Column: Who's on first?

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By Chris Cannon

 It could only be described as one of the greatest skits of all time.

“Well, then who’s on first?”


“I mean the fellow’s name.”


“The guy on first.”


“The first baseman.”


“The guy playing…”

“Who is on first!”

“What are you askin’ me for?”

Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on first?” skit inspired millions as it first aired on national radio in 1938.

Now, 75 years later, it still has that same feel and awe.

The way the two work together, flawlessly going back and forth, could never be duplicated to the extent the two have done.

“Look, all I wanna know is when you sign up the first baseman, how does he sign his name?”


“The guy.”


“How does he sign…”

“That’s how he signs it.”


Being the 75th anniversary of the original airing, Jimmy Fallon decided to give it a go on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.”

While the skit had its funny moments, it just wasn’t the same as the patinaed original.

Fallon added three other characters, Who, What and third baseman I Don’t Know, who was played by Jerry Seinfeld.

It was ended by Seinfeld offering an explanation of who Who and What were. Steve Higgins asked Seinfeld, “Well, who are you?”

Seinfeld replied, “I Don’t Know,” to which the other four characters each yelled, “Third base!”

The skit changed the view of many toward the original as it added the new players and characters.

However, for me, the skit wasn’t the original that I’ve been used to.

Abbot and Costello flow so well together, as I said before, that the skit simply can’t be reproduced and have the same feel.

Other who try the skit become choppy and less effective in their speech.

“If I mentioned the third baseman’s name, who did I say is playing third?”

“No. Who’s playing first.”

“What’s on first?”

“What’s on second.”

“I don’t know.”

“He’s on third.”

“There I go, back on third again!”

For Fallon, it was a right of passage to do the skit on his late night show.

"This is a rite of passage. This is the thing every comedian knows, no matter who you are," Fallon said in an ESPN interview. "Every comedian goes: 'Oh, "Who's on First." Of course.' You have to know it. You must know it. I'm pretty sure all baseball players must know this sketch. You must know it -- it's part of that world and part of this world. It's part of baseball and part of comedy."

However, it’s part of truth, as well.

According to an article by the “SABR Examiner,” the names of the players may have actually existed.

In ESPN.com’s story, “Who’s on first? Yes!,” Jim Caple quotes the story.

It says that the names were actually based on minor league players, such as Honus J. Hoehe (Who), Allie Watt (What) and Isaiah Donough (I Don’t Know).

To think, all this time, we just thought it was a big gag.

“I throw the ball to who. Whoever it is drops the ball and the guy runs to second. Who picks up the ball and throws it to What. What throws it to I Don’t Know. I Don’t Know throws it back to Tomorrow: Triple play. Another guy guts up and hits a long fly ball to Because. Why? I don’t know! He’s on third, and I don’t give a darn!”


“I don’t give a darn!”

“Oh, that’s our shortstop.”