Here are the five best baseball-themed TV episodes to get you to Spring Training
The first pitchers and catchers start reporting to Spring Training on Feb. 18. And while that's just over a week away, it still seems like time has ground to a halt, one grain of sand slowly dropping in my otherwise useless hourglass.
So what is a baseball fan supposed to do until then? Sure, you could call sports talk radio at 3 a.m. to discuss ludicrous trades, and yeah, there is your computer simulation league where you're up to the year 2075 and aliens have begun populating rosters, but that's not enough.
Fortunately, like always, TV is there to help soothe us. So hop on the couch, pop some popcorn and veg out with these five classics.
The Simpsons - "Homer at the Bat"
As if there was going to be any other option to start this list than the oft-cited, repeated and quoted "Simpsons" episode that will never let anyone down. It's kind of like Rick Astley in that regard.
The episode centers around the Nuclear Power Plant's softball team, led by Homer, going on a major winning streak and reaching the championship. However, after the power plant's owner, Mr. Burns, makes a big bet on the outcome, he stacks the team with big league ringers.
That's right, "The Simpsons" used this as an excuse to fill the show with Darryl Strawberry, Wade Boggs (who just made another TV appearance on "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia"), Jose Canseco, Don Mattingly, Steve Sax, Ozzie Smith, Roger Clemens, Mike Scioscia and Ken Griffey Jr. These weren't just a few scrubs they found who were willing -- these were the very best players in the sport.
Which provided its own difficulties during production. After locking down the script, the show had to wait for teams to swing by Los Angeles to record their audio.
And as for the most popular player, it was none other than Steve Sax. One staff member said the "closest I ever came to falling in love with a man was Steve Sax. He was so handsome, so sweet."
Of course, what made the episode so great wasn't just the guest stars, it was how true and real the baseball felt. After all, Mr. Burns lifted Darryl Strawberry for Homer in the climactic at-bat because there was a lefty on the mound and he wanted to exploit the platoon advantage.
And then there was Terry Cashman making his classic song even better when he recorded "Talking Softball"
X-Files - "The Unnatural"
Probably the weirdest show to make it to the list. After all, "The X-Files?" Don't they have more pressing things to be investigating like weird slithering guys who eat livers than cover baseball? Of course not, because baseball is America.
The story centers around Josh Exley, an alien in (you guessed it) Roswell, New Mexico. After coming to Earth and falling in love with baseball, this ET shape-shifted into a homer-hitting phenom who is terrified of having his secret discovered. He needn't have worried too much because, as it turns out, "all the great ones" are aliens: Ruth, Mays, Gibson, Mantle, and DiMaggio. (Which confirms a lot of my suspicions about Mike Trout.)
Not only was this the first episode ever solely written by David Duchovny:
But the story was also inspired by real life. I mean, yeah, maybe not the shape-shifting alien part (although what is going on in Area 51?), but Exley was based on Joe Bauman. Bauman was a career minor leaguer/service station owner who hit an unbelieveable 72 home runs for the Roswell Rockets in 1954. Oh yeah, he also drove the team bus when they were on the road.
Because the best part of the show wasn't the convulated mythology, but the will-they-or-won't-they between Mulder and Scully, there was no more romantic moment than when the two took to the ballfield.
Even better, the entire episode is on the internet. So tell your boss that you're doing "research" and watch this:
Deep Space Nine - "Take Me Out to the Holosuite"
The greatest point for baseball's enduring importance? It will one day extend not just beyond the realm of the this world, but it will soar out amongst the cosmos. Kind of like Neil DeGrasse Tyson.
"Deep Space Nine" is arguably the strongest of the Star Trek television shows, thanks in large part to this episode. And we get to the baseball action thanks to captain Benjamin Sisko challenging an old academy rival, Solok, a Vulcan, to a game of baseball to make up for an old loss in an arm-wrestling battle.
Only problem: the Vulcans are full of analytics-driven perfect ballplayers named The Logicians. Basically, an entire team of Billy Beanes and Andrew Friedmans. Although, according to former Cut4 staffer and noted Star Trek critic Dan Wohl:
"I'd compare them more to the strategies employed in Japanese baseball that emphasize sacrifice above all else. Which is probably not how Vulcans would actually approach baseball."
Meanwhile, Sisko's team, the Niners, is full of a bunch of players who have never played the game before. It doesn't make for a pretty outcome.
Down 10-0 in the bottom of the ninth, the Niners finally get a runner to third base. Recognizing the David Eckstein-like levels of heart and grit in the alien Rom, Sisko puts him in to bat. Turns out, Rom can lay down an almost perfect bunt and he drives in the run. He's the Ross Barnes of outer space.
Not only that, but the episode was so impressive, it necessitated an informational card to be used by DS9-ers when studying the show:
I mean, just look at this hot baseball action. I'd say that's worthy of its own collectible card:
WKRP in Cincinnati - "Baseball"
I think there was once a Federal law that required all sitcoms to have a softball episode against a rival organization. Some even say that Thomas Jefferson included it in the first draft of the constitution. The classic sitcom, "WKRP in Cincinnati" did their version when they took on the dastardly WPIGs. Or, it could stand for wPIG, an advanced and weighted baseball metric yet to be invented.
This game is especially notable for its on-field fashion. Just look at these stirrups:
And I haven't seen shorts look this good on a ball field since the White Sox shorts in 1976:
Naturally, WKRP are the underdogs who are trailing going into the final inning.
With the bases loaded and the team's weakest hitter at the plate, the Pigs pull all their fielders. It's similar to when Satchel Paige would have his fielders take a seat while he finished striking out the side. Only difference: this is slow pitch softball in a scripted series instead of arguably the greatest pitcher to walk the earth, and so the enfeebled hitter is able to blast a home run to give WKRP the lead:
In the bottom half and with two outs recorded, it's up to Les Neesman, the station's news director, to make the play. After circling the ball similar to this Nori Aoki catch:
Neesman thrusts his glove into the air and comes down with the ball.
Which is the opposite of anything that ever happened in my Little League career.
Arrested Development - "Switch Hitter"
Even the post-modern "Arrested Development" couldn't stay away from the classic TV trope of the softball episode
With the annual company softball game coming up between the Bluth Company and Sitwell Enterprises, Stan Sitwell steals G.O.B., the Bluth's best player, to work for his company. For any scouts out there, this is G.O.B.'s traditional celebration after making a big catch -- we can only hope this becomes the new fad in the Major Leagues:
But when game time comes, Michael has convinced G.O.B. to throw the game, giving the Bluth's a fighting chance.
With G.O.B. committing errors at a rate that hasn't been seen since before the age of baseball gloves, the game is tied going into the last inning with the Bluth brother coming to the plate. In most other sitcoms, this is where the Bluth family would re-unite, admit to their wrongdoing and win the game fairly. Instead, after a heart-to-heart with Stan, G.O.B. receives the first support from a father figure in his life, and he drives one into the gap.
As he races towards home, G.O.B. crashes into the catcher and is called out ... at first. It's a plot point that, if the show were made just a few years later, wouldn't have happened thanks to rule 7.13:
There's one more twist left in this episode, but I won't ruin it for you. After all, this is nearly perfect TV.
Is there a favorite we missed? Hit us up in the comments -- after all, we need something to occupy our time until Spring Training, too.