Mattingly’s Mullet and The ‘Mystic’ Simpsons

It has been well documented that the long-running cartoon show ‘The Simpsons’ has a habit of portraying events that would later take place in the real world. This led to the joke that the writers for the show can predict the future. Two of the program’s more famous ‘predictions’ were the Donald Trump presidency 16 years before it happened and the Siegfried and Roy tiger attack ten years before Roy was attacked mid-performance. Showrunner Al Jean put’s this down to the sheer amount of joking predictions the show has made over the years. In an interview with the BBC, he stated that “If you make enough predictions then 10% will turn out to be right.” Jean also suggested that the writing team has to be “sort of futurologists” as the show is written ten months in advance. While there may not be any mystical or magical reason for why this has occurred on multiple occasions over the show’s long life, it cannot be denied that they do get thing’s eerily spot-on at times. 

Alongside significant cultural and entertainment events, ‘The Simpsons’ has also ‘predicted’ a fair few sporting moments and outcomes. An example of this was when the show predicted the Super Bowl’s winner three years in a row. In the episode ‘Lisa The Greek’, which aired three days before the big game, Lisa correctly predicted that the Washington Redskins would lift the Lombardi trophy at Super Bowl XXVI by defeating the Buffalo Bills. The following year, the staff decided to dub over the teams’ names to guess who would win Super Bowl XXVII. They went two-for-two as they correctly chose the Dallas Cowboys to overcome the Buffalo Bills. The same two teams met once again at Super Bowl XXVIII. Despite the writers believing that the Cowboys would once again emerge victoriously, they still decided to re-dub the episode. Changes were made to other lines to indicate that they had once again made an effort to guess the winner. Just like the previous two years, they were correct, with Dallas retaining their crown. 

John Ortved, the author of The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History, has said the writer’s room at that time was full of passionate sports fans with “a lot of Harvard guys” in the mix, thus leading to educated guesses rather than just wildly predicting. They either did plenty of research before the episode aired and had a slice of luck, or they really did not like the Buffalo Bills and just wanted them to lose. 


Homer At The Bat

My personal favourite sports-related ‘correct prediction’, and perhaps the most bizarre one, ‘The Simpsons’ made occurred during my most beloved episode, ‘Homer At The Bat’. During this season three episode, which originally aired on February 20th, 1992, Homer Simpson and a selection of reoccurring characters from his work sign up for the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant softball team. Aided by his special home-made bat, named Wonder bat, Homer led the team to an undefeated season to earn a spot in the championship game against the Shelbyville Nuclear Power Plant. Before the game, the two owners of the individual plants, Mr Burns and Aristotle Amadopolis, agree to make a million-dollar bet regarding the outcome. In an attempt to cheat his way to victory, Burns hired nine Major League Baseball players to token jobs at his power plant in order to play in the game, replacing Homer and the other current employees.

The nine MLB professionals that Mr Burns hired were Roger Clemens, Mike Scioscia, Steve Sax, Ozzie Smith, Wade Boggs, Darryl Strawberry, Ken Griffey, Jr., José Canseco and Don Mattingly. All the players voiced themselves in the episode, with all-but Canseco reportedly fully co-operative with the project and enjoyed the experience. Al Jean called Canseco intimidating to work with on the commentary track on the Season Three DVD boxset. The then-Oakland Athletic reportedly demanded that his role in the episode portrayed him as a heroic figure, causing a complete rewrite for his character. He was also displeased with how the cartoon version of himself looked. Boggs and Strawberry have admitted that since the episode aired, they became far more well-known in popular culture because of the show, especially outside of the United States, where Baseball is not as popular. 

Despite being brought in for the sole purpose of playing for Springfield in the championship game, eight of the nine major leaguers did not lineup for Mr Burns’ side. This was due to eight unrelated mishaps preventing them from making it. The oh-so heroic Canseco was too busy saving a women and her possessions from a burning building. Ozzie Smith’s trip to the Springfield Mystery Spot resulting in him dropping off the face of the earth, where he is canonically still falling to this day. Wade Boggs was knocked unconscious by Barney Gumble after a heated debate regarding the greatest British Prime Minister turned violent at Moe’s Tavern. Ken Griffey, Jr overdosed on the brain and nerve tonic that Mr Burns administered to his team, causing gigantism. Mike Scioscia, the only player who actively wanted to operate within the power plant itself and actually showed up to work every day, was hospitalised and close to death due to radiation poisoning. 

In my personal favourite incident, Steve Sax, while pondering whether he should move to Springfield when he retires, was arrested when two police officers suspected him of committing every unsolved murder in New York City due to him playing for the Yankees. He was held indefinitely without a phone call. The three remaining players physically made it to the game, but only Darryl Strawberry actually played, taking Homer’s spot in the team. Rodger Clemens believed that he was a chicken after the hypnotist Mr Burns hired to help his players proved to be incompetent. It must be noted the Clemens recorded the clucking noises the cartoon version of himself made during the episode. 

Finally, we come to Don Mattingly, who inspired this entire article. The reason for the Yankees’ star first baseman missing the championship game is probably the most famous. Mr Burns demanded that Mattingly shaved off his sideburns, despite him not actually having any. Confused by what he meant, Mattingly shaved the sides and top of his head, leaving only a tuff of hair at the front and his famous mullet at the back. When he turned up for the big game, Burns yelled at the major leaguer once again for not shaving his sideburns and kicked him off the team. As he walked away, Mattingly muttered to himself, “I still like him better than Steinbrenner.” This line led many to believe this scenario was a parody of what had occurred in real life months before the episode aired between the player and the Yankees’ owner George Steinbrenner and manager Stump Merrill. However, this was not the case as the episode was written and produced before the incident had occurred. 


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Don Mattingly, Yankees Legend

By 1991, Mattingly had already established himself as a Yankees legend. After being drafted in the 19th round of the 1979 Major League Baseball draft by the organisation, the Indiana native never featured for another team during his entire major league career. Following his debut in the big leagues in 1982 and subsequent full rookie season in 1983, Mattingly had his remarkable breakout season in 1984. He won the American League batting championship, edging out his teammate Dave Winfield with a .343 average. ‘Donnie Baseball’ also led the league in hits, earning 207 over the season and in doubles with 44. He additionally came second in the league in both slugging percentage, with .537 and at-bats per strikeout, with 18.3. Mattingly followed up his breakout year with a spectacular MVP-winning season. His 48 doubles once again led the league, as did his astonishing 145 RBIs, 15 sacrifice flies, 370 total bases and 86 extra-base hits. He also finished second in the AL in hits, with 211 and slugging percentage, with .567. The young superstar’s defensive play was also recognised, winning the first of his nine golden glove awards that season. 

In 1986, Mattingly broke two franchise records that had stood since 1927. Earle Combs 231 hits and Lou Gehrig’s 52 doubles were both surpassed by ‘Donny Baseball’. He unsurprisingly led the league in both categories, earning 238 hits and 53 doubles. Despite another spectacular season, where he finished in the top five in many major categories, Mattingly lost out on the MVP award to fellow Simpsons castmate Roger Clemens, who also won the Cy Young award that season. Mattingly continued to break records in 1987. The first baseman hit for extra bases in ten consecutive games, a feat that had never been accomplished before. He also tied Dale Long’s record for most home runs scored in successive games with eight during the same timeframe. Alongside these accomplishments, the Yankee star managed to achieve the most grand slams in a single season with six, a record that has since been tied by Travis Hafner. Remarkably, these were the only grand slams of his entire career. In June of that year, a back injury derailed his form slightly. However, he still managed to finish the season with 115 RBIs, his fourth consecutive season earning at least 110. From his MVP winning season until the end of the 1987 season, Mattingly hit an exceptional 96 home runs and was only struck out 114 times.  

The Yankees’ superstar suffered a slight dip in form during the 1988 season. He only earned 88 RBIs and scoring just 18 home runs. Still, his .311 batting average was enough to see him in the top ten in the league in the category. The man the Yankees fans call ‘The Hit Man’ managed to restore his excellent RBI numbers in 1989, earning 113. However, his batting average fell by .008 to .303, the lowest of his professional career since his rookie year. The reemergence of Mattingly’s previous back injury and subsequent strain put on it whilst playing forced the Indiana native to be added to the disabled list in the July of 1990. Prior to this, the usually consistent hitter was clearly struggling with the bat that season. He did manage to return later in the season, but he could not rescue his shocking stat line, finishing the season with a .256 average, five home runs and 42 RBIs in almost 400 at-bats. In the offseason, ‘Donny Baseball’ underwent extensive rehabilitation therapy in order to heal from his injuries properly. Unfortunately, he could not regain the power he once possessed and his hitting never truly recovered. 


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Hairy Situation

During the 1991 MLB season, Mattingly, who was named the Yankees captain at the start of the year, was famously benched due to Steinbrenner’s policy regarding personal grooming. This military-style grooming code meant that All players, coaches, and male executives were forbidden to display any facial hair other than moustaches and scalp hair could not be grown below the collar. However, at that time, Steinbrenner was banned from day-to-day management of the Yankee’s for paying Howard Spira $40,000 to find ways to discredit and discover damaging information on Dave Winfield. Winfield had sued the organisation for failing to contribute $300,000 to his foundation, a guaranteed stipulation in the contract that brought the right fielder to New York. Despite not legally being involved with management, Steinbrenner’s policy remained in place and still does to this day. 

At this time, Mattingly was sporting a mullet-like hairstyle, with the back longer than his collar. The then-Yankees manager Stump Merrill, acting on behalf of the General manager Stick Micheal, informed the team captain and fellow teammates Steve Farr, Pascual Perez, and Matt Nokes that their hair must be cut to abide by Steinbrenner’s rules. Mattingly refused to do so. The organisation decided to drop their superstar for his disobedience and fined him $250 for failing to visit his barber. An additional $100 would be added each day until he got his mullet trimmed. Once the media caught hold of the situation, the story blew up. It became a non-stop talking point amongst reporters and sportscasters. Famously, baseball legends Phil Rizzuto, Bobby Murcer, and Tom Seaver ridiculed the policy on the WPIX pregame show, with Rizzuto, whose number 10 jersey was retired by the Yankees in 1985, playing the role of a barber who was sent to enforce the policy. 

Mattingly’s mullet was cut just two days after he was benched. He played the New York team’s next game with his ‘long’ hair still intact, receiving a standing ovation from the home crowd before cutting his hair the day after. He even auctioned off the clippings for charity. However, the haircut did not stop the story’s momentum. The Yankees’ captain was publicly unhappy with the treatment he received from the Manager and General Manager. He even suggested that the team should take away his captaincy, saying, “They should take that away. It doesn’t mean anything. Take it. It’s been stripped. I’ve been impeached.” Mattingly was already considering his future in New York before this incident. He reportedly requested a trade away from the franchise in June of that year as he wanted to play for a contending team. With the Yankees in a rebuilding stage, ‘Donny Baseball’ was unsure whether he could wait another five years for a World Series shot. Stick Michael refused the request as Mattingly had signed a long-term contract with the organisation, which the player demanded just one year before instead of entering free agency. 

The hair situation relit Mattingly’s desire to leave. The player stated that he might not belong in the organisation anymore, with the recent public ordeal potentially making it easier for him to be traded. Micheal refused to budge on the possibility of their superstar leaving, leaving no choice for Mattingly to continue as a Yankee. The two did end up settling their differences, with Mattingly staying in New York for his entire career, going down in history as a New York Yankees legend. ‘The Hit Man’ has the unique honour of having his number 23 jersey retired in Monument Park by the Yankees without ever winning or even playing in a World Series. Mattingly was incredibly unlucky to not feature in one, as the team played in one the year before breaking into the team and won it all the season after he retired. ‘Donny Baseball’ was a shining light in the darkest period of Yankees history. The organisation suffered their longest World Series drought in a post-Babe Ruth era, which spanned Mattingly’s entire career. He is commonly referred to as the best Yankee, or any player to ever play in the MLB, to never play in or win a World Series. 


Simpsons Did It First

With the Mattingly-Mullet drama occurring before The Simpsons’ ‘Homer At The Bat’ episode aired, you would be forgiven to think that Mr Burns treatment of the animated Yankees legend was a direct parody of the real-life events. However, this is not the case. Jon Vitti, the episode’s producer, told the Associated Press in 1992 that “That script was written and ready to record in July [of 1991]. It was pure coincidence. When those things happened, the first thing we thought was, `Hey, this is great,`Then we thought, `No, it isn’t great. No one is going to believe those things were written before they happened.`” Mattingly himself confirmed that the show had written and produced the episode before the now-famous haircut, telling Jim Caple that “The weird thing is, everyone thought they wrote it in later but they didn’t.” 

The Yankees military-style grooming code had been in place for years before the episode. There had been other incidences of players breaking Steinbrenner’s policy before Mattingly’s case gained mainstream attention. In 1983, Goose Gossage was ordered to shave off his beard. Gossage responded to this by shaping it into a thick exaggerated moustache to technically be within the rules, a look he still has to this day. In 1973, Thurman Munson, Bobby Murcer, and Sparky Lyle were made to cut their hair after Steinbrenner deemed their style too long while watching his team’s home opener against the Cleveland Indians. The owner was unfamiliar with the player’s names, so he wrote down their numbers and demanded Ralph Houk, the manager at the time, to relay his disapproval to them, which he did reluctantly. As mentioned earlier, John Ortved said that The Simpsons’ writing room was full of passionate sports fans. There is a high possibility that they were aware of Steinbrenner’s strict policy and the previous incidences and wanted to parody them in the episode. With Mattingly being the only Yankee to appear on the show, it would make sense that this role would be written for him. 

The show’s writers may not have mystical powers to see into the future, but they knew what they were talking about when writing ‘Homer At The Bat’. While there are logic and reasoning behind why they chose to make Mattingly have hair issues in the show, it still is incredibly bizarre and mind-blowing how they managed to portray an event so accurately compared to the real-life incident before it even happened. It is hard to believe that they wrote it first, but somehow they did. Somehow, The Simpsons already did it.

Oh, by the way, Springfield Power Plant won the championship game. With the score tied and the bases loaded with two outs, Darryl Strawberry, who had hit nine home runs, was pitch-hit for Homer. Mr Burns made this decision because he wanted to field a right-handed batter against a left-handed pitcher to play the percentages. This turned out to be a genius move as Simpson registered the winning RBI… by being hit and knocked out with the pitch. I’m guessing he was happy when he regained consciousness.  

Author: Ross Paul

With three years of working as a freelance Sports Journalist and a degree from Sussex University under my belt, I decided that it was time to focus on a passion project of mine. I created Tales From Sport in the hopes of producing the most in-depth, high quality articles about the most interesting stories in the history of sport. My main focus is writing about the NFL, however, I also produced content on the MLB, NHL and Football. I am a die-hard Chicago Bears, Chicago Cubs, Winnipeg Jets, Stevenage FC and AC Milan Fan and avid sports memorabilia collector.

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