(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.
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>