“Bud” Abbott and Lou Costello’s famous baseball rift entitled “Who’s on First” goes something like this. Lou is curious about Bud’s new team and proceeds to ask him the names of the players on his team. The conversation that follows is pure baseball magic. “Who’s on first, what’s on second, I don’t know on third,” has been listened to more times than “Happy Birthday.” It remains a timeless classic like the Wizard of Oz.
It has been suggested that “Who’s on First” was descended from a 1930 movie entitled Cracked Nuts, where comedians Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey examine a map of a mythical kingdom with dialogue like this: “What is next to which.” Or “What is the name of the town next to which.” The answer in return was “yes.” By the 1930’s, baseball sketches had become a standard part of Vaudeville. In later years, Abbott’s wife recalled Bud performing the routine with another comedian before he teamed up with Costello. Abbott stated that their routine was taken from an older routine called “Who’s the Boss,” a sketch heard at that time on a radio comedy program called “It Pays to be Ignorant.”
Abbott and Costello originally used this sketch live in 1937 during a burlesque comedy routine, while touring in a vaudeville revue called “Hollywood Bandwagon.” In February of 1938, you could hear “Who’s on First” on the radio when the guys joined the cast of the Kate Smith Hour. In 1940, they performed this routine on film. Abbott and Costello had the routine copyrighted in 1944. They eventually took their act to television, in 1945. Abbott and Costello performed this routine several times for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1956, “Who’s on First” had become the stuff of legends, as it went Gold as a record. A copy of that gold record now resides in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown New York. In 1999, Time magazine declared it the greatest comedy sketch of the 20th Century. In 2005, the line “Who’s on First” was included on the American Film Institute list of the 100 most memorable movie quotations. It would be interesting to find out if any of you folks reading this article could name all the players in the sketch.
The routine has been attempted by every comedian from Johnny Carson to Damon Wayans, David Allen Grier, Billy Crystal, Jerry Seinfeld, and just recently, Jimmy Fallon.
If you have been paying attention since this started, you now know three of the names; here’s a hint of a fourth name that occurs at the end. A frustrated Lou Costello never understands that “Who” is the last name of the first baseman and ends his portion of the sketch by saying loudly, “I don’t give a darn.” Bud Abbott’s response was, “Oh, that’s our shortstop!!!”
It is machine gun comedy at its best. Many a fine comedian has attempted to duplicate but failed. You cannot mess up one comment or the entire routine is ruined. In September of 2007, the Los Angeles Dodgers called up a player from their Minor League system whose name was Chen Lun Hu. The last name was pronounced “Who.” Longtime Dodger announcer Vince Scully said, “In the context of Abbott and Costello, I can finally say Hu is on first.” The following are the names of the players mentioned in the routine.
Third I don’t know
Left Field Why
Center Field Because
Shortstop I don’t give a darn
Right Field His name is never mentioned in the routine although some think it could be “Naturally.”
What’s even more intriguing is the fact that only fourteen third-basemen have been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame since they opened the doors of Cooperstown in 1936. Out of the thirteen positions available, it is the position with the least inductees. Indeed, even the most baseball-educated fans may not be able to name all thirteen. Naming the Ten Commandments could be easier.
The easy ones may be: Wade Boggs, George Brett, Brooks Robinson, Mike Schmidt, Eddie Mathews, George Kell, and Ron Santo, but that would only be seven.
You “old timers” like me might remember Frank “Homerun” Baker (of the Philadelphia A’s, who got his nickname by hitting 12 home runs in one season), and “Pie” Traynor of the Pirates. Jimmy Collins with the Boston Beaneaters and Freddie Lindstrom of the New York Giants will be harder. Then add “Judy” Johnson, Ray Dandridge, and “Jud” Wilson of the Negro Leagues and the list would be complete.
“Chipper” Jones may be the next third baseman to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Aren’t you glad I didn’t ask you to name the 81 pitchers in Cooperstown?
Do yourself a favor and watch the routine on YouTube.
Andy Purvis is a local author. His books "In the Company of Greatness" and "Remembered Greatness" are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble, at Beamer's Sports Grill 5922 S Staples, and online at many different sites including Amazon, bn.com, booksamillion, Google Books, etc. They are also available in e-reader format. Contact him at www.purvisbooks.com, or email@example.com.