Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Opening Day Special: The Greatest Game Ever Played

Opening Day for the latest baseball season has finally arrived and for millions of baseball fans the crack of the bat ushers in the beginning of another summer of highlights, lowlights and pennant races. So it only seemed fitting that to commemorate the return of our National Pastime we take a look at what is undoubtedly the Greatest Game Ever Played.

No, we're not talking about Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. Rather, we're talking about a far more pivotal moment in the history of our great game: a showdown between the greatest heroes and villains of the DC Universe orchestrated, as you might have already guessed, by Mr. and Mrs. Menace themselves. You may recall that the last time we met the villainous duo (perhaps better known by their other aliases, Sportsmaster and The Huntress) they were busy plotting how to use golf to defeat the Justice Society. Well, in DC Super-Stars #10, when The Huntress and Sportsmaster got in a fight over her decision to turn into a superhero, they finally agreed that there was only one way to settle the argument: on the diamond.

What resulted has been called by some The Greatest Story Ever Told, and while we don't want to disrespect the Bible, we're going to have to agree. The setup: using some sort of evil, Sportsmaster traps 66,000 baseball fans inside the local ballfield and issues a challenge to the heroes of Earth. Unless they play his hand selected team of villains in a straight up game of baseball -- no super powers allowed -- those fans will never leave the stadium alive! And though that might seem like a blessing to, say, embarrassed Cubs fans, in this case it means certain doom.

So, faced with no other choice, the heroes reluctantly agree to the game. With the Huntress on their side in her new role as superhero, the good guys fill the role of away team, while the villains claim the right of the final at bat. Here are the team lineups:

Heroes: Wonder Woman, 2B; Robin, LF; Kid Flash, SS; Batman, C; Green Arrow, 3B; Huntress, CF; Plastic Man, 1B; Black Canary, RF; Superman, P

Villains: Dr. Polaris, 3B; Tattooed Man, SS; Felix Faust, 1B; Lex Luthor, CF; Weather Wizard, LF; The Joker, C; Chronos, RF; Matter Master, 2B; Sportsmaster, P

Now, key to these proceedings is the rule that nobody is allowed to use any super powers; a pretty difficult rule to enforce, of course, but with Superman involved, one that's also necessary. Plus, it allows Sportsmaster to pretty much dominate since, you know, that's his entire schtick. Still, despite Sportsmaster tearing the cover off the ball and acting as the starting pitcher for the Villains, the heroes, thanks to some amazing play from Black Canary and Green Arrow (which, again, makes sense as they are two of heroes least dependent on powers), still manage to enter the top of the ninth tied 8-8.

And that's when all hell breaks loose as the Heroes bring in their closer: Eric Gagne.

No, just kidding. Actually, that's when the villains, being villains, decide to start cheating. After all, if they lose, Mr. and Mrs. Menace will be a thing of the past and Sportsmaster will have to come up with an all-new super lame gimmick instead. With that in mind, then, he secretly implores his squad to begin bending their rules via superpowers, and the game is really on.

Unfortunately, Sportsmaster himself doesn't have any powers, and now he starts to have a complete mental meltdown. After allowing a leadoff single to Black Canary, he inexplicably decides to throw a beanball at Superman even though this will put men on first and second with nobody out in the ninth inning of a tie game. Needless to say, this backfires, literally, as the ball bounces off Superman's invulnerable face and nearly decapitates Sportsmaster.

Things then go from bad to worse, as Wonder Woman singles to load the bases (apparently a very shallow single, as Chronos is able to keep Black Canary from scoring). Now, Sportsmaster buckles down; first he gets Robin to strike out, and then Kid Flash grounds to shortstop, where the Tattooed Man scoops it up and throws out Black Canary in a bang-bang play at the plate. Looks like he's got this wrapped up, right? Wong, because then, the master of all sports, the greatest athletic specimen in the world... walks Batman, forcing in the go-ahead run. A run scored by Superman thanks to the earlier hit by pitch. Honestly, dude, just turn in your face towel right now, because you're an embarrassment.

Deflated, Sportsmaster then compounds his mistakes by giving up a two-run single to Green Arrow, who is then thrown out rounding first thanks to some evil magic by Felix Faust. And we head into the bottom of the ninth with the villains trailing 11-8.

Still, the supervillains aren't about to go down without a fight, so Lex Luthor starts by using a special doctored bat that he borrowed from Sammy Sosa; a device in the shaft prevents the ball from crossing the plate, leading to an easy walk. Next up is Weather Wizard, who starts a blizzard in the infield, but this does nothing, as Wonder Woman ignores it and tags Luthor out in a fielder's choice.

After Joker bunts for a hit thanks to some non-lethal Smilex Gas (it gives a grin, again and again), Chronos lies one on a hop to Kid Flash, whose spuer speed cancels out Chronos's attempt to slow time. Still, even though there are two outs, this was at least a productive out, as he moved both runners into scoring position. Matter Master quickly takes advantage by enchanting the ball so it flies off on little wings; Green Arrow is able to shoot it down before it goes yard, but Weather Wizard cores to cut it to 11-9.

With runners at the corners, then, it's up to Sportsmaster to atone for his idiotic pitching performance in the top of the ninth. And atone he does, drilling a double to center. One run scores, but again, bad baserunning comes back to haunt the villains, as Matter Master is unable to score from first on a double. Where's Enos Slaughter when you need him?

And then... the game ends! You see, it turns out that the villains aren't the only cheaters in the game: Plastic Man, who was handling the duties at first, turned his foot into a big fleshy base and Sportsmaster tagged that instead of the actual base. Technically, thanks to this game of footsie, Sportsmaster never touched first and therefore the field umpire, Amazo, calls him out. Game Over! Final Score: Heroes win, 11-10.

And there you have it: the greatest game ever played. Of course, it's also a product of the time, as evidenced by the fact that both pitchers threw complete games. These days, Sportsmaster would never have been on the hill in the ninth to botch things, as he would have been yanked for Despero or his set up man, The Black Racer. Still, this ranks as an all time classic worthy to stand the test of time. And best of all, DC was kind enough to publish a full box score! I suggest you click on this for a look at some true, old school baseball.

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Sigh. Even they were able to play an 11-10 game in only 3:22.