"Who's on first" used to be the start of some of the funniest repartee in show-biz history. Now it's become little more than a nearly daily direct question uttered by shrugging, frustrated managers of the Seattle Mariners.
Thursday (June 24) the answer was Josh Wilson and it proved to be the right reply. Wilson, already something of an oddity for the ballclub in that he's an infielder and also hits, apparently hadn't staffed first base since his tee-ball days (which, to look at the baby-faced player, might have been more recently than we'd think).
In the eighth inning, however, he deftly picked off consecutive throws that were very high and scary low, getting his club through a trying time that eventually led to a 3-2, 13-inning defeat. It was Seattle's longest game of the year, the baseball equivalent of one-third of a Wimbledon tennis event.
Wilson may not stay at first. Nobody seems to last very long there for this club, not since Russell "The Muscle" Branyan wasn't brought back after a stellar 2009 year. Casey Kotchman was supposed to be the '10 everyday first-sacker. An excellent defender, Kotchman was batting just .189 through June 23. That put him 59 percentage points higher than Mike Carp, the other 2010 "answer" to that deathless question Bud Abbott accurately answered for Lou Costello so many times.
Wilson now has played ably during parts of this and last season. But he's a shortstop, or was until oft-injured Jack Wilson recently came back to the team to claim the place in the lineup envisioned when the M's acquired him from Pittsburgh last year. Jack Wilson deserves the shortstop position. Thursday, he made two great plays, including a sweeping grab and transfer of a grounder deep in the hole. He got his throw off seemingly even before he got a grip on the ball. It came in low, but the other Wilson handled it, getting the runner by an inch and an instant: inning over.
It shows inordinate creativity (or desperation) by the M's brain trust to try Josh Wilson at first. True, his inexperience showed early during the game when, after diving for a hard-hit ball to his right, he threw behind Felix Hernandez, who was hustling from the mound to cover first.
But first base is scarcely the most demanding defensive position. It's probably fourth-easiest after left field, pitcher, and second base.
The fact is that the improbably re-energized M's, 6-1 the past week, desperately (speaking of desperation) need hitting. Josh Wilson, because he's never had much job security, could be said to be something of a desperate hitter. He had a hit Thursday and is batting .288. Compared with his infield brethren it seems like .388.
He might've won the game in the 10th had manager Don Wakamatsu wisely told him to put down a squeeze bunt with one out, the bases loaded and speed — Chone Figgins — on third.
In any case, if Josh Wilson becomes (at least for the rest of the season) Seattle’s everyday answer to the question "who's on first," it may not prompt vaudeville-worthy laughter, but it sure could make a lot of fans smile.
Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!