By Greg Collins
Special to Page 3

All right, you've waited four days, so we're not going to make you wait any longer.

Here they are, the Top 24 sports moments in the history of "The Simpsons." (And, yep, you've probably guessed that the softball extravaganza was our No. 1.)

If you missed any of the first three parts, "Eat our shorts." Or just go back and check out Nos. 100-75, Nos. 74-50 and Nos. 49-25 before Miss Krabappel pulls a pop quiz.

24. Here Come the Pretzels: Marge needs a boost in her one-woman pretzel business, so she hooks up with the Springfield Isotopes for a pretzel giveaway night. But when a drawing for a 1997 Pontiac Astrowagon goes to the fan in seat 0001 -- C. Montgomery Burns, naturally -- the fans riot, pelting the field with pretzels.

    Announcer No. 1: Hall of Famer Whitey Ford now on the field pleading with the crowd for ... for some kind of sanity.

    Announcer No. 2: Uh-oh, and a barrage of pretzels now knocking Whitey unconscious.

    Announcer No. 1: Wow. This is uh ... This is a black day for baseball.

Bonus personal admission No. 2: Every time it looks like a fight is about to start at a baseball game, I start quoting this scene.

23. "I thought the Generals were due!" Krusty's gambling comes back to bite him in the butt when he bets all the money he made franchising his name against the Harlem Globetrotters. "He's spinning the ball on his finger! Just take it, take the ball. ... That game was fixed. They were using a freakin' ladder, for god sakes."

Santa's Little Helper
Santa's Little Helper was a loser at the dog track ... thus he became a true "Simpson."
22. The First Episode: The family's connection to sports showed up in the very first episode, when a trip to the Springfield Dog Track is Homer's answer to his financial woes during the Christmas season. Armed with Bart and the $13 he earned by being a mall Santa, he wagers it all on a prophetic dog named Santa's Little Helper -- even though it's a 99-1 underdog. The dog doesn't even make it to the finish line and is soon out on its ear, dumped by its owner. When the dog leaps into Homer's arms, Bart wants to keep him. "But he's a loser! He's pathetic," Homer moans. "... he's a Simpson."

21. Sunday, Cruddy Sunday: Homer and his new buddy Wally organize a trip to Super Bowl XXXIII in Miami. When they get there, it truly is a mecca for the football fan, featuring:

  • Rosey Grier's Porta-Chapel.

  • The oldest surviving NFL player (who is 53).

  • Dan Marino's "Catch a Pass" booth (after each throw, he dunks his arm in ice).

  • Troy Aikman doing caricatures of people on dune buggies.

    But when the tickets Homer and Wally got for the group turn out to be counterfeit ("the hologram's missing ... and there's no such team as the 'Spungoes' ... and finally, they seem to be printed on some sort of cracker"), the group ends up in the stadium jail. They're busted out by Dolly Parton (don't ask), chased out of a skybox by Rupert Murdoch and end up in the winning locker room, where Homer accepts a congratulatory call from President Clinton and the whole gang gets Super Bowl rings. The episode closes with Pat Summerall and John Madden analyzing the show.

      Summerall: Did it strike you as odd that in a Super Bowl show with Dolly Parton we didn't see any football or singing?

      Madden: I hadn't thought about it, Pat, but in retrospect, it was kind of a ripoff! What a way to treat the loyal fans, who put up with so much nonsense from this franchise.

    Bonus Moe Szyslak Rant: "Bye-weeks. Bronco Nagurski didn't get no bye-weeks! And now he's dead! Well, maybe they're a good thing."

    Bart Simpson
    Bart Simpson was called by a higher power to jump over Springfield Gorge on his skateboard.
    20. Bart the Daredevil: After seeing daredevil Lance Murdock perform a death-defying stunt in which he jumped a motorcycle over a tank of water "filled with man-eating great white sharks, deadly electric eels, ravenous piranha, bone-crushing alligators, and perhaps most frightening of all, the king of the jungle, one ferocious lion!", Bart's destiny is realized. He has to jump over Springfield Gorge.

    Even a hospitalized Murdock eggs him on: "Now a lot of people are going to be telling you you're crazy, and maybe they're right. But the fact of the matter is: Bones heal. Chicks dig scars. And the United States of America has the best doctor-to-daredevil ratio in the world!"

    Bonus tribute to monster truck shows: The TV ad for the show screams "If you miss this, you'd better be dead ... or in jail. ... And if you're in jail, break out!" When the Simpsons arrive late and can't find parking, they accidentally pull into the arena only to be caught in the jaws of Truck-o-Saurus, "20 tons and four stories of car-crunching fire-breathing prehistoric insanity."

    19. Haircuts: Namath vs. Unitas: Who would have thought that Joe Namath's hair would play such a huge role in Homer's upbringing? In a flashback, Abe is watching Super Bowl III (which he really wants to watch, because "if people don't support this thing, it might not make it"). When a Howard Cosellian announcer talks of "Joe Willy Namath, swaggering off the field, his sideburns an apogee of sculpted sartorium -- the foppish follicles pioneered by Ambrose Burnside, Appomattox 1865," Homer's mom suddenly realizes her life is not to be spent with Abe and his "his button-down plastic-fantastic Madison Avenue scene." Abe thinks Namath looks like a girl, preferring Johnny Unitas -- "there's a haircut you could set your watch to." Homer's mom abandons the family, becomes an eco-terrorist and lives the rest of her life on the lam.

    18. Drederick Tatum: Spanning multiple episodes, this caricature of Mike Tyson is the main recurring athlete character on the show. Managed by a Don King knockoff named Lucius Sweet, Tatum's history truly is a checkered one.

  • Grew up in Springfield, later learning how to fight in the notorious projects of Capital City.

  • Honed his skills while serving time for aggravated assault and manslaughter in Springfield Prison.

    Dedrick Tatum, Homer Simpson
    Although he liked Homer, Dedrick Tatum threatened to "make orphans of his children."
  • Has fathered several children, with different mothers.

  • Won a boxing gold medal in 1984 Olympics.

  • After becoming heavyweight champion, informs Kent Brockman in a candid interview that Springfield "is a dump. If you ever see me back there, you'll know I really (bleep)ed up bad."

  • Was the token black panelist at the Miss American Girl Pageant.

  • While sitting in his cell, quells a prison riot simply by telling everyone "hey, come on guys, just shut up."

  • First comeback fight (after spending five years in prison) is "Tatum-Watson 2: The Bout to Knock the Other Guy Out." Tatum reclaims his title.

  • Featured on the cover of "Millionaire Boxing" magazine, with the story "Drederick Tatum: Why Such Rage?"

  • Is temporarily incarcerated for pushing his mother down the stairs (which if he could "turn back the clock on my mother's stair-pushing, I would certainly ... reconsider it").

  • Another comeback fight from jail is against Homer, dubbed "Payback." "Society put away Drederick Tatum for his brutal crime. But he's paid his debt, and now, he's going to get revenge ... on Homer Simpson."

  • In a press conference, Tatum describes Homer "as a good man, but I'm definitely going make orphans of his children." When a reporter reminds the champ that Homer is married and his kids have a mother, Tatum replies "Yes, but I would imagine she would die of grief."

  • Is part of a group representing the purity of morals in Las Vegas when Homer and Ned try to ditch their quickie brides; physically throws Ned and Homer across the state line.

  • During a statue dedication, tells us that "Litter is my most treacherous foe. I would like to eat its children."

    17. "We interrupt this public affairs program for ... a football game!" Staying home from church turns into the best day of Homer's life. At first, the television betrays him. But when a community roundtable show is interrupted by a football game, all is well. And it's not just a football game -- just listen to fake Keith Jackson: "Oh, Doctor! A 98-yard triple-reverse ties the score at 63-63! We have seen nothing but razzle-dazzle here today, three visits from Morganna the Kissing Bandit, and the surprising return of Jim Brown!" Later during a vision, Homer gets God to admit that sometimes on Sundays, he'd rather be watching football.

    Sports in Song
    A few of the sports-related songs to be featured on "The Simpsons":

    Talkin' Softball, by Terry Cashman

    Well, Mr. Burns had done it.
    The power plant had won it.
    With Roger Clemens clucking all the while.
    Mike Scioscia's tragic illness made us smile.
    While Wade Boggs lay unconscious on the barroom tile.

    We're talkin' ...
    Softball.
    From Maine to San Diego.
    Talkin' ... Softball.
    Mattingly and Canseco.
    Ken Griffey's grotesquely swollen jaw.
    Steve Sax and his run-in with the law.
    We're talkin' Homer ...
    Ozzie, and the Straw.

    We're talkin' ...
    Softball.
    From Maine to San Diego.
    Talkin' ...
    Softball.
    Mattingly and Canseco.

    Ken Griffey's grotesquely swollen jaw.
    Steve Sax and his run-in with the law.
    We're talkin' Homer ...
    Ozzie, and the Straw.


    Bagged Me a Homer, by Lurleen Lumpkin

    Oh the bases were empty on the diamond of my heart,
    When the coach called me up to the plate,
    I'd been swingin', and missin', at lovin' and kissin',
    My average was point double oh eight.


    So I spit on my hands, knocked the dirt from my spikes,
    And pointed right towards centerfield,
    This time I'm hitting a home run,
    This time the love is for real.


    I'll slide ... I'll steal ... I'll sacrifice
    A lovin' fly for you,
    I been slumping all season but now I found a reason,
    I struck on a love that is true.

    I used to play the field,
    I used to be a roamer,
    But the season's turning 'round for me now,
    I finally bagged me a homer.


    That's right, I finally bagged me a Homer.


    New Orleans from "Oh! Streetcar! -- A Musical"

    Chief Wiggum: Long before the Superdome,
    Where the Saints of football play,
    Lived a city that the damned called home,
    Hear their hellish roundelay ...

    Cast: New Orleeeans ...
    Home of pirates, drunks, and whores!
    New Orleeeans ...
    Tacky, overpriced, souvenir stores!
    If you want to go to Hell, you should make that trip
    to the Sodom and Gomorrah on the Mississipp'!

    New Orleeeans ...
    Stinking, rotten, vomiting, vile!
    New Orleeeans ...
    Putrid, brackish, maggoty, foul!
    New Orleeeans ...
    Crummy, lousy, rancid, and rank!

    New Orleeeans!


    The Gabbo Show theme song

    Gabbo: You're gonna like me,
    You're gonna love me,
    'Cause I can do most anything.

    I can do the hully gully,
    I can imitate Vin Scully!

    16. Tragedy Strikes the Flanderseseses: A trip to the Springfield Speedway goes horribly awry when Maude Flanders is knocked to her death by flying T-shirts. Surprise of all surprises, Homer is to blame  "I'm the one who drove her out of her seat. I'm the one who provoked the lethal barrage of T-shirts. I'm the one who parked in the ambulance zone, preventing any possible resuscitation." The real tragedy is that Ned and Maude don't even like racing that much. He just goes to see all the safety gear, and she likes to look at the poor people in the infield.

    15. "It works on so many levels!" Hans Moleman's masterpiece "Hans Moleman productions presents 'Man Getting Hit By Football' " fails to win first prize at the Springfield Film Festival when Homer reluctantly realizes there might be better things in life than seeing a man get hit in the groin with a football. But all is not lost for this stirring film -- George C. Scott goes on to win an Oscar for his performance in the major-studio version. "Aaaargh! My groin!"

    14."I shall call him Gamblor!" Montgomery Burns opens a casino in Springfield, and it soon has the entire town in its neon clutches. Even Homer gets a (short-lived) job at the casino as a blackjack dealer. At first Marge is hesitant to gamble, but soon is hooked -- so much so that she spends more than 75 consecutive hours at the casino. It takes a remarkably responsible Homer to finally drag her away, but even as they leave, he rubs it in that Marge has a gambling problem.

    Bonus washed-up sports personality moment: Burns hires former boxer Gerry Cooney to be the celebrity greeter. When he tries to offer Otto an application for their V.I.P. Platinum Club, Otto knocks him out with one punch.

    13. Dead Putting Society: Once again, the kids prove they're wiser than the adults in Springfield. Homer and Ned's rivalry comes to a head when Bart and Todd Flanders face off for the championship in a miniature golf tournament. All tied up at the final hole, Bart and Todd decide this fuss isn't worth it and quit. The announcer proclaims "This is the most stirring display of gallantry and sportsmanship since Mountbatten gave India back to the Punjabs."

    Bonus sports visualization tip: Lisa teaches Bart ancient Zen riddles to clear his mind of conscious thought, and then proves that geometry does have a practical use when it comes to miniature golf.

    12. Life in the Fast Lane: Homer mistakenly believes Marge wants a new bowling ball for her birthday -- one with his name engraved on it. A spiteful Marge accepts the ball and is soon at the bowling alley, getting private instruction from a lothario named Jacques. He not only knows "what the little arrows on the wood floor mean" and "which frame is the beer frame," but also falls in love with her -- "Marge, darling. There are 10 pins in my heart, you've knocked over eight. Won't you please pick up that spare?"

    All Homer can do is correct her when she calls bowling a hobby. "Heh, heh, it's a sport dear. It's a sport, you silly thing."

    11. Team Homer: Tired of being a wannabe league bowler, Homer gets a delusional Mr. Burns to sponsor a team for a bowling league. Homer, Moe, Apu and Otto form the Pin Pals and soon face off against some of Springfield's toughest teams:

  • The Channel 6 Wastelanders: Krusty the Klown, Kent Brockman, Bumblebee Man, Arnie Pye.

  • The DMV Regulation Kings: Patty and Selma, plus two unknown characters.

  • The Springfield Police Framers: Wiggum, Snake, Eddie, Lou.

  • The Homewreckers: Lurleen Lumpkin, Mindy Simmons, Jacques, Princess Khasmir.

  • The Stereotypes: Luigi the Italian restaurant owner, Groundskeeper Willie, Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel, and Captain McAllister.

  • The Holy Rollers: Reverend Lovejoy, Helen Lovejoy, Ned Flanders, Maude Flanders

    But when Burns finds out about the chicanery, he demands a place on the team. In the championship game against the Holy Rollers, Homer, Moe and Apu are rolling strike after strike but still find themselves one pin down with one bowler left. Their hopes rest in the feeble arms of C. Montgomery Burns. His ball is headed for the gutter, but through a miraculous event involving the recently cut Otto, a mechanical-claw arcade game, a loose screw and a lobster harmonica, two pins are knocked over and the Pin Pals win.

    The hard-earned victory is soon tainted when Burns takes the trophy. "Oh, I'm afraid I've had one of my trademark changes of heart. You see, teamwork will only take you so far. Then, the truly evolved person makes that extra grab for personal glory. Now, I must discard my teammates, much like the boxer must shed roll after roll of sweaty, useless, disgusting flab before he can win the title. Ta!"

    10. The Denver Broncos!?!? Early in the episode, we find out that Homer's lifelong dream is to own the Dallas Cowboys. After helping supervillain Hank Scorpio get his nuclear power plant online, Homer decides for his family's sake that they should move back to Springfield. When they get back to their house, they find a note and a bumbling football team waiting on their lawn.

      Homer: (reading): "Project Arcturus couldn't have succeeded without you. This will get you a little closer to that dream of yours. It's not the Dallas Cowboys, but it's a start. Drop me a line if you're on the East Coast, Hank Scorpio." ... Aw, the Denver Broncos!

      Marge: I think owning the Denver Broncos is pretty good.

      Homer: Yeah, yeah.

      Marge: Well, explain to me why it isn't.

      Homer: (sighs) You just don't understand football, Marge.

    Bonus franchise identity-changing moment: This episode aired in November 1996, 14 months before the Broncos defeated the Packers 31-24 to win Super Bowl XXXII.

    Marge bowling
    Marge got some private bowling instruction from a lothario named Jacques.
    9. Krusty and the 1984 Olympics: The year is 1984, and Krusty wants in on Olympic fever. The promotional tie-in his accountants concoct is a sure thing -- if an American wins a gold medal in the event on your game card, you win a free Krusty Burger. However, the only events listed are ones Communists never lose. When news of the Soviet boycott comes over the wires, Krusty's stooges inform him that he now stands to lose $44 million. On the last day of the Olympiad, Krusty can't hold back his rage any longer. "You people are pigs! I personally am going to spit in every 50th burger!" To which Homer, surrounded by Krusty Burger detritus, proclaims, "I like those odds!"

    Bonus Olympic moment: Dr. Hibbert tells a baby Lisa that she has the reflexes of a young Mary Lou Retton.

    8. Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment: Homer's $50 bribe for free cable means that he can throw a party for "Tatum-Watson 2: The Bout to Knock the Other Guy Out!" Lenny and Carl are particularly happy, since they were going to listen to the round-by-round updates on the radio and then watch the still photos on the 11 o'clock news. But after a particularly graphic description of Hell in Sunday School, Lisa worries about her family breaking the 8th Commandment ("Thou shalt not steal") and vows not to watch "in the hopes that others will follow my example."

    Tatum is returning to the ring after spending five years in jail, which triggers fears of incarceration in Homer and so he ends up outside with Marge and Lisa while the champ comes back to beat Watson. Homer vows to give up the cable, and not even Bart's last-ditch attempt to persuade him not to -- "Dad, I beg you to reconsider. Tractor pulls. Atlanta Braves baseball. Joe Franklin!" -- can prevent Homer from cutting the wires and saving his own soul (at least for now).

    Darryl Strawberry
    Despite his nine home runs, Darryl Strawberry was pulled for pinch-hitter Homer Simpson.
    Bonus Mr. Burns sports memory: Unimpressed after the fight, Burns notes "Why, I once watched Gentleman Jim Corbett fight an Eskimo fellow bare-knuckled for 113 rounds! Back then, of course, if the fight lasted less than fifty rounds, we demanded our nickel back!"

    7. Saturdays of Thunder: A fatherhood test reveals Homer to be completely out of touch with Bart. Thanks to the miracle of the soapbox derby, he has his chance to bond with the boy. The result -- "Li'l Lightning," a woefully slow car -- shows that maybe Bart was better off without the help. Shamed, Homer returns to the couch instead of going to the finals, where Bart is driving for an injured Martin in his NASA-inspired "Honor Roller" against Nelson's "Roadkill 2000." After casually passing the fatherhood test (thanks to what he learned while building "Li'l Lightning"), Homer rushes to the race. In a scene straight out of "The Natural," Homer rises from the grandstand, silhouetted against the sun.

    Bonus sports video moment: Marge and her sisters interrupt Homer to take the test while he's watching a tape of "Football's Greatest Injuries" -- his eyes dart away from the screen for an instant and you hear the snap of bone and a horrific scream. "Aww, you made me miss Joe Theismann!"

    6. Bart Star: The Schwarzeneggarian Rainier Wolfcastle proclaims Springfield's children as too fat, prompting Bart to enroll in pee-wee football. That opens the door for an avalanche of dynamite bits.

  • Ned Flanders is the first coach of the team, and he forces his sons Rod and Todd to play because "team sports will keep you away from temptations like rock music and girls."

  • Homer heckles Flanders' coaching ability, so much so that he calls in to Roy Firestone's show to ask Sandy Koufax if he thinks Flanders is a big jerk.

  • Lisa tries to break the gender barrier, but when she finds out there are four other girls already on the team, she loses interest.

  • When he becomes the coach, Homer puts intense pressure on Bart because he doesn't know any better way to live through his son.

    Lisa hockey
    Lisa shined in the hockey net and was rewarded for her "violent competitive behavior."
  • Later, Homer realizes his father never believed in him, so he over-encourages Bart by making him starting quarterback.

  • Joe Namath's car breaks down in front of the house just when Bart is asking for a miracle to make him a better quarterback. But before Namath can give any advice, his wife fixes the car (it was just vapor lock).

  • The episode closes with a very serious Namath reminding us that "there's nothing funny about ... vapor lock. It's the third most common cause of stalling. So please, take care of your car and get it checked. I'm Joe Namath. Good night!"

    5. Lisa on Ice: Lisa is forced to join a pee-wee hockey league to avoid failing P.E., and her concept of such leagues is dead-on: "You mean those leagues where parents push their kids into vicious competition to compensate for their own failed dreams of glory?" But when she finds out she's a world-class goalie, even she buys into the hype.

    Homer rewards sports achievement by letting Bart sit in the front seat, and when he offers that seat to Lisa after a good game, she says "it's wrong to reward violent competitive behavior" and will only sit up front if it's a fatherly gesture of love. Homer agrees, but after Lisa gets in, he screams "Sucker! Competitive violence, that's why you're here!"

    You soon have a brother-sister rivalry, culminating in a showdown between Bart's team (The Mighty Pigs, coached by Chief Wiggum) and Lisa's team (The Kwik-E-Mart Gougers, coached by Apu). When Bart lines up for a penalty shot against Lisa in a tie game with four seconds left, the two embrace at center ice and settle for the tie rather than succumb to the town's taste for blood. Homer's sad realization? "They're both losers. Losers!"

    Homer Simpson
    "Dancin' Homer" helped the Isotopes snap their 26-game losing streak and then got the call to the majors.
    4. Dancin' Homer: "I wonder why stories of degradation and humiliation make you more popular," Homer asks Moe at the end of the episode. But this is no mere tale of a loser. The story starts at "Nuclear Plant Employees, Spouses, and No More Than Three Children Night" at the Springfield Isotopes' game, and all Homer wants is a 72-ounce beer. But can he have one, with Mr. Burns sitting right next to him? Stunningly, Burns offers to buy and soon they're sloshed.

    Homer tries to rally the crowd in the bottom of the ninth by dancing to the organist's "Baby Elephant Walk" in front of the grandstands ... which would be where the humiliation starts, one would think. But the antics work, the 'Topes snap their 26-game losing streak and "Dancin' Homer" becomes the team mascot.

    Like any player too good for the minor leagues, soon Homer is called up to the big leagues as a relief mascot for the Capital City Goofball, the best mascot in the world. Before he goes, he pulls a Gehrig, telling the Isotopes crowd he considers himself "the luckiest mascot on the face of the earth." But his small-town act doesn't play well in the big city, and he's shipped back to the minors after one appearance. What does he have to show for it? Friends and strangers in a bar, hanging on his every word and begging him to tell his story again.

    Bonus sports trivia moment: Ken Levine, who left his job as a comedy writer to spend several years as an announcer with the Baltimore Orioles and Seattle Mariners, co-wrote the episode.

    3. Lisa the Greek: What's a father to do when he's torn between his daughter's love and betting on NFL games? Homer thought he had the best of both worlds when Lisa became a dead-lock handicapper. At first Lisa doesn't understand why you have to bet on football to make it more exciting, but soon is applying intense research (looking up football in the library's card catalog -- "Let's see ... Football ... Football ... 'Homoeroticism in' ... 'Oddball Canadian rules' ... 'Phyllis George and &') and analysis ("It doesn't take a genius to realize that Houston's failed to cover their last 10 outings on away turf the week after scoring more than three touchdowns in a conference game.") for her picks.

    But in the days leading up to Super Bowl XXVI, she learns the harsh truth -- as soon as football season is over, Homer will go back to ignoring her. If she tells him who she thinks will win the Super Bowl, it will only validate her theory that he cares more about winning money than her. She first says Washington will win, but then wonders if her judgment is so clouded by rage that she wants him to lose, in which case he should bet on Buffalo. Homer decides not to wager any money, for he has a much larger bet riding on the game: his daughter's love. Despite being down 14-7 at halftime, the Redskins rally to win and Lisa's love for her father is true.

    Softball
    Although Mr. Burns hired a team of major-league ringers, he needed Homer to come through in the final at-bat.
    The show originally aired three days before Super Bowl XXVI, and the writers got the pick right. In the following years, different teams were dubbed in to match the Super Bowl and even though the lines were taped before each game was played, Lisa's picks were always right.

    Bonus gambling essay: "The Happiest Day of My Life" by Lisa Simpson. "The happiest day of my life was three Sundays ago. I was sitting on my daddy's knee when the Saints, who were 4½-point favorites, but only up by three, kicked a meaningless field goal at the last second to cover the spread." As all gamblers can tell you, that truly is the happiest day of their lives. Such wisdom at such a young age.

    2. The Homer They Fall: Will the sports coincidences in Springfield never cease? It turns out Homer can take a blow to the head like nobody's business, thanks to an extra 1-8th inch of fluid around his brain. It also turns out that Moe used to be a boxer (he fought under the moniker Kid Gorgeous, then Kid Presentable, then Kid Gruesome, and finally Kid Moe). So it's off to the boxing ring, and in a montage straight out of "Raging Bull," Homer climbs the rankings by defeating a series of hobos.

    It also turns out that Moe's old manager Lucius Sweet (a Don King knockoff) manages the presently incarcerated Drederick Tatum and is "strategizing for his glorious return to the shores of Fistiana." All he wants from Homer and Moe is three solid rounds, but no one gives Homer a chance. Even the local newspaper promotes the fight as "Champ to Whale on Local Man."

    Fight night arrives (with an appearance by "the ruiner of events worldwide -- title fights, the Super Bowl, and the Nixon funeral, ladies and gentlemen, the Fan Man," who parachutes into the audience), and Moe realizes too late that Homer's strategy of taking punches until the other boxer collapses from exhaustion won't work against the champ. Unable to hit back, Homer looks finished. But out of nowhere, Moe swoops in dressed in full "Fan Man" regalia, picking up Homer and flying him to safety. "Ladies and gentlemen," the ring announcer proclaims "whatever dignity remained in boxing is literally flying out the window."

    Greatest sports introduction ever: In the Tatum fight, Homer is introduced as the Brick Hithouse (and is also known as the Southern Dandy), and his walk-to-the-ring music is "Why Can't We Be Friends?"

    1. Homer at the Bat: The king of all sports episodes, and perhaps the greatest "Simpsons" episode ever. Behind the power of "Home Run" Homer and his bat "Wonderbat," the Springfield nuclear power plant's softball team has only the Shelbyville power plant to beat for the city championship. With a $1 million wager on the line, Mr. Burns plots to fill his team with nine ringers.

    Major-league problems
    Montgomery Burns' best-laid plans nearly went awry in that Springfield-Shelbyville softball game. Eight of Burns' nine major-league ringers were sidelined with mysterious ailments, leaving Darryl Strawberry as the only pro in the lineup. Here's what happened to those eight big-leaguers:

    Roger Clemens: Group hypnosis makes him think he's a chicken.

    Mike Scioscia: Working in power plant gives him acute radiation poisoning.

    Don Mattingly: Kicked off team for not cutting (non-existent) sideburns.

    Steve Sax: NYC native arrested for all of Springfield's unsolved crimes, faces six consecutive life sentences.

    Wade Boggs: Punched out by Barney at Moe's for arguing that Pitt the Elder was England's greatest prime minister. (Barney said Lord Palmerston.)

    Ozzie Smith: Falls into bottomless pit at Springfield's Mystery Spot.

    Jose Canseco: Busy saving everything from a baby to a player-piano from a burning house.

    Ken Griffey Jr.: Overdose of nerve tonic causes gigantism.

    Burns' first choices -- including Cap Anson, Honus Wagner, Mordecai "Three-Finger" Brown and Jim Creighton (who has been dead for 130 years) -- were all unavailable, so he gives Smithers 24 hours to scour the major leagues. Smithers returns with Roger Clemens, Mike Scioscia, Don Mattingly, Steve Sax, Wade Boggs, Ozzie Smith, Jose Canseco, Ken Griffey Jr. and Darryl Strawberry, much to the displeasure of Homer and the other power-plant workers.

    Unfortunately for Burns, a separate misfortune befalls eight of his nine ringers (see inline box), leaving only Strawberry able to play. With the score 43-43 and the bases loaded with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Burns -- ever the cagey manager -- decides to "play the percentages" and bench the lefty Strawberry against Shelbyville's left-handed pitcher ... despite Strawberry having already hit nine home runs. Burns summons the right-handed Homer to the plate, but so distracts him with signs that Homer doesn't see the pitch coming. With the sound of the softball resonating off Homer's noggin, the winning run pushes his unconscious body off home plate and scores.

    "Pride of the Yankees" references fill the first half of the episode, and the music from "The Natural" is heard throughout (possibly the most used musical theme throughout the series). Terry Cashman updates his classic "Talkin' Baseball," the lyrics of which can be found above.

    Bonus "brush with greatness" moment: When my college buddy Sam worked in the ticket office for the Albuquerque Dukes, Scioscia was the manager. Meeting the Dodger great for the first time, Sam half-jokingly said that he thought being on the Simpsons was the greatest thing Scioscia ever did. "Thanks, I think," came the reply, and he never said another word to Sam. I guess running the solid contaminate encapsulator didn't make as big an impact on Scioscia as it did the rest of us.

    Bonus roster note: When the episode was filmed, only two of these players (Mattingly and Sax) had played for the Yankees. But in the following years, all but Scioscia, Smith and Griffey donned the pinstripes. Is there a comparison to be drawn between C. Montgomery Burns and George Steinbrenner (Jim Caple certainly would say yes)? Even after being cut for no apparent reason, Mattingly says "I still like him better than Steinbrenner."

    Greg Collins is a freelance writer based in Seattle and can be reached at gregcollins73@hotmail.com. Sources for this column include www.snpp.com, "The Simpsons: A Complete Guide to Our Favorite Family," "The Simpsons Forever," "The Simpsons Beyond Forever" and the wonder that is television -- teacher, mother, secret lover.