TV URBAN LEGEND: The writers of “The Simpsons” had a clever solution when one of the baseball stars guest-starring in an episode objected to his plot.
As we have seen a few times in the past, a group that you probably don’t want to mess with is comedy writers, as they are pretty well versed with messing with people. That has certainly been the case for guest starts on “The Simpsons.” Justin Timberlake objected to a line that the writers gave him in an early appearance on the show and the show ended up re-using that line over and over again to mess with him.
However, in the early days of the show, they had to be a lot more careful with how they treated celebrities, as they were just beginning to get celebrities to agree to appear on the show. Therefore, the earliest way that they dealt with celebrity complaints about plots was to turn it dramatically the other way. When Johnny Carson didn’t like that his appearance in the Season 4 finale, “Krusty Gets Kanceled,” was slightly making fun of him (portraying him as a moocher now that he was no longer working on “The Tonight Show”), the writers responded by having his appearance in the episode be over-the-top positive, having him juggling cars while singing opera!
The writers had learned that strategy from their very first episode that featured multiple guest voices, the classic third season episode, “Homer at the Bat,” when they had to change a plot to pacify a complaining baseball player.
The concept of “Homer at the Bat” is that Homer Simpson gets Mister Burns to sponsor a Springfield Nuclear Power Plant softball team. When the team does better than expected, though, and makes the playoffs, Mister Burns steps in and hires a brand new team of professional baseball players to serve as ringers. The team was Mike Scioscia at catcher, Don Mattingly at first, Steve Sax at second, Ozzie Smith at shortstop, Wade Boggs at third, Ken Griffey Jr. at left field, Jose Canseco in center field, Darryl Strawberry in right field and Roger Clemens at pitcher.
The joke, though, is that one by one, maladies befall each member of the team except for the one player who plays the same position as Homer (Darryl Strawberry). Scioscia gets too in to his fake job at the power plant and ends up getting radiation poisoning, Mattingly is kicked off the team due to his too long sideburns (a plot somehow not based on the actual Don Mattingly hair controversy of 1991), Sax gets arrested by the Springfield police (because he was from New York City and there are a whole lot of unsolved murders in New York, so who is to say that Sax didn’t commit them all?), Smith disappears after visiting the Springfield mystery spot as a tourist, Boggs gets punched out by Barney during a bar argument over who was the best British prime minister, Griffey suffers from a negative reaction to a nerve tonic Burns wanted the players to drink, Canseco was too busy saving a woman and her possessions from a fire and Clemens was hypnotized into thinking he was a chicken. In the end, though, with the bases loaded and the game tied, Burns pinch-hits Homer for Strawberry (due to the platoon advantage) and Homer ends up winning the game by getting hit by a pitch.
All of those plots were as originally written, except for Jose Canseco’s. Simpson producer Al Jean once noted of the players appearing in the episode, “They were all really nice except for one whose name rhymes with Manseco.”
The original plot for Canseco was that he was going to be seduced by Bart’s teacher, Mrs. Krapappel, in a parody of the Susan Sarandon character from “Bull Durham.” Canseco’s wife at the time, though, objected. So instead they gave him an over-the-top heroic plotline, where he was the greatest guy in the world, saving not only a woman from a fire, but her baby, her cat, her player piano, her washer, her dryer, her couch and recliner, her high chair, her TV, her rug, her kitchen table and chairs, her lamp, and her grandfather clock.
Oddly enough, a week before the episode aired, Canseco and his wife got into a terrible fight at 4:30 in the morning, with Canseco allegedly chasing after her car with his car and then ramming her car with his car and then allegedly spitting on her window when she stopped.
The legend is…
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is email@example.com.