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Spring Has Sprung
Frank Deford
April 10, 1978
It's Opening Day, so buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack, remember to hold the label up and tell me Who's on First?
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April 10, 1978

Spring Has Sprung

It's Opening Day, so buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack, remember to hold the label up and tell me Who's on First?

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Aluminum bats are now allowed in every game but Organized Baseball. There, as always, the law reads that a bat must be turned out of one solid piece of God's own wood. Someday soon a phenom is going to step to the plate in the majors, fresh out of college, and he is going to be swinging with a wooden bat for the first time. Que ser�, ser�".

None of this upsets Hillerich & Bradsby as much as you might imagine. Remember, these are the same fellows who got out of butter churns when the time was ripe. Now their brand is pressed on aluminum bats, too. And the Slugger people are especially proud of their top-quality magnesium bats. Magnesium bats made by Louisville Slugger! Why, you might as well tell me there is magnesium Cracker Jack.

Bill Williams, Hillerich & Bradsby's vice-president of advertising, says, "The crack of the bat doesn't seem to mean that much to kids anymore." He spoke that not in anger but merely in resignation, with a hint of pity. Imagine never getting good wood on a ball. Imagine not knowing what a loud foul off Home Run Baker's bat sounded like.

Comedy is not the most dependable traveler through time. Many people now find the mots of the wits of the Algonquin Round Table forced and leaden. And Abbott and Costello, those purveyors of the broad and foolish? They appear downright puerile. Consider their horse routine, when Abbott, the tall one (he was 5'11"), brings Costello to blubbery tears by telling him deadpan about the mudder who had no fodder. Our first reaction is wonderment: Did a nation laugh at this?

You bet it did. Except for Laurel and Hardy, there has never been a pair of comics who were so enjoyed for so long. They were Top Ten box-office draws for more than a decade; in 1942 they were No. 1, just ahead of Clark Gable. They struck some simple childlike chord in us and strummed it again and again.

The pair broke up in 1957, and Costello died two years later when he was 50. Abbott, ever the happy wastrel, had to scuffle with the IRS over back taxes for most of his sunset years, but he lasted till age 78, dying four years ago this month. But they remain as much in evidence as ever. Their movies—and they churned out three or four a year for Universal—are everywhere on TV, usually during the children's hours, harmlessly washing our minds without leaving a trace upon our consciousness. But hush, my children, here is the one heirloom of Abbott and Costello that endures:

Costello: I would like to know some of the guys' names on the team....

Abbott: Oh sure. But you know baseball players have funny names...nowadays.

Costello: Like what?

Abbott: Well, like Dizzy Dean and Daffy Dean.

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