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Illustration by Jim Hull

The Story of Casey
at the Bat
by
Ernest Lawrence Thayer

Casey at the Bat appeared, originally, in the San Francisco Examiner on Sunday, June 3, 1888, on Page 4.

At the time not much attention was paid to this ballad. A few eastern newspapers reprinted it but for the most part it received little attention upon its release.

In New York City a rising young comedian and base singer, William De Wolf Hopper, was appearing on Broadway and was given a copy of Casey by a close friend who felt it was just the sort of thing for Hopper to recite. Hopper did just that and this is how he recalled the scene in his memoirs, “Once A Clown Always a Clown”.

“When I dropped my voice to B flat, below low C, at the ‘the multitude was awed’, the house, after a moment of startled silence, grasped the anticlimatic denouement, it shouted its glee. They had expected, as anyone does on hearing the ballad for the first time, that the almighty batsman would slam the ball out of the lot, and a lesser bard would have had him do so, and thereby written merely a good sporting-page filller. The anticipation of seeing Babe Ruth whale the ball over the centerfield fence. That is a spectacle to be enjoyed even at the expense of the home team, but there always is a chance that the Babe will strike out, a slight even more healing to sore eyes, for he can miss the third strike just as furiously as he can meet it, and the contrast between the terrible threat of his swing and the futility of the result is a banquet for the malicious, which includes us all. There is no more completely satisfactory drama in literature than the fall of Humpty Dumpty.”

Astonished and delighted with the way his audience responded to Casey, Hopper made the recitation a permanent part of his repertoire and it became his most famous bit. Wherever he went, whatever the show, there were always calls for the ballad. By his own count he recited it more than 10,000 times, experimenting with hundreds of slight variations in emphasis and gesture to keep his mind from wandering. It took him exactly five minutes and forty seconds to deliver the poem.

“When my name is called upon on the resurrection morning I shall, very probably, unless some friend is there to pull the sleeve of my ascension robes, arise, clear my throat and begin: ‘The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine that day.’”, Hopper wrote in his memoirs, declaring that the poem is the only truly great comic poem written by an American.

“It is as perfect an epitome of our national game today as it was when every player drank his coffee from a mustache cup. There are one or more Casey characters in every league, bush or big, and there is no day in the playing season that this same supreme tragedy does not befall on some field. It is unique in all verse in that it is not only funny and ironic, but excitingly dramatic, with the suspense built up to perfect climax. There is no lame line among the fifty-two”.

Although Hopper was famous in his day as a comic opera star, today he is best remembered for three things:
1) Hedda Hopper was the fifth of his six wives;
2) William Hopper, his only child with Hedda, played the detective Paul Drake in the Perry Mason TV show: and
3) Hopper was the man who recited Casey at the Bat

The friend who passed Casey along to Hopper was, in later years to become a best selling author with thirty-nine novels to his credit, Archibald Clavering Gunter.

For most of his life Thayer did not especially like Casey and spent very little time addressing its popularity. However, in later in life he softened towards it considerably. Attending his 50th class reunion at Harvard in 1935, friends reported that he appeared visibly touched when he saw a classmate carrying a large banner that proclaimed: "An ‘85 Man Wrote Casey!". He died in 1940 at the age of seventy-seven.

CASEY AT THE BAT

The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine that day;
The score stood four to two with but one inning more to play.
So when 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 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 lulu . . .
. . . and the latter was a fake;
So upon that stricken multitude a deathlike silence 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 five thousand throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
It rumbled in the mountaintops, it rattle in the dell;
It knocked up the hillside and recoiled upon the flat,
For Casey, might 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 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 the echo answered, “Fraud!”
But one scornful look from Casey and the multitude 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 favoured 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.

Reprinted from “Casey at the Bat”

Illustrated by Jim Hull

Introduction by Martin Gardner

Dover Publications, 1976

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