For baseball history buffs, the Hall of Fame library houses invaluable artifacts, including the minutes of the first meeting of the National League clubs in 1876, Lou Gehrig’s famous scrapbook, and a file on every major league baseball player.
The exhibits at the Hall of Fame include a cornerstone from Ebbets Field, a gallery featuring baseball art, and Eddie Gaedel’s jersey from his only at-bat – Gaedel was a midget hired by St. Louis Browns owner Bill Veeck as a promotional stunt in 1951. Appropriately, Gaedel’s uniform number is 1/8.
For the baseball fan, heaven is a place in Cooperstown, New York. Apologies to Belinda Carlisle.
I’m here for the Annual Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and the American Culture. I have the privilege of moderating two panels in addition to playing in a re-creation of Town Ball, one of baseball’s predecessors, with Massachusetts rules. The symposium’s lecturers are insightful. The attendees, passionate about the National Pastime.
But when I think of baseball, I often think of the item outside the Hall of Fame’s Bullpen Theatre. Who’s on First? from the 1945 Abbott & Costello movie The Naughty Nineties plays on a loop. It brings me back to childhood Sundays, when morning isn’t quite finished and the afternoon beckons with seemingly endless possibility. Wiffle Ball on sunny days, board games on rainy days.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, I grew up watching the Sunday Morning Movie on New York City’s WPIX – Channel 11. It was always an Abbott & Costello movie. And I devoured any information I could find on the tall slickster and his childlike partner.
Who’s on First? was Abbott & Costello’s signature comedy bit. They performed it in every medium. Burlesque. Radio. Film. Television. The Abbott & Costello Show. The Colgate Comedy Hour.
And it never failed.
Abbott & Costello joined forces in 1936, honing their comedy chops on the boards in burlesque shows until they got a break on radio. The Kate Smith Hour in 1938.
A couple of years later, Abbott & Costello debuted in film as the comic relief in the 1940 movie One Night in the Tropics. A year later, they starred in Buck Privates. It was the first of a trio of military-themed films concurrent with the World War II era. The other two films were Keep ‘Em Flying and In the Navy.
But Who’s on First is the pinnacle of the repertoire of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. Like Tom Seaver to the New York Mets, it is Abbott & Costello’s “franchise” – a piece that crosses the generations to strike the funny bone whether your baseball heroes are Derek Jeter and David Wright, Reggie Jackson and Johnny Bench, or Mickey Mantle and Jackie Robinson.
Its endurance is proof of its triumph as a comedy. In the next century, people will walk through the exhibits at the Hall of Fame only to stop for a few minutes to rest their feet, watch Who’s on First?, and laugh.
Some things never change.
The best things never do.