October 12, 2010


The Simpsons Baseball Edition (Joe Posnanski, 10/12/10, SI)

One of the thing many things I love about The Simpsons is that, often, the main implausible plot is sparked by an even more unlikely mini-plot at the start. In this case, we need to get to the point where Lisa is managing Bart’s baseball team. To get to this point, they bring in a former student who has gone on to attend an Ivy League school. And when Lisa expresses her own desire to go to an Ivy, the woman says that Lisa better get involved in more extra-curricular activities.

Marge: “Don’t worry, you can still attend McGill University, the Harvard of Canada.”
Lisa: “Anything that is the something of the something isn’t really the anything of the anything.”

At this point, Flanders, the fussy neighbor, comes by to say that he can no longer coach Bart’s Little League baseball team because he cannot live with his conscience after not complaining when an umpire calls his shortstop’s foul ball a home run (Flanders: “Call me Walter Matthau because I’m a Bad News Bearer”).

After Homer refuses to take over the team (Homer: “Sorry Marge, last time I stepped on a baseball field I got tazed”), Lisa becomes the team manager. [...]

Yes, now, we have reached the crux of the episode. Lisa must learn baseball. For this she goes to Moe’s to seek the council of her father and men watching the game on television.

Moe: “The only thing I know about strategy is that whatever the manager does, it’s wrong. Unless it works in which case he’s a button pusher.”

Moe then points her to the corner … where a mini-SABR convention has broken out. There are four nerdy guys with computers and stat books discussing the game.

Nerdy stat guy 1: As a pitcher Cliff Lee is CLEARLY superior to Zack Greinke.
Nerdy stat guy 2: Yes I completely agree with the following COLOSSAL exception: Before the fourth inning, after a road loss, in a domed stadium. Then it’s great to be Greinke!*

*I would love to believe that I played a small part, just a tiny part, in inspiring this scene. But I think it’s more likely that the word “Greinke” is funnier than, say, “Roy Halladay.”

Lisa is impressed by their knowledge, and here she is told that the key to understanding baseball is sabermetrics: “The field was developed by statistician Bill James,” Nerdy Stat Guy 2 says.

At this point, he shows Lisa his computer, where there’s a picture of Bill. And Bill utters his one line: “I made baseball as much fun as doing your taxes!” [...]

Lisa — armed with her newfound statistics — turns around Bart’s team. She moves the fielders around so that they are always perfectly situated*, which absolutely will NOT inspire me to make a Brooks Conrad joke.

*At one point, Lisa moves her first baseman into the crowd, and sure enough a foul ball is hit right to him. A good gag, but once again they did something for goofballs like me to notice: The first baseman was left-handed when he was put in the crowd. But he turned into the right-handed Ralph when the foul ball was hit to him. I wonder how much fun they have over there putting in these little details they know 99.999% of the people won’t notice, but will drive the other .001% mad.

Lisa’s maneuvers are making the team a winner, but Bart cannot help but feel that the joy of the game is being drained. When Lisa tells him to not swing — the pitcher is wild — he is furious.

Bart: “But I’m on a hot-streak.
Lisa: “Hot streaks are a statistical illusion.”
Bart: “I wish YOU were a statistical illusion.”
Lisa: “Well, there’s a 97% chance I’m not, so do what I say.”

He disobeys her and hits a walk-off home run. His teammates pick him up and chant his name (“Bart! Bart! Bart!”) and while they’re doing it, she throws him off the team leading to a new chant (“Conflicted! Conflicted! Conflicted!”).

Now, of course we have family strife. Marge and Homer take sides:

Marge: Flyballs and fungoes come and go. But families are forever.
Homer: Sorry Marge, I’ve got to call bullcrap on that. The ’69 Mets will live on forever. But you think anyone cares about Ron Swoboda’s wife and kids? Not me. And I assume not Ron Swoboda.
Marge: Think of Bart’s feelings!
Homer: Boys don’t have feelings. They have muscles.

That night, Marge reads to Bart a slightly altered version of the three little bears. Homer reads to Lisa the story of Pete Rose running over Ray Fosse in the All-Star Game.

The baseball season goes on without Bart (Lisa: “He thought he was better than the laws of probability. Anyone else here think he’s better than the laws of probability?”). Lisa moves Nelson into the leadoff spot because of his on-base percentage*. The team wins again and earns a spot in the Little League Championship (Announcer who sounds quite a bit like Vin Scully: “It’s a triumph of number-crunching over the human spirit, and it’s about time.”)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at October 12, 2010 8:08 PM
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