump says "safe!", Carlson replies "I should hope so."
On to the bottom of the ninth, when, with two outs, a left handed batter comes to the plate, which isn't a good thing.  Most likely, he is going to hit it to Les out in right.  The previous two outs were caught by Venus in left and left center, but there is no way he can cover this fly ball, which heads straight to Les.  As he circles around, with his childhood trauma still going through his mind, he finally puts his glove up in the air in desperation...and catches it. 
3) The Simpsons. "Homer at the bat." (1992)
                       When Homer starts choking on a doughnut at work, his fellow employees Lenny and Carl passively look for the poster with the Heimlich maneuver instructions on it.  Right next to it is a sign up sheet for softball.  When he discovers this, Homer forgets that he's choking and goes to sign up.  When his friends seem uninterested in playing, Homer informs them that he has a "secret weapon", which turns out to be a home made bat called, "Wonderbat." (An obvious reference to Robert Redford's bat in The Natural) After they sign up, and find out his secret weapon is nothing but
a bat, his friends are unimpressed, with Carl sarcastically informing Homer that he himself has an "enchanted jockstrap."
                 When the Plant starts winning ballgames, Mr. Burns makes a wager with the owner of the Shelbyville Nuclear plant that the Springfield plant will beat Shelbyville when they play each other in a week.  The bet is for a million dollars, so Mr. Burns wants to makes sure they'll win, later asking his lackey Mr. Smithers, "Is it wrong to cheat to win a million dollars?" When Smithers replies, "yes", Burns says, "let me rephrase it wrong for ME to cheat to win a million dollars?"  Smithers then changes his answer.
         In order to guarantee the win, Burns decides to get ringers...or as he calls them "professional baseballers."  He orders Smithers to get such players as "Cap Anson, Honus Wagner, Mordecai "Three finger" Brown."  Smithers interrupts by saying, "All those players have long retired and passed fact your right fielder has been dead for 130 years."  (I looked it up. The player was Jim Creighton, a great player who indeed died in 1862) Burns then tells Smithers to go get living players, and to scout " the American league, the National League, the Negro League. ( needless to say, the Negro League hadn't existed in about 40 years at that time...) 
                 Smithers finds Mike Scioscia while Scioscia was hunting, almost getting shot in the process.  He runs into Ozzie Smith at Graceland, while Ozzie is vacationing, and then goes to Don Mattingly's house to recruit him.  The rest of the players are introduced at work: Darryl Strawberry, Ken Griffey Jr., Wade Boggs, Roger Clemens, Steve Sax and Jose Canseco.  Burns introduces all of them as new workers, and asks them to sign up for the softball team, much to the team's dismay.  The only player who doesn't do it right away is Scioscia; he claims he was hired to run the decontaminater machine.  Burns says "One more outburst like that, and I'll send you back to the big leagues."
                      The team starts working out, and Homer finds out the player who is taking his position is Strawberry, who constantly sucks up to Mr. Burns. (obviously in complete contrast to his actually personality) Things are looking good, and Burns, wearing his old timey Zephyr uniform, makes out the lineup card.  He then tells Smithers that there's no way they could lose...maybe if three players couldn't play, or six...there's an outside chance...but NINE? I'd like to see that...
              Eight of the nine players don't show up for the game:
Ozzie Smith- Falls down a bottomless pit visiting a tourist spot.
Steve Sax- Gets arrested by the corrupt Springfield when they find out he's from New York.
Wade Boggs- Gets punched out by Barney at Moe's bar while arguing who the greatest Prime minister in England was.
Jose Canseco- Helps a woman recover things from her burning home...pretty much everything in it, actually...
Roger Clemens- The hypnotist who Burns hired to help the team, ended up convincing Clemens that he was a chicken.
Mike Scioscia- Was hospitalized for radiation poisoning, being the only player who actually Worked at the plant while there.
Ken Griffey Jr.- Was strictened with "Gigantism" from drinking too much nerve tonic.
Don Mattinley- Was fired by Burns for not shaving his sideburns. (He actually had a mullet, but Mr, Burns couldn't tell the difference.)
               The only major leaguer who showed up was Strawberry, meaning that Homer still had to sit.  However, with the game tied and the bases loaded, Burns decided to pinch hit Homer for Strawberry. (who, throughout the game had been taunted by Bart and Lisa shouting "Daryl...Daryl...much like Red Sox fans did to him during the '86 World series) Homer goes to the plate, and Burns goes over the signs with him, although Homer's mind wanders so much, he just ends up craving a bag of potato when Burns actually gives the Signs at third base, Homer becomes distracted, and gets hit in the head with the pitch, essentially winning the game for the Springfield power Plant.
                       So, those are the three best baseball (or softball) episodes in television history...sure, there was that Seinfeld one where George ends up plowing into Bette Middler, effectively knocking her out of the play that she's in...and of course, Jerry is dating her replacement...but I didn't think of this episode until after I wrote the other three, which are better anyway...oh, there's the Seinfeld one with Keith Hernandez, which parodies the Kennedy assassination, but there's not much baseball in that one...I'm gonna stop now...




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