Thursday, April 9, 2015

"Casey at the Bat" by Ernest Lawrence Thayer

It was 127 years ago that Ernest Lawrence Thayer published his immortal poem "Casey at the Bat" in the San Francisco Daily Examiner. Baseball had been around since the days of Cooperstown, New York but had recently been catching on like wildfire all across the country. By the 1890's it was recognized as our National Sport. So in the interest of anyone who has not read this poem, or for those of you with kids who have never heard it before, I thought I'd reprint it here. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did when I was about 8 years old and heard it for the first time. There is also some fun history associated with the poem.

Thayer was a rich kid, went to Harvard, joined the Hasty Pudding Club and edited the Harvard Lampoon. He also became interested in baseball along with his best freinds, Sam Winslow and William Randolph Hearst. After college he was presented with a choice, work in the family mill business back East, or take a job managing the San Francisco Daily Examiner for William Hearst's father. He packed his bags and headed West.

He soon began writing columns and some verse for the paper and on June 3rd, 1888"Casey at the Bat" made it's appearance to little fanfare. A writer named Archibald Gunter clipped it from the paper and placed it in his wallet. There it would remain until August 14th, 1888. A strange confluence of events occured that day. Gunter was in New York to visit two friends, William DeWolf Hopper and Digby Bell, who were both actors and baseball fans. They convinced their boss, a Colonel McCaull to accompany them to the Polo Grounds for a game between the New York Giants and the Chicago White Stockings. They hoped to do a little advertising at the game for their show and invited the players to attend it that night.

The game was won by the visiting Chicago White Stockings with a score of 4-2. When the game ended Mr. Gunter pulled out the tattered poem from his wallet and DeWolf Hopper strode out onto the field and read the poem in his deep, thundering voice. The crowd went wild. DeWolf Hopper made the poem famous and the poem made him a star. It was also Ernest Lawrence Thayer's 25th birthday.

"Casey at the Bat"

It looked extremely rocky for the Mudville nine
that day,
The score stood four to six with but an inning left
to play.
And so, when Cooney died at first, and Burrows
did the same,
A pallor wreathed the features of the patrons of the

A straggling few got up to go, leaving there the
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 up even money with Casey at the bat.

But Flynn preceded Casey, and likewise so did
And the former was a pudding and the latter was a
So on that stricken multitude a death-like silence
For there seemed but little chance of Casey’s
getting to the bat.

But Flynn let drive a single to the wonderment of
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 on second, and Flynn a
hugging third.

Then from the gladdened multitude went up a
joyous yell,
It bounded from the mountain top and rattled in the
It struck upon the hillside, and rebounded on the
For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the

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 as he wiped them
on his shirt;
And while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into
his hip —
Defiance gleamed from 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
Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded
sped —
“That hain’t my style,” said Casey — “Strike one,”
the Umpire said.

From the bleachers black with people there rose a
sullen roar,
Like the beating of the storm waves on a stern and
distant shore,
“Kill him! kill the Umpire!” shouted some one
from the stand —
And it’s likely they’d have done it had not Casey
raised his hand.

With a smile of Christian charity great Casey’s
visage shone,
He stilled the rising tumult and he bade the game
go on;
He signalled to the pitcher and again the spheroid
But Casey still ignored it and the Umpire said
“Strike two.”

“Fraud!” yelled 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 would not let that ball
go by again.

The sneer is gone from Casey’s lip; his teeth are
clenched with hate,
He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the
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.”

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