The Origins of Casey at the Bat
But there is no joy in Mudville–mighty Casey has struck out. So goes the last line of the famous baseball poem, Casey at the Bat. The poem was originally published in the San Francisco Examiner on June 3, 1888. It was written by Ernest Thayer (1863 – 1940) and was originally subtitled A Ballad of the Republic Sung in the Year 1888.
Casey was immortalized by DeWolf Hopper , an American actor, singer, comedian, and theatrical producer who was married to Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper. Hopper first recited the poem in 1888 and was estimated to have performed it 10,000 times before his death in 1935.
Over the years, there have been many adaptations of Casey including a 1927 silent movie starring Wallace Beery, a Disney Cartoon, a parody in Mad Magazine, and a Twilight Zone episode. The adaptations will be detailed in a subsequent article. This article deals with the origin and history of the poem.
Synopisis - In the poem, a baseball team from the fictional town of Mudville is losing by two runs with two outs in their last at bats, but they think they can win “if only” they could somehow get “mighty Casey” up to bat. Two weakhitters manage to get on base, and Casey comes to bat with the tying run in scoring position. The beloved Casey, Mudville’s star player, is so confident in his abilities that he doesn’t swing at the first two pitches, both strikes. On the last pitch, the overconfident Casey strikes out, ending the game and sending the crowd home unhappy. (Source: Wikipedia)
History of Casey at the Bat (from HistoryBuff.com) – When George Hearst decided to run for senator from California in 1885 he realized the need of an influential organ, and bought the San Francisco Examiner to promote his political ambitions. When the campaign was over, he presented it to his son, William Randolph Hearst who had just graduated from Harvard College. While in college the younger Hearst had been editor of the Harvard Lampoon.
When he went to California to edit the Examiner he took along with him three members of the Lampoon staff; Eugene Lent, F. H. Briggs, and Ernest L. Thayer. Each had nicknames — Thayer’s was “Phin.” He wrote a humorous column on a regular basis for the Examiner and signed his columns with his nickname.
In the spring of 1888, Thayer wrote Casey and submitted it for publication. It appeared in the Examinerin the June 3, 1888 edition and was signed “Phin” as usual.
To become immortal, everyone (or thing) needs a press agent. Archibald Clavering Gunter, an author of novels, was “Casey’s” press agent. Always on the look out for incidents to base some of his novels on, Gunter, living in New York, sought and actively read newspapers from around the country on a regular basis. When he read Casey for the first time, he clipped it out to save. He wasn’t sure just what he would do with it, but he clipped and saved it anyway.
Many weeks later, in August of 1888, Gunter read that both the New York and Chicago baseball clubs would be attending the performance of the comedian DeWolf Hopper at the Wallack Theater in New York. Upon reading the announcement, Gunter instantly knew what he wanted to do with the clipping of Casey he had saved.
Gunter approached Hopper, a good friend, and offered the poem for him to recite as he felt the baseball teams would enjoy a comic baseball recitation. Hopper agreed and recited it that night. The rest, as they say, is history. From that point forward in time, Casey become immortal — while a good poem to begin with, it took a recital before a group of “famous” baseball players by a professional comedian to bring it to life.
After reviews for Hopper’s performance were published, three people came forward to claim authorship and demanded Hopper pay a royalty to use “their” poem. None could prove authorship, so Hopper kept it in his repertory.
Four or five years later, Thayer, living in Worcester, Massachusetts at the time, attended a performance of Hopper in Worcester. After the show, Thayer sent a note backstage requesting to meet Hopper. Thayer gave him the rights to perform it without paying any royalties.
The Poem – The text is filled with references to baseball as it was in 1888, which in many ways is not far removed from today’s version. As a work, the poem encapsulates much of the appeal of baseball, including the involvement of the crowd.
The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine that day:
The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play,
And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
A pall-like silence fell upon the patrons of the game.
A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to the hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought, “If only Casey could but get a whack at that–
We’d put up even money now, with Casey at the bat.”
But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake,
And the former was a hoodoo, while the latter was a cake;
So upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat,
For there seemed but little chance of Casey getting to the bat.
But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
And Blake, the much despisèd, tore the cover off the ball;
And when the dust had lifted, and men saw what had occurred,
There was Jimmy safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third.
Then from five thousand throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
It pounded on the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.
There was ease in Casey’s manner as he stepped into his place;
There was pride in Casey’s bearing and a smile lit Casey’s face.
And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,
No stranger in the crowd could doubt ’twas Casey at the bat.
Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt;
Five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt;
Then while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
Defiance flashed in Casey’s eye, a sneer curled Casey’s lip.
And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,
And Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.
Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped–
“That ain’t my style,” said Casey. “Strike one!” the umpire said.
From the benches, black with people, there went up a muffled roar,
Like the beating of the storm-waves on a stern and distant shore;
“Kill him! Kill the umpire!” shouted someone on the stand;
And it’s likely they’d have killed him had not Casey raised his hand.
With a smile of Christian charity great Casey’s visage shone;
He stilled the rising tumult; he bade the game go on;
He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the dun sphere flew;
But Casey still ignored it and the umpire said, “Strike two!”
“Fraud!” cried the maddened thousands, and echo answered “Fraud!”
But one scornful look from Casey and the audience was awed.
They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain,
And they knew that Casey wouldn’t let that ball go by again.
The sneer is gone from Casey’s lip, his teeth are clenched in hate,
He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate;
And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,
And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey’s blow.
Oh, somewhere in this favoured land the sun is shining bright,
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout,
But there is no joy in Mudville–mighty Casey has struck out.
Casey’s Revenge– by Grantland Rice (1906), gives Casey another chance against the pitcher who had struck him out in the original story. In this version, Rice cites the nickname “Strike-Out Casey”, hence the influence on Casey Stengel’s name. Casey’s team is down three runs by the last of the ninth, and once again Casey is down to two strikes—with the bases full this time. However, he connects, hits the ball so far that it is never found, and the final stanza reads:
- Oh! somewhere in this favored land dark clouds may hide the sun;
- And somewhere bands no longer play and children have no fun;
- And somewhere over blighted loves there hangs a heavy pall;
- But Mudville hearts are happy now–for Casey hit the ball.