Casey at the Bat
By Ernest L. Thayer
For those (like everybody) who have heard of the poem “Casey at the Bat” but have never actually heard it, here it is. And free of charge, here's a theory that goes with it.
If Casey is the big slugger, the cleanup man, why are the two batters who precede him called “a puddin' ” and “a fake?” This theory holds that the whole thing, written by a former humor writer for the Harvard Crimson, was a exercise in irony: Casey was the pitcher, and in those 1880's days, a Nine was nine guys; there were no pinch hitters.
It looked extremely rocky for the Mudville nine that day;
The score stood two to four , with but one inning left to play.
So when Cooney popped to second, and Burroughs 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 that springs eternal within the human breast.
They thought, if only Casey could get a whack at that,
They'd put up even money now, with Casey at the bat.
But Flynn preceded Casey, and likewise so did Blake,
And the former was a puddin', and the latter was a fake.
So on that stricken throng a deathlike silence sat,
For there seemed but little chance of Casey's coming to the bat.
But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
And the much despis-ed 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 that rising multitude there came a mighty yell.
It beat against the mountains and 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 the 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.
And 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 came a muffled roar,
Like the beating of the stormwaves on a stern and distant shore.
“Kill him! Kill the umpire!” shouted someone in the stand.
And it's likely they'd have killed him, had not Casey raised a 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 umpire; 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 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.
Ah, 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.
Purists may detect a tiny digression from the original. It is unhappily necessary, because young Mr. Ernest L. Thayer, recently of Harvard and brought to San Francisco by William Randolph Hearst to write funny stuff for the Examiner, was a swell ironist who didn't know baseball all that well. He wrote: “When Cooney died at second, and Burroughs did the same. . .” Every nine-year-old baseball fan knows that when a man dies at second, that means the inning ends with him stranded out there. So I helped Mr. Thayer 100 years late by creating the unlikely scenario that two successive men would “pop to second,” retaining the cadence of the greatest sports poem ever written.