January 11th, 2012

If Who’s on First, Who’s in Write?

Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, who had been a comic duo since 1931, visited the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1956. They presented the institution with a gold record and plaque, as well as a transcription of their routine. When I published this classic in The Armchair Book of Baseball in 1985, I prefaced it by writing:

This classic assault on sense and syntax is generally associated with Abbott and Costello, who, having performed it in the 1945 film Naughty Nineties, are presumed to have written it. They didn’t. Who did? Naturally.

I went on to say that the skit was of anonymous authorship, as were some 2,000 other stock burlesque bits in Abbott and Costello’s repertoire. Afterwards, however, I learned that they aired “Who’s on First?” as far back as 1938, when they performed it on Kate Smith’s radio show, and that the skit had an author: Irving Gordon (1915-96), a versatile fellow who also wrote Nat King Cole’s 1951 hit song, “Unforgettable,” as well as “Prelude to a Kiss” for Duke Ellington, “What Can I Tell My Heart?” for Bing Crosby, “Throw Mama from the Train” for Patti Page and—in a song title for Billie Holiday that puts one in mind of  “Who’s on First?”—the strangely populated “Me, Myself and I.”

Here’s Gordon’s unforgettable lineup:

First Base: Who

Second Base: What

Third Base: I Don’t Know

Shortstop: I Don’t Care

Left Field: Why

Center Field: Because

Pitcher: Tomorrow

Catcher: Today

Note that this team had always taken the field without anyone in right, or as writer. Now you can put Irving Gordon in. Naturally.