From about 2003-2005, I was obsessed with Homestar Runner. I’d check the site at least a few times a week for updates, memorize the best Strong Bad Emails and Teen Girl Squad episodes, and try to introduce as many people as I could to the wonder that was Homestar. Then I kind of forgot about it, mostly. About once a year since 2007 or so, I’ll be reminded, and have to go check to see if there are any new updates (there haven’t been since 2010, and only a couple since 2009). My reminder for this year came in a Twitter conversation on Friday, and it occurred to me that H*R is a pretty solid topic for your weekly dose of strained baseball metaphors.
If you’re not familiar, (a) get familiar, by watching the intro video, browsing through some of the SB Emails, and watching every Teen Girl Squad episode at least twice, but (b) in the meantime, a brief explanation: originating as a send-up of terrible children’s books, Homestar Runner became one of the most successful homegrown, ground-up internet creations in the world. It’s a website of humorous Flash cartoons relating to a universe (“Free Country, USA”) of oddly-shaped and colored characters. The humor is partly surreal, partly based around vague pop culture references from the eighties and nineties (Strong Bad wrote most of his emails from ancient computers, there’s a hair metal band called Limozeen, etc.). It’s ridiculous, and occasionally overreaches a bit, but almost everything they did (especially those two things I recommended above) was funny and worth a watch.
Here are some of my favorite characters, and their MLB counterparts:
The Cheat — and it’s almost always The, never just “Cheat,” e.g.: “Hello, The Cheat. How are you today, The Cheat?” or, “Wow, my very own The Cheat!” — is an enigma. It’s not quite clear whether he’s a pet, or just a friend, or both. He’s about a foot tall and doesn’t speak except in weird little cheeping noises, but he’s also got a job (a vague tech support-type job, along with Homestar and Strong Bad, that you never actually see him doing), and it’s clear that he understands everyone else and they understand him.
But more to the point, The Cheat is also just pretty awesome. He can do just about anything. He’s Strong Bad’s right-hand man (and pet and friend and everything else), he’s a DJ, he draws and voices his own “Powered by the Cheat” cartoons, he’s kind of all the different characters in the awesome G.I. Joe parody Cheat Commandos playsets and toys and cartoon and cereal, he sleeps in a barbecue grill, he does light-switch raves, and the ladies love him. All things considered, he’s probably the coolest character in the…series? Website? Website. And did I mention he doesn’t talk? Because that’s pretty important to the comparison.
So Albert Pujols, obviously, is the best hitter and probably the best player in baseball until he definitively proves he’s not anymore. Like The Cheat, he kind of does it all. He hits for average and power, and draws his share of walks, and he’s also a very good defender and baserunner. And he’s a quiet guy in general, and at least for one night, didn’t talk at all. Yet the Cardinals and their fans seem to understand him just fine, and there’s no denying the kickassness of his 5-for-6, 3 HR performance on Saturday. Pujols has gotten plenty of accolades in his career, but now you can add one more, and it’s an important one: he’s the The Cheat of baseball players.
So the whole thing got started when two guys in the late 1990s saw some children’s books and couldn’t believe how lazy and awful they were, so they made their own parody of those books: “The Homestar Runner Enters the Strongest Man in the World Contest.” The opening line of the book (one that’s repeated or referenced in many different cartoons on the site) is: “Everybody loves the Homestar Runner. He is a terrific athlete.” One of a few different punchlines being that, as you can see on the right, Homestar Runner has no arms. He can still lift things and do things that people with arms can do, somehow — and the same is true of his “girlfriend,” Marzipan — but there’s nothing overtly athletic about him. And in the cartoons, he’s hilarious, but the joke (unlike with the real star of the whole site, Strong Bad) is always on him — he’s just incredibly, ingeniously dumb.
I probably rip on Michael Young too much. But it’s just too much fun. See, everyone loves Michael Young. He is a terrific athlete. And like Homestar, he’s the nominal head of his organization (here, the World-Series-contending Texas Rangers), but like Homestar, nothing about him really justifies that honorific. He’s a useful enough player — a good (but by no means great) hitter who could be used at first or third on an emergency basis. But his glove doesn’t justify playing him more than that at any position, certainly not at second or short. And he has this bizarre aura about him where he’s constantly lauded as the consummate professional, team player, and leader, and the epitome of class, completely ignoring the fact that when in the last few years he’s been asked to make a change — from short to third and then from third to DH, each undeniably necessary in light of his questionable skills and the Rangers’ alternative options — he’s done it kicking and screaming, publicly airing his grievances and demanding to be traded. As far as I can tell, Young has taken part in more unprofessional, classless and selfish behavior than any player this side of Milton Bradley. I enjoy Michael Young, to a degree, but it’s only because it’s so incredibly easy to make jokes at his expense. So in that way, he’s a lot like Homestar.
Strong Bad’s a pretty classically delusional-dorky-masculine character, in the mold of, say, Bill, Ted, Beavis or Butthead. The difference is that Strong Bad wears a wrestling mask and boxing gloves, apparently permanently. He’s the most self-centered and attention-seeking resident of Free Country, USA, and sees himself as a kind of ringleader, bossing around (and being annoyed by) most of the other characters. He says patently ridiculous things and thinks/assumes/acts like he’s the best at everything, even things he has no experience in or particular aptitude for.
This metaphor gives Brian Wilson far too much credit: Strong Bad is funny, and has been funny for close to ten years now. Wilson, on the other hand, emerged as a public figure in late 2010, and was awfully funny for a month or two, and then you (read: I) gradually realized that he’s got essentially one joke, and it’s just the same shtick over and over, like Will Ferrell’s mannerisms robbed of all of Will Ferrell’s talent and timing. But: Brian Wilson is obsessed with being the center of attention, and has very carefully crafted a bizarre, superficially unpredictable, relentlessly “alternative” image of himself. If he were in a profession where it was acceptable to wear a wrestling mask and boxing gloves all the time, and Wilson thought it would get him more attention, he’d probably jump at the chance. Now he’s doing those Taco Bell commercials (and, related side note: people sometimes call him “B-Weezy”? I think I just threw up a little), so apparently, like Strong Bad playing at being able to do, well, anything, Wilson has gotten this idea that he can act. And he is wrong.
Strong Sad is the brother of Strong Bad (there’s a third, “Strong Mad,” a big strong guy who speaks mostly in grunts — the three brothers have basically nothing but the name “Strong” in common). He’s a portly dude with a high-pitched voice who, as his name suggests, is chronically depressed. He’s kind of a tortured genius type, super-sensitive and poetic and all that, and he’d be kind of a sympathetic character, except for the fact that he’s just always whining. Whining is pretty much his constant state.
Passan has made a few little forays into trolldom lately. His latest is a doozy, tearing into Albert Pujols for not staying around to answer reporters’ questions after his tough game on Thursday night. Passan may well have some salient points there — ballplayers are entertainers, and speaking to the media is part of the show. But in writing an entire column calling out the game’s best player as displaying “zero leadership” and not being “accountable to his teammates,” Passan comes off as not only whiny but unbearably self-important, as though a ballplayer fulfilling his (arguable) duty to the media tells you anything significant at all about his leadership and accountability to his team. That image of Strong Sad to the right pretty perfectly captures the impression of Passan with which his Pujols article leaves you. And it’s hard to feel any pity for that type of poor-me sad-sack, when Strong Bad or Dustin Parkes tears that guy a new one.
Cheap shot alert! The King of Town is kind of a one-trick pony. His gimmick is that he eats basically anything, especially anything that contains or is named or suggests “butter.” In one Strong Bad Email, titled “Flashback,” he’s depicted as the svelte young Prince of Town; however, in that flashback, Strong Bad wins and then kind of disregards a lifetime supply of fish sticks, and the suggestion is that the Prince of Town eats the entire lifetime supply all at once, molding him into the King you see here.
I mean, C.C. Sabathia is fat. Get it? Not everything can be Shakespeare or Updike here. There’s one short where Strong Bad gathers records for a record book, and King of Town is listed as the “Least Healthiest (Man?).” and I feel pretty confident that Sabathia is the “least healthiest man” in baseball.
The Poopsmith is, like The Cheat, a bit of an enigma. He’s apparently taken a “vow of silence,” and his job is undefined, other than it somehow involves shoveling crap, or, “whatsit” (and generally tossing it just from a larger pile to the spot just over his shoulder), while in the employ of the King of Town. But what is known is that he has a terrible job, and smells terrible.
The character himself is kind of beside the point; I would recommend “The Poopsmith” as a nickname for any unqualified starting player in any sport, really. It’s just perfect. Betancourt is the worst defensive shortstop in the big leagues, and, his brief postseason heroics aside, posted an amazing .271 OBP this season. (And I guess the amazing thing is that that’s not even that far out of line; from 2009-2011, his OBP is .277.) It doesn’t matter that the character himself doesn’t really match up: could there possibly be anybody in the game who is more perfect for the moniker “The Poopsmith”? I submit to you that the answer is no.
I suspect this will reach some other people who were already fans of H*R, and I hope that some of the rest of you will go check it out. It’s just too clever and funny, and I’d love to see it make a comeback.