On June 3 in 1888: San Francisco Examiner published Casey at the Bat, by “Phin”, a pseudonym for Ernest Lawrence Thayer (1863-1940), a writer and poet.
The synopsis of the story is:
A baseball team from the fictional town of “Mudville” (implied to be the home team) is losing by two runs in its last inning. Both the team and its fans (a crowd of 5,000, according to the poem) believe they can win if Casey, Mudville’s star player, gets to bat. However, Casey is scheduled to be the fifth batter of the inning, and the first two batters (Cooney and Barrows) fail to get on base. The next two batters (Flynn and Jimmy Blake) are perceived to be weak hitters with little chance of reaching base to allow Casey a chance to bat.
Surprisingly, Flynn hits a single, and Blake follows with a double that allows Flynn to reach third base. Both runners are now in scoring position and Casey represents the potential winning run. Casey is so sure of his abilities that he does not swing at the first two pitches, both called strikes. On the last pitch, the overconfident Casey strikes out swinging, ending the game and sending the crowd home unhappy.
When William Randolph Hearst took over the San Francisco Examiner in 1885, he brought along three Harvard Lampoon staff members. One of those three was Ernest Lawrence Thayer (1863-1940) who signed his humorous Lampoon articles with the pen name Phin. In the June 3, 1888 issue of The Examiner, Phin appeared as the author of the poem we all know as “Casey at the Bat.” The poem received very little attention and a few weeks later it was partially republished in the New York Sun, though the author was listed as Anon.
A New Yorker named Archibald Gunter clipped out the poem and saved it as a reference item for a future novel. Weeks later Gunter found another interesting article describing an upcoming performance at the Wallack Theatre by comedian De Wolf Hopper who was also his personal friend. Gunter shared “Casey at the Bat” with Hopper. The August 14, 1888 show had members from the New York and Chicago ball clubs in the audience and the clipping now had a clear and obvious use. Hopper gave the poem’s first stage performance (it was a hit) that night and went on to recite it 10,000 times.
Over the years it has been the subject of musical settings for orchestras and bands, silent films, Disney cartoons and even a cantata by William Schuman along with sequels and parodies.
There is, of course, a Baltimore Orioles connection. Dennis Patrick Casey (1858-1909) is rumored to be the infamous “Casey at the Bat.” Casey played in Baltimore from 1884-85 producing six home runs. There were only two other Casey’s around the time of Thayer’s poem including Dennis’s brother Daniel, a pitcher, who outlived him. Daniel would claim in the 1930s to be “the” Casey of the famous poem. It has been reported that Thayer’s best friend Samuel Winslow, who played baseball at Harvard, was the inspiration for Casey. More than likely the inspiration was Boston’s Michael “King” Kelly, the star player known for his great baseball talents and his colorful behavior on and off the field. Kelly would recite the poem in his off season Vaudeville act.
Two towns- Holliston, Massachusetts and Stockton, California both lay claim to being the inspiration for the poem.
Whenever the poem is performed it never fails to bring a sense of magic to the game. It transports the listener to an era of baseball before the turn of the 20th century to one where bands play, men laugh, children shout, hearts are light and everyone looks to their baseball heroes.
My favorite is the closing lines which evokes America in the innocent times:
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.
Fun fact: Ernest Thayer and Jari Villanueva share the share birthdate August 14th
Here is the Poem:
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 despised, 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 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 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 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.