So exactly who is on first anyway?

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 9, 1999

I’m not a dedicated major league baseball fan. But I do get excited about the sport this time of year. I guess there’s something about the competitive nature of the playoffs, the opportunity to see the best athletes in the sport square off, that peaks my interest. In a sport steeped in tradition, names like Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio conjure images of the best Major League Baseball tradition has to offer.

As a friend and I discussed those baseball greats the other day and the relative importance of present-day baseball stars Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, we found ourselves sidetracked and chuckling about a couple fellows who have never swung a bat or shagged a ground ball in a Major League Baseball game, but are as much a part of the baseball mystique as any of the guys listed above. I’m referring to Abbott and Costello and their classic comedy routine &uot;Who’s on First?&uot;

Interestingly, &uot;The Armchair Book of Baseball&uot; lists the author as &uot;Anonymous.&uot;

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The author, however, is hardly anonymous. My friend, who happens to be a dedicated baseball fan, told me of an obituary he read a couple of years ago in a big city newspaper that sheds some light on the subject. The person who wrote the &uot;Who’s on First?&uot; routine was actually the same fellow who penned Nat King Cole’s most famous hit &uot;Unforgettable.&uot; Both were written by a New Yorker named Irving Gordon. But the obituary didn’t provide insight on how or why Gordon penned what some consider Abbott and Costello’s funniest routine.

The routine was first performed on radio and then later in the movie, &uot;The Naughty Nineties.&uot; Nearly every year about this time you’re bound to see an old black-and-white clip of it on TV.

In case you’ve not seen or heard it before, which I find hard to believe, or simply would like a reminder of how it goes, here are a few excerpts:

Costello, the short, plump member of the comedy team says, &uot;I want you to tell me the names of the fellows on the baseball team.&uot;

Abbott, the taller, dapper member, replies, &uot;I’m telling you, Who’s on first. What’s on second. And I Don’t Know is on third.&uot;

&uot;You know the fellows’ names?&uot;


&uot;Well, then who’s playing first?&uot;


&uot;The fellow’s name on first base?


&uot;The guy on first base?&uot;

&uot;Who is on first base.&uot;

&uot;What are you asking me for?&uot;

&uot;I’m not asking you. I’m telling you, Who is on first.&uot;

&uot;I’m asking you. Who’s on first?&uot;

&uot;That’s the man’s name.&uot;

&uot;That’s whose name?&uot;


&uot;Well, all I’m trying to find out is what’s the guy’s name on first base?&uot;

&uot;No, no. What is on second base.&uot;

&uot;I’m not asking who’s on second.&uot;

&uot;Who’s on first.&uot;

And it goes on and on. Punctuation is the key to understanding what’s going on isn’t he on second?

Anyway, to make it sensible, here is the actual lineup of the team as written by Irving Gordon. The player at first base is named Who. The player at second base is named What. The third baseman is I Don’t Know. The shortstop is I Don’t Care. Why is the left fielder. Because is the center fielder. Tomorrow is the pitcher and the catcher’s name is Today.

A guy writing in the Washington Post a couple of years ago noted that you can win a lot of sports bar bets being able to name that lineup. The better question might be to ask if anyone can name the right fielder. It’s a trick question. For whatever reason, when Gordon penned &uot;Who’s on First?&uot; he did not include a right fielder. There are only eight players included. Of course, this was also before the designated hitter, whose name would most appropriately be A Lousy Rule.

Todd Carpenter is publisher of The Democrat. He can be reached at (601) 446-5172, ext. 218 or by e-mail at