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Casey At The Bat -- Ernest Lawrence Thayer

       
(Poem #90) Casey At The Bat
It looked extremely rocky for the Mudville nine that day;
The score stood two to four, with but an inning left to play.
So, when Cooney died at second, and Burrows did the same,
A pallor wreathed the features of the patrons of the game.

A straggling few got up to go, leaving there the rest,
With that hope which springs eternal within the human breast.
for they thought: "If only Casey could get a whack at that,"
they'd put even money now, with Casey at the bat.

But Flynn preceded Casey, and likewise so did Blake,
And the former was a pudd'n and the latter was a fake.
So on that stricken multitude a deathlike silence sat;
For there seemed but little chance of Casey's getting to the bat.

But Flynn let drive a "single," to the wonderment of all.
And the much-despised Blakey "tore the cover off the ball."
And when the dust had lifted, and they saw what had occurred,
There was Blakey safe at second, and Flynn a-huggin' third.

Then from the gladdened multitude went up a joyous yell--
It rumbled in the mountaintops, it rattled in the dell;
It struck upon the hillside and rebounded on 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 on 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 when the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
Defiance glanced 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 the 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 tumault, he made the game go on;
He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the spheroid flew;
But Casey still ignored it, and the umpire said, "Strike Two."

"Fraud!" cried the maddened thousands, and the 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 the ball go by again.

The sneer is gone from Casey's lips, 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 favored 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.
-- Ernest Lawrence Thayer
A number of poets are known for just one poem, but seldom is that one poem
as famous as 'Casey at the Bat'; seldom has it conferred upon its author the
deep-seated immortality that 'Casey' brought Thayer. "Casey at the Bat is an
enduring example of American baseball literature." writes the Cosmic
Baseball Assocaiation. "Read countless times to countless children as they
fall asleep; memorized and recited by countless orators to countless
audiences, it is a tale that sinks deeply into the American soul."

And a pretty good poem it is too. It has all the features one looks for in a
good narrative poem - a gripping story, a strong rhythm and a rhyme scheme
that advances the poem in a series of couplets, lending itself well to
recitation.

Of course, so famous and distinctive a poem has attracted its share of
parodies. Unfortunately, most of them aren't particularly good. Frank Jacobs
(of Mad Magazine fame) had a few nice ones, but they aren't online. A few
others may be found at <[broken link] http://www.clark.net/pub/cosmic/catb1.html>

m.

For the full story behind the writing of the poem, see
<http://www.historybuff.com/library/refcasey.html>

Biography and Appraisal:

  Born August 14, 1863 in Lawrence, Massachusetts, Ernest Thayer was the son
  of a prosperous mill owner. His family eventually moved to Worcester,
  Massachusetts where his father ran several wool mills.

  Ernest graduated magna cum laude with a major in philosophy in 1885.
  At Harvard he edited the college humor magazine, the Harvard Lampoon.
  The eminent American philosopher William James was a teacher and
  friend. Other classmates included William Randolph Hearst and George
  Santayana.

  After college, and typical of the sons of the well-to-do, Ernest went
  abroad and settled for a time in Paris. Despite his father's desire to
  have him work in the family business, Ernest took a job writing humor
  pieces for his college friend Hearst, who was now running the San
  Francisco Examiner newspaper. Returning to Worcester in 1888, Thayer wrote
  "Casey" in May and Hearst published it in the June 3, 1888 edition of his
  newspaper. Thayer wrote his columns for the newspaper using the pseudonym
  "Phin" and it would be several years before the true authorship of "Casey"
  would be determined.

  Thayer eventually went to work for his father but ultimately quit
  altogether when he moved to Santa Barabara in in 1912. It was in
  California, at age 50 that he married Rosalind Buel Hammett, a widow
  from St. Louis. They had no children.

  Described as a slightly built, soft-spoken man who wore a hearing aid
  after middle age, Thayer died in Santa Barabara, in 1940.

  In his brief review of Thayer's life, Martin Gardner writes:

        One might argue that Thayer, with his extraordinary beginning at
        Harvard, his friendship with James and Santayana, his lifelong
        immersion in philosophy and the great books, was himself
        something of a Casey.

  Just before Thayer died he attempted to put some thoughts down on
  paper. However, he was too old or too sick to carry out the task and
  he lamented, "Now I have something to say and I am too weak to say
  it."

  Nevertheless, Thayer will forever be remembered for one remarkable at
  bat, a tragic-comic hit about a mighty hero who struck out.
        -- The Cosmic Baseball Association
        <[broken link] http://www.clark.net/pub/cosmic/thayer.html>

  Thayer was not without literary credentials. He had been the editor of the
  Lampoon in his undergraduate days...(Famed poet-philosopher George
  Santayana was his associate editor.) He accepted Hearst's offer, and soon
  his weekly column began to appear under the pseudonym "Phin," an echo of
  his Harvard days, where his friends had called him "Phinny."

  Santayana might have provided a clue as to why his old editor made Casey
  into a flawed hero.

  "Ernest...seemed to be a man apart...who saw the broken edges of things
  that appear whole." Casey could have been the lead character in a Greek
  tragedy, for he was given an opportunity to fulfill a truly heroic
  destiny, but his hubris caused him to take two pitches, either of which a
  less haughty man would have jumped on in an effort to win the game. But
  Casey, in Ted Williams fashion, was "waiting for his pitch." If only he
  had had Williams' eyes, his trigger reflexes, his fluid swing. But if he
  had been thus blessed, he would not have been playing in
  Mudville/Stockton, he would have been across the Charles River from
  Harvard, playing for the Red Sox or the Braves. And Thayer, although he
  had consorted with the likes of James and Santayana, was no Euripides. We
  get no clue of Casey's impending doom. We are sure that despite all the
  Mudville misfortune that had preceded the mighty one's fateful at bat, he
  would come through as he always had.

  [...]

  The poem became somewhat of a curse for Thayer. He was embarrassed when
  people hailed him as the author. When asked to recite it, he did so
  reluctantly and not well. He never accepted royalties for it and never
  submitted another for publication.

  [...]

  Santayana was right. Thayer was "a man apart." He lived in quiet
  retirement until his death 1940. His 15 minutes of fame echoed down
  through the decades in five minute and 40 second segments as Hopper,
  Connors and countless others regaled audiences from Little League picnics
  to Hall of Fame induction banquets with Phin's immortal muse.

    -- Bob Brigham, 'Where the Mighty Casey Struck Out'
    <[broken link] http://www.geocities.com/Colosseum/Field/1538/TDA59B/casey.html>

33 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Ilza Carvalho said...

this line is not correct
it is violence, not vengeance :
He pounds with cruel VIOLENCE his bat upon the plate;

Emason214 said...

Hello out there! The kids and I want to know if the poem "Casey at the Bat"
is based on a real player's experience or just a figment of Thayer's
imagination? If Casey was a real player, what is his full name? Thanks, Eve

MR3436 said...

I read your poem in my Reading Instruction and Assessment class at Cleveland
State University. I enjoyed it.
Katherine R.

Sullivan Gary said...

Find a copy of Garrison Keillor's collection "The Book of Guys." He has an
extraordinarily good parody of this poem, from the point of view of the
other team. He describes the joyous riot following the game in this way:
(I know I'm paraphrasing) "We went out to the parking lot and rubbed their
bus with cheese/That smelled like something died from an intestinal
disease."

Gary Sullivan
Manager, Reservation Sales Training

CDuffer2000 said...

I really love this poem and I read it over and over again. But one of your
lines is wrong. It should be "he pounds with cruel VENGEANCE his bat upon the
plate" instead of violence. The vengeance version is in "Poems to Be Read
Aloud".

Maria
Coleman

Frank Crane said...

The Garrison Keillor version is extraordinarily funny. But it's even funnier to listen to Keillor deliver it himself!!

Ann Savonen said...

My version from a book titled Treasury of the Familiar edited by Ralph
Woods, says vengeance, not violence. I believe that is how it read
originally.

Theodore Thayer said...

It's interesting. I am somehow attatched to this poem, not only because we have a Disney animated short about the story, but my father & I are trying to research whether or not we are somehow related to Ernest Lawrence Thayer. I've always loved this little poem! Such an endearing & entertaining piece! ~ T.J. Thayer 7/2003

WUZUPPUR said...

To Emasion214:
Thayer said that Casey was based on a guy named Daniel Casey he got into it
with in high school. you can read about it at Thesportingnews.com
And by the way, the original version does read violence, but there are many
many versions of this poem.
Also, you can hear De Wolf Hopper recite the poem at baseball-almanac.com
Rachel :-)

Bob Mullen said...

I'll check: I think one of the lines is
"the latter was a cake."

goes better with the puddin'.

Woods Susan said...

Actually, the line violence / vengeance isn't wrong or right. There are
several different versions of this poem out there. It was recited so
many times in performance that surely it wasn't the same each time.

Colleen Hansen said...

I've seen many different versions as well . . . because the poem is best delivered aloud, there's bound to be many different ways to recite it.

I've always remembered the opening line as:
"The outlook wasn't brilliant for the Mudville nine that day"
And the last line of the first stanza as:
"A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game."

(I also remember it with "vengeance" and "the latter is a fake".)

David Wagner said...

Colleen and Woods have it right. there are so many printed variations it
would be hard to count them all. The greatest variety seems to exist in the
"cake"/"fake" line, in which "the former" is identified variously as "a
pudding," "a lulu," "a no-good" and "a washout."

Calclassic1 said...

"great"/"brilliant"

Lynne and Roger Kem said...

My 6th grade (male) teacher on Grand Island, New York read this to us back around 1963 and I loved it. It is a memory that I will always have.
I also became a teacher and showed a filmstrip with tape of this poem to my classes for many years around world series time. I always hoped someone would also have a memory of it as I did. I also loved sometimes just reading it myself so I could put the appropriate "sneer" sound in Casey's voice.
Thanks for listening...
Lynne Kem

Jan Neher said...

Tonight I heard the Dallas Wind Symphony do Casey at the Bat with narration of the poem over the music of Frank Proto. It was wonderful! I also am a Cleveland State Univ. alum-class of '70. I had the best professor in Eng. Lit with Prof. Hazelrig and the Elem. Ed. classes were terrific.
Jan

Anonymous said...

I have a book of poetry, published in 1903, that includes "Casey at the Bat." I memorized it from this version in the 1950s, and notice a few minor difference (such as the score, which was four to six).

However, what I've never understood is why this poem was attributed in that book to Joseph Quinlan Murphy, not Ernest Lawrence Thayer. Any help on this question would be greatly appreciated!

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Anonymous said...

Loved reading this piece again. I am looking for a copy of the poem Judd van Wyk wrote in parody - about the University of Michigan Fab team and Chris Webber calling "Time-Out" at the end of the NCAA tourney game. Any idea where I could find a copy?

Thanks!

Anonymous said...

you should say what the meaning of the story is about. (WHAT IS IT ABOUT)

Anonymous said...

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