In Bizarre Baseball Culture, I take a look at some of the more unusual places where baseball has reared it’s head in pop culture and fiction.
I’m coming to you from the Auxiliary Headquarters of the Continuum… AKA a Living Room instead of my usual Family Room or Bedroom writing area, due to the great Wi-Fi Crisis of 2013. The reason I have braved such perils is simple: Cosmic Slam. The sequel to Shortstop Squad, and another great epic from the folks at Ultimate Sports Entertainment (AKA “Ultimate Sports Force”). Just as Shortstop Squad brought us late-90s shortstops fighting monsters and aliens, Cosmic Slam does the same with late 1990s sluggers. Jeff Bagwell, Sammy Sosa, David Justice and Mark McGwire all grace the cover, and Gary Sheffield, Bobby Bonilla and Frank Thomas all show up in the story as well.
It also involves Bagwell complaining about missing a fishing trip, Sosa making a corked bat joke, Greg Maddux‘s fastball being insulted, and of course, the making of a baseball bat out of the body of your defeated foes.
No, I’m not joking about the last one. Seriously, that really happens.
So, place your tongue firmly in cheek and go below the jump for Cosmic Slam.
It’s a little harder to determine who made Cosmic Slam, as due to a printing error (I presume), the credits for Fastball Express (in which pitchers don mecha-suits- don’t worry, I’ll get to that by the end of winter, assuming my Wi-Fi is finally working correctly) is printed in Cosmic Slam, and vice versa. However, by looking at Fastball Express, I found the credits to be this:
Art: Bernard Chang and Ted Robledo. Chang has done work for both DC and Marvel, while Robledo, far as I can tell, hasn’t done anything other than this.
Story: Kevin McCarthy. He also did Shortstop Squad.
Color: Chris Sotomayor and Caesar J. Rodriguez. Sotomayor primarily has worked with Marvel, while Rodriguez generally has worked outside of the “big two” of comics, according to my research.
Cover: Bill Sienkiewicz. An award-winning artist, most of his work is with Marvel, although he won an Eisner Award (the comic-book version of an Oscar) for his contribution to DC’s Sandman: Endless Nights. You can see the cover up above a bit, and I got to admit, it’s the right mix between absolutely ridiculous and oddly compelling.
Now, to the story:
It begins at the F.W. Dyson Observatory in New Mexico. F.W. Dyson, presumably, is a reference to English Astronomer Frank Watson Dyson. Have to say, I was not expecting a reference to an actual astronomer in this book. Good job, Cosmic Slam. Anyway, at the Dyson Observatory, two astronomers follow the track of an unusual comet, a comet which shifts direction and collides with the Earth. Of note here is that one of the astronomers thinks, “It begins…” Hmmm….
Anyway, a government response team arrives on scene, and there they find a tree that is growing rapidly in the center of the crater. How rapidly? Try “size of a sprout to being large enough to be visible from outside the crater” in two panels:
As the response team begins to muse on the origins of the strange plant, a shadowy figure emerges to tell them that it is from nowhere on Earth, and that this is the part where he asks to be “taken to your leader”.
The response to this is…. “D’OH!”
Yeah, I don’t understand it either. It’s a rather gratuitous Simpsons reference. Speaking of gratuitous Simpsons references, we then cut to St. Louis, where Mark McGwire is socking some dingers for local Little Leaguers.
Oh, he’s also hitting them off local Little Leaguers, as you see that the pitcher is a kid in a Marlins jersey. I mean, I guess that it would be cool to pitch to a big leaguer as a little leaguer and all, but McGwire going deep off of him is kind of mean-spirited. If he wanted to put on a hitting clinic, couldn’t he have gotten a coach to throw to him or something? Oh, well, what matters is that his dingers have inspired the youth of America to love the long ball, with them asking how to hit home runs. McGwire, of course, tells them that it’s all about studying the pitchers, visualizing and anticipating pitches, gut instinct, practice, exercise, a good diet, choking up on the bat, waiting for your pitch, and, presumably, ahem, “nutritional supplements”. He doesn’t mention that last one, of course. That one is just me going for the low-hanging fruit. Sorry.
This lecture, however, is interrupted by military helicopter, leading to this immortal scene that totally happens in this comic:
Wow. This scene. I mean, it’s awesome enough that a general (presumably General Grant from Shortstop Squad) lands a helicopter next to Mark McGwire and says that his country needs him, but the line “You saved baseball, son. Now do you think you can save the Earth?” is beyond priceless, especially in retrospect and even more when you consider that back in Shortstop Squad this very general was hanging out with Cal Ripken, who also has been given credit for saving baseball after the strike.
I’m overthinking this. Anyway, we now cut to a montage of the rest of this team being recruited (cue A-Team theme). A major difference between the Cosmic Slammers and the Shortstop Squad is that these guys aren’t already a team, so we don’t get anything as awesome as Derek Jeter mountain-climbing or Barry Larkin as an undercover fisherman. Instead, we get Sammy Sosa back at home in the Dominican Republic….
…David Justice driving around Cleveland in a new car…
…and Jeff Bagwell fishing somewhere in Texas, getting all angry when the helicopter makes him drop his fish.
With this team assembled, we cut to White Sands Military Base, where Bagwell is still talking about his fishing trip, saying that it was a monster of a fish. Well, this seems to surprise Sammy, who is reading a “Scientific Journal” (!) and refuses to believe that Bagwell’s fish was bigger than the one that the Shortstop Squad fought in Coast City. Yes, Sammy Sosa reads scientific journals. See?
Sadly, the Shortstop Squad, we find out, are “on assignment”, so it turns out that the world now needs to drum these four sluggers into action, despite them not really having any training. And also because, as we find out, the problem lies in the tree that came to earth. Turns out it’s an EVIL tree, come to earth in it’s seed, and it is starting to alter our planet’s atmosphere, and that there are 70 more coming towards the Earth. Clearly, say Professors Sinclair and Kovacs (!), who were the two scientists from the beginning, only the instincts of home run hitters can stop them.
I would have suggested they just napalm the killer trees or use some sort of defoliant or toxin, but, hey, I’m not in charge of these sorts of things.
Jeff Bagwell, however, thinks this is the craziest thing he’s ever heard of, and is all ready just to go back fishing when all of the sudden the specialist shows up, named Hylas. Here’s what Hylas looks like:
Yup, turns out a little alien dude has fallen in love with Earth Culture and is betraying his people. So, now realizing that this stuff is real, the gang is given super-suits meant to, as the general says, “boost your strength, speed and endurance.” Or, as Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa would call them… nope, not going for the low-hanging fruit.
They also get ATOMIC BASEBALL BATS, which Sammy Sosa notes are CORKED WITH MISSILES:
Of course, Sammy would be genuinely offended by this, as he obviously would never have corked his bat with anything. Right?
(As a note, this book was written BEFORE the Sammy Sosa corked bat incident, but still… low-hanging fruit.)
Anyway, in a shocker to absolutely nobody, it turns out that Professor Kovacs is the same “Kovacs” who was behind the whole thing in Shortstop Squad, a agent of an alien empire. The leader of said alien empire, by the way, tells Kovacs to awaken “The Sleeper”.
And, guess what “the sleeper” is? Why, it’s the original tree! It’s broken from it’s roots and headed to a nearby city to cause general havoc. And thus, Justice and Bagwell, clearly the second bananas of this group, have to go stop that while Sammy and Big Mac go to save the world from the asteroid seeds that are on their way.
First, of course, we see the fight between Justice and Bagwell against the killer tree. This is what the giant tree looks like:
Not that bad of a design, really, although it certainly isn’t the first or the last walking and living tree in fiction… it goes back to at least The Lord of the Rings, if not outright mythologies. That said, I still don’t get why they don’t just light it on fire or poison it or something. I mean, it’s a freaking tree.
Excuse me, a stupid giant tree:
Anyway, there’s a fight, the Cosmic Slammers win, but…. one problem, as soon as they blow it up with a combined attack, lots of little living trees come pouring out of it. And they say “HONK”.
I would NOT have expected a living tree to say “honk”. I’m not sure what sound they would make, but I’m reasonably sure it would not be “honk”. Perhaps they are Dutch trees and are talking about baseball in some way?
Meanwhile, at the site of the original tree, McGwire and Sosa are being met by media, who think they are giving up baseball to star in science fiction movies:
However, this brief interlude is interrupted as the 70 other meteors come crashing towards them. Y’know, I have to think “70” wasn’t a coincidence. The two sluggers fly up to face the foes on rocket-boards and start knocking the meteor-seeds away with extreme ease, during which Sammy Sosa yells out: “TSK! Gregg Madux throws harder than this!”
(Note: Sammy Sosa was a .210 hitter off Greg Maddux with 3 HRs.)
Kovacs, of course, watches this and is not happy. So as the 70th and final seed comes in, he decides to take matters into his own hands, and pulls out a blaster and shoots it at Sammy Sosa! Oh no, how will our heroes stop the final seed-meteor!?!?
Kovacs is detained and unmasked, and then Bagwell and Justice show up to let them know about the little trees the say “HONK!” Seeing as how those little things could go and grow into big problems, they’ve called in reinforcements: Gary Sheffield, Bobby Bonilla and Frank Thomas.
They then go and beat up on the little tree creatures in a splash page:
With the Cosmic Slam team victorious, the emperor of the alien empire decides to just abandon Kovacs and get the hell out of dodge until the next time he comes back to try and become Supreme Ruler of Earth.
Speaking of Earth, though, we then cut to a happy little epilogue where we see young Hylas joining a local little league, and with a wood bat, too! Wow! Nice! Except, for one thing…
THE BAT IS MADE OUT OF THOSE LIVING TREES!
WHAT!?!?! WHAT!?!?! I THOUGHT THIS WAS A KID BOOK!?!?! And now they go out and fashion baseball bats out of previously-living and apparently-sentient creatures? That’s dark. In fact, I’m ending this installment of Bizarre Baseball Culture RIGHT NOW… although mainly because the story is done.
NEXT TIME: I take a break from Ultimate Sports Force to focus on something else. What will it be? I’m not telling you… yet.
Prologue: “Rockets on the Mound” (short story)
20. Shortstop Squad
21. Cosmic Slam (You Are Here)