Among the endless number of words written about our national pastime, perhaps the most famous poem was penned by Ernest Thayer, and published for the first time 125 years ago Monday.
"Casey at the Bat" is every bit as mighty in baseball's modern era as it was when Mudville's mythical slugger came to life on June 3, 1888, on the pages of the San Francisco Examiner.
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Examiner owner William Randolph Hearst hired Thayer as a humor columnist and sometimes baseball writer. The two were college pals at Harvard, where Thayer was editor of the "Harvard Lampoon" and used the pen name "Phin." In fact, "Casey" appeared in the Examiner that day under the byline "Phin."
The setting for "Casey" is a game between the hometown Mudville nine and an unnamed opponent. (Mudville is as mythical as the Casey character -- although residents of Holliston, Mass., and Stockton, Calif., lay claim to their towns being the inspiration for Thayer.) Super slugger Casey is the pride of Mudville, and has a chance to cap a final-inning rally with a walkoff hit. Thayer doesn't reveal Casey's OBP, OPS or WAR, rather, his hero's defiance and hatred for pitcher and umpire alike are measured in sneers, muscle strains and clenched teeth.
You'll have to read the poem to find out what happened.
There was a time when this work could be found in grade school literature books, and perhaps more than a few of today's fans earned extra credit for memorizing and reciting it.
De Wolf Hopper certainly earned more than extra credit with his performance of the comic ballad on vaudeville stages. On Aug. 14, 1888, he gave a recitation at New York's Wallack Theatre -- the first of thousands of his "Casey" performances.
Also popular was Walt Disney's animated version of the poem, released in 1946.
Whatever the art form, "Casey at the Bat" remains as popular a piece of baseball Americana as "Tinkers to Evers to Chance" or Abbott and Costello's timeless "Who's on First" routine.
So, Happy Birthday to Casey and all of Mudville.
CASEY AT THE BAT
By Ernest Lawrence Thayer
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 sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game.
A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought, if only Casey could get but 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 lulu and the latter was a cake;
So upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy 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 Blake, the much despised, tore the cover off the ball;
And when the dust had lifted, and the men saw what had occurred,
There was Jimmy safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third.
Then from 5,000 throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
It knocked upon 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 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 while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
Defiance gleamed 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 a-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 spheroid 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 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.