June gives all baseball cranks a chance to relive the legend of Mighty Casey. Of all the fictional characters to come out of baseball, none has ever held a place in the minds and hearts of fans, as has Casey. The legendary poem, “Casey at the Bat” by Ernest Lawrence Thayer, celebrates its 128 anniversary this month. This poem has appeared in nearly all baseball magazines or periodicals and every true fan has heard of the team known as the Mudville Nine. No matter how many times you have read this poem or heard it read, you can’t help but sift through the verse to find out about Cooney and Burrows or Flynn and Blakely. What position did Casey play? Did he bat left or right, and what was the score? And yes, the umpires; even in 1888, the umpire was considered more the enemy than the opponent. Some of the questions can be answered; some not; but still we look. Even though Casey is a fictitious character, he represents every Major League hero we’ve ever had. If you squint your eyes just so, you can see Ruth, Mantle, Aaron, Bonds, and Stanton. Harper, Trout, Casey and the others become one in the fact that even the very best players fail, seven out of ten times at bat. Baseball is a lot like life, in that failing normally precedes success. Even so, the great ones continue to step into the batter’s box and risk the strikeout to hear the cheers. Casey seems to have created a niche for himself in the imaginary Hall of Fame, not because of what he did, but rather because of what he failed to do.
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, 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 would 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 the stricken multitude a deathlike silence 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 the much-despised Blakely “tore the cover off the ball.”
And when the dust had lifted, and they saw what had occurred,
There was Blakely 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 hurling 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 in 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 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 vengeance 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.
Ernest Lawrence Thayer June 3, 1888