NASHVILLE, Tenn. — As a father of two young daughters who care absolutely nothing about baseball, it’s important to cherish the few bright moments. There was the time I overheard my older daughter, Elizabeth, explaining to a boy her age what a closer is. There was a time I saw my younger daughter, Katie, trying to read the back of a baseball card.
And it just so happened that two great little baseball discoveries happened over the weekend.
First, I taught them the oldest joke on earth, the joke of the talking dog.
Second, I got to see them fall under the spell of “Who’s on First.”
You, of course, already know the story of the talking dog, but to set it up, I’ll give you a rendition. A man shows up at “America’s Got Talent” — you have to freshen up the setup for the 7- and 11-year-old audience — and announces that he has the world’s first talking dog. He is greeted with some skepticism, but this is America’s Got Talent, so they let him on stage.
“OK, Buster, talk to these fine people. If a surface isn’t smooth it’s …”
“Ruff,” Buster barks.
“Right! Rough! That’s amazing, isn’t it folks?”
The people begin to get a little antsy, so the man immediately says, “OK, they weren’t impressed with that one, Buster. Let’s pretend you’re my contractor. I’m noticing water dripping everywhere. Where would you begin looking?”
“Ruff,” Buster barks.
“Yes! Of course! You’d start with the roof! I’d hire Buster any time!”
Now, there are a few audible boos, which seems to fluster the man. “OK, Buster, they’re still not impressed. It’s time for the big one. I know you’re a big baseball fan. Tell me, who is the greatest baseball player of all time?”
“Ruff!” Buster barks.
“Babe Ruth! Absolutely! I don’t even think there’s an arg …” but by now the people have booed him off the stage and security has kicked them on to the street. After they dust themselves off, Buster turns to his owner and says, “You think I shoulda said DiMaggio?”
It’s old but it still gets the kids — at least my kids. But here’s the best part: My girls know NOTHING about baseball. If asked to name three baseball players, the only names that reliably might come to mind would be Babe Ruth, of course … Willie McCovey (from a “Wonder Years” baseball card episode) … and Mike Sweeney, whom Elizabeth got to meet and instantly loved. So they wanted to tell the joke back, but they couldn’t quite remember “DiMaggio.”
So the punch line I taught them is to have Buster turn to his owner and say: “You think I shoulda said Barry Bonds? I expect most people will discount his numbers because of the PED accusations.”
* * *
The wonder of watching my girls watch “Who’s On First” the first time was to see how it slowly, every so slowly, mesmerized them. It starts off so plain. OK, fine, Who is on first, What is on second, I Don’t Know is on third. I get it. Some wordplay. Big deal. I don’t know how your kids are, but my girls are quick to pronounce pretty much anything: Boring. It’s like there are boring rays shooting off everywhere, and they keep getting hit. The backseat of my car — especially since my wife has been driving it lately — overflows with their favorite books and crayons and dolls and magnetic things where you can put dresses on pictures of models and various electronic marvels and every Happy Meal toy that McDonald’s ever gave out and the wardrobe that can transport them to Narnia and three Oompah Loompahs and a pony that never grows up and magic ruby red slippers and flubber and two Snuggies and E.T. and a lamp that may or may not have a Genie in it.
“I’m bored,” they whine 15 seconds into any drive, every single time. That’s how long any bit of entertainment has to hold their attention. Fifteen seconds. They would have given up on Moby Dick two syllables into “Ishmael.” So when they started watching “Who’s on First,” they were so ready to move on to the next thing. But then, the bit starts doing its magic. The rat-tat-tat of the thing starts to get them smiling. The absurdity starts to create this beautiful comic tension.
Who’s on first?
The guy’s name on first?
The guy playing first base
Your first baseman.
What are ya asking me for?
As the crescendo keeps building, higher and higher, more and more ridiculous, Lou Costello getting madder and madder, the smiles turn to chuckles, turn to giggles, turn to laughs. It’s such an amazing moment to watch your children fall for something that you fell for so many years ago. To see them get scared by the flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz, to see them laugh at “Put the candle back,” in Young Frankenstein, to see them do the Michael Jackson Thriller dance … these are what make all those “I’m bored” complaints worthwhile … or, if not worthwhile, at least sustainable.
After they watched it, once, twice, a third time, I explained to them again that I was going to the winter meetings where players might be traded. So, of course, they asked me to write a blog post about what would happen if someone traded for Who and What and other players.
So, dumb or not, a father will do pretty much anything for his daughters:
GM: I’m going to give you a scoop because I like you. We’re going to make a big trade. It’s not final yet but it’s really close.
Reporter (excitedly getting out notebook): Great. OK. You traded for who?
GM: Right. So you heard. I didn’t realize that it was already making the rounds.
Reporter: Heard what?
GM: Wow, you are really on this. You hanging out with Rosenthal?
Reporter: On what?
GM: Yes. Wow. Good job. We thought we’d kept that part quiet for sure. But yes. We got him.
Reporter: Got who?
GM: Yes, well, as you know, he was the key in the trade.
Reporter: Who was the key part of the deal?
GM: Right. But it’s a pretty involved trade. We got four other players.
Reporter: Four other players and who?
GM: Yes. I was surprised St. Louis gave up on him.
Reporter: Gave up on who?
GM: Exactly. Our scouts think he has three or four good years left.
Reporter: Who does?
Reporter: Wait, I’m confused. Who has three or four good years left?
GM: Yes. Well, we think so. Others might disagree.
Reporter: Disgree with what?
GM: No, we think our reports match up pretty well with other teams on him.
Reporter: What reports?
Reporter: Wait, a minute. What?
GM: Yes. And we got someone to play left field, which was a big priority this meetings.
GM: No we’re keeping him at first base. We thought about moving him but we don’t think he’s fast enough for left.
GM: He’s slowed down considerably.
Reporter: Who has slowed down?
Reporter: Um, your new left fielder?
Reporter: Our readers would like to know.
Reporter: Well, they’re interested in the club. Can you tell me off the record?
GM: I’m telling you on the record.
Reporter: OK. He is …
Reporter: Because it will make the story stronger.
Reporter: Do you not want to tell me who is playing left field?
GM: I told you already, Who is too slow to play left.
Reporter: OK, wait, so you’re putting who in left?
GM: No we most certainly are not. Not with his speed. Look, do you want this story or not?
GM: So let’s get through this already.
Reporter: OK, so you won’t tell me your new left fielder?
Reporter: You don’t have to tell me.
GM: I’ve been telling you for 10 minutes.
Reporter: Any other players in this deal?
GM: We got a pitcher, Tomorrow.
Reporter: Pitcher of tomorrow? Is he not ready to go?
GM: Oh, he’s ready, he’ll pitch Opening Day.
Reporter: He’ll pitch Opening Day?
Reporter: So what’s the pitcher’s name?
GM: What will not pitch. Are you nuts? He hasn’t pitched since high school.
Reporter: Who hasn’t pitched since high school?
GM: I don’t think he ever pitched at all.
GM: No. His arm has always been a liability.
GM: Right. I think he was always a first baseman. Even in high school.
Reporter: Who was?
Reporter: OK, wait a minute. I’ll write this down. Wait, first, you traded who?
GM: No, we didn’t trade him, we just got him.
Reporter: OK, forget the players you traded. We’ll get those later. I think I’m getting this. Tomorrow is the pitcher you got. Got that. And you got a new left fielder …
Reporter: Because you needed one.
Reporter: And you got a second baseman. What’s his name?
Reporter: And this mystery first baseman.
Reporter: The first baseman.
Reporter: Whatever. So I’m only counting four players. Who is the fifth?
GM: Jeff Francoeur.
Reporter: OK, now, I don’t understand this trade at all.
* * *
The best part is this: I have just walked through the Gaylord Opryland Hotel, where the winter meetings are being held, and there were a whole bunch of baseball writers talking to a whole bunch of baseball insiders. And their conversations, at least in passing, sounded almost exactly like this.