"Casey at the Bat"
, subtitled "A Ballad of the Republic Sung in the Year 1888", is a baseball poem
written in 1888 by Ernest Thayer
. First published in the San Francisco Examiner
on June 3
, it was later popularized by DeWolf Hopper
in many vaudeville
In the poem, a baseball team from the fictional town of Mudville (implied to be the home team) is losing by two runs with two outs in their last at bats, but they think they can win "if only" they could somehow get "mighty Casey" up to bat. Two weak hitters manage to get on base, and Casey comes to bat with the tying run in scoring position. The beloved Casey, Mudville's star player, is so confident in his abilities that he doesn't swing at the first two pitches, both strikes. On the last pitch, the overconfident Casey strikes out, ending the game and sending the crowd home unhappy.
The poem is filled with references to baseball as it was in 1888, which in many ways is not far removed from today's version. As a work, the poem encapsulates much of the appeal of baseball, including the involvement of the crowd. It also has a fair amount of baseball jargon that can pose challenges for translators.
This is the complete poem as it originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner. After publication, multiple versions with minor changes were produced. The text without commentary is available at the Wikisource link elsewhere in this article.
- 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 sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game.
- The "Mudville Nine" could stand for any baseball team. It also reflects a time when substitutions were not allowed except in cases of injury.
- "One inning more to play" in standard baseball jargon means that the home team has one set of at-bats remaining: the poem is set just before the start of Mudville's final turn (of a regulation game), in the ninth inning.
- A player "dying" at a base means he was put out. There are only three outs per team in an inning in baseball, so one more out would end the game (with Mudville losing).
- A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
- Clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
- They thought, if only Casey could get but a whack at that -
- We'd put up even money, now, with Casey at the bat.
- The second line above was rephrased in The Sporting News in the early 1960s, which characterized the atmosphere of pre-season training as "Spring Hopes Eternal".
- The second line above is an allusion to Alexander Pope's An Essay on Man (1734), which contains the line "Hope springs eternal in the human breast".
- The last line above reflects the period's casual attitude toward betting and baseball.
- But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake,
- And the former was a lulu and the latter was a cake;
- So upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat,
- For there seemed but little chance of Casey's getting to the bat.
- The players' names are all Anglo-Saxon or Celtic, as was the case then with major league baseball in general. Early major league rosters contained many Irish names.
- Gardner asserts that "lulu" (as in "humdinger") is being used ironically in this case. The original version of the poem used "lulu" and "cake" to describe Flynn and Blake. However, many different words such as "hoodoo" and "fake" have been used as substitutes in later versions of the poem. "Cake" was taken to mean someone who was vain and not particularly "manly".
- But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
- And Blake, the much despis-ed, 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.
- Tearing the cover off the ball was possible in those days, since a single ball was often used for the entire game (as also used to be the case in the game of cricket).
- Although the term "men" is often used generically in English, in those days baseball was largely attended by men. If women attended, they were often isolated to a section away from the men, supposedly to distance them from any vulgarities that the male spectators (or players) might speak. However, the phrase "the men" breaks the meter of the line, and later versions simply say "they".
- Also, in the original version, a printer's error said "Johnnie" was safe at second. Later versions corrected it to "Jimmy".
- Then from 5,000 throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
- It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
- It knocked upon the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
- For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.
- The team's worst batters have managed to get on base, and the Mudville fans cheer as the star batter is now up to 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 a-killed him had not Casey raised his hand.
- Gardner argues that the line about the distant shore is paraphrased from Felicia Dorothea Hemans's "The Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers": "The breaking waves dashed high / On a stern and rockbound coast."
- With a smile of Christian charity great Casey's visage shown;
- 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.
- ''The ambiance of cheering and expectation, the (unfair) prejudice towards any player who is not the obvious star of the day, and the final anticlimactic disappointment are very modern and certainly contributed largely to the perennial appeal of the poem throughout the live-ball era.
Impact on Popular Culture
For a relatively short poem apparently dashed off quickly (and denied by its author for years—see below), "Casey at the Bat" has had a profound effect on American popular culture. It has been recited, re-enacted, adapted, dissected, parodied, and subjected to just about every other treatment one could imagine.
The poem was originally published anonymously (under the pen name "Phin"). Thayer was so embarrassed by what he considered to be doggerel that he kept his identity secret for years. It was only after others claimed to have written the poem that he finally came forth, although he remained embarrassed by its success in the face of what he considered to be its low merit.
gave the poem's first stage recitation on August 14
, at New York's Wallack Theatre
as part of the comic opera Prince Methusalem
in the presence of the Chicago and New York baseball teams, the White Stockings
and the Giants
; August 14
, was also Thayer's 25th birthday. Hopper became known as an orator of the poem, and recited it more than 10,000 times (by his count—some tabulations are as much as four times higher) before his death. The first recorded version of "Casey at the Bat", as sung by Russell Hunting
, hit the music charts in 1893; Hopper's more famous version was not released until October 1906.
The magic/comedy team Penn & Teller performed a version of "Casey at the Bat" with Teller (the "silent" partner) struggling to escape a straitjacket while suspended upside-down over a platform of sharp steel spikes. If Penn Jillette reached the end of the poem before Teller's escape, he would leap off of his chair, releasing the rope which supported Teller, and sending his partner to a gruesome death. The drama of the performance was taken up a notch after the third or fourth stanza, when Penn Jillette would read out the rest of the poem much faster than the opening stanzas, greatly reducing the time that Teller had left.
On July 4, 2008 Jack Williams recited the poem accompanied by the Boston Pops during the annual Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular at Boston's 4th of July Celebration.
A rivalry of sorts has developed between the two cities claiming to be the Mudville described in the poem.
Residents of Holliston, Massachusetts, where there is a neighborhood called Mudville, claim it as the Mudville described in the poem. Thayer grew up in nearby Worcester, Massachusetts, where he wrote the poem in 1888; his family owned a woolen mill less than a mile from Mudville's baseball field.
However, residents of Stockton, California--which was known for a time as Mudville prior to incorporation in 1850--also lay claim to being the inspiration for the poem. In 1887, Thayer covered baseball for the San Francisco Examiner--owned by his Harvard classmate William Randolph Hearst--and is said to have covered the local California League team, the Stockton Ports. (For the 1902 season, after the poem became popular, Stockton's team was renamed the Mudville Nine. The team reverted to the Mudville Nine monicker for the 2000 and 2001 seasons. The Visalia Oaks (Class 'A' California League) currently keep Mudville alive by playing in Mudville jerseys on June 3 each year.)
Despite the towns' rival claims, Thayer himself told the Syracuse Post-Standard that "the poem has no basis in fact."
A month after the poem was published, it was reprinted as "Kelly at the Bat" in the Sporting Times. Aside from leaving off the first five stanzas, the only changes from the original are substitutions of Kelly for Casey, and Boston for Mudville. Mike "King" Kelly, then of the Boston Beaneaters, was one of baseball's two biggest stars at the time (along with Cap Anson).
In 1897, Current Literature noted the two versions and said, "The locality, as originally given, is Mudville, not Boston; the latter was substituted to give the poem local color."
Several poems have been written as sequels to the original. "Casey's Revenge", by Grantland Rice (1906), gives Casey another chance against the pitcher who had struck him out in the original story.
(The Official Encyclopedia of Baseball by Turkin and Thompson attributes this version to James Wilson, not Rice.) In this version, Rice cites the nickname "Strike-Out Casey", hence the influence on Casey Stengel's name. Casey's team is down three runs by the last of the ninth, and once again Casey is down to two strikes--with the bases full this time. However, he connects, hits the ball so far that it is never found, and the final stanza reads:
- Oh! somewhere in this favored land dark clouds may hide the sun;
- And somewhere bands no longer play and children have no fun;
- And somewhere over blighted loves there hangs a heavy pall;
- But Mudville hearts are happy now--for Casey hit the ball.
In 1988, on the 100th anniversary of the poem, Sports Illustrated writer Frank Deford constructed a fanciful story (later expanded to book form) which posited Katie Casey, the subject of the song "Take Me Out to the Ball Game", as being the daughter of the famous slugger from the poem.
Foster Brooks ("the Lovable Lush") wrote "Riley on the Mound", which recounts the story from the pitcher's perspective. Garrison Keillor's version also replays the same events from the perspective of the opposing team, although Mudville is clearly the visiting team in that version.
- The poem has often been parodied. MAD Magazine (which republished the original version of the poem in the 1950s with artwork by Jack Davis) has lampooned it several times, including "'Cool' Casey at the Bat" in 1960, an interpretation of the poem in beatnik style, with artwork by Don Martin; "Casey at the Dice" in 1969, about a professional gambler; "Howard at the Mike," about Howard Cosell; "Clooney as the Bat", a mockery of George Clooney's role as Batman in Batman and Robin; and in 2006 as "Barry at the Bat", poking fun at Barry Bonds' alleged involvement in the BALCO scandal.
- Another parody takes place in Russia, which ends with "Kasey" in a gulag prison.
- An episode of Tiny Toon Adventures featured a short titled "Buster at the Bat", where Sylvester provides narration as Buster goes up to bat. In this version, the first two strikes are due to Buster signing an autograph the first time and answering his cell phone the second time. However, in the end, Buster hits a home run, much to Sylvester's confusion; Buster replies, "You were expecting me to strike out?! I'm the star of this show!"
- The poem was later parodied again for an episode of Animaniacs, this time with Wakko as the title character and Yakko narrating. Like Buster, Wakko also ends up unexpectedly hitting a home run.
- In the Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius episode "The Return of the Nanobots", Cindy's poem is identical to the ending of "Casey at the Bat" but replaces Mudville with Retroville and the last famed line with "cause Jimmy is an idiot!"
- An episode of the show U.S. Acres titled "Orson at the Bat" also parodied "Casey".
- The New York Times published a parody by Hart Seely and Frank Cammuso in which the poem was narrated by Phil Rizzuto, a New York Yankees announcer who was known to veer off on tangents while calling the game. The poem was later published in Seely and Cammuso's book, 2007Eleven And Other American Comedies.
There was a 1927 movie Casey at the Bat starring Wallace Beery as Casey.
Based on Thayer's original, there have been two animated films by Walt Disney: "Casey at the Bat" (1946), which is a direct adaptation narrated by Jerry Colonna, and a sequel "Casey Bats Again" (1954), in which his nine daughters redeem his reputation.
"Casey at the Bat" was adapted into a 1953 opera by American composer William Schuman. Allen Feinstein composed an adaptation for orchestra with a narrator. An orchestral adaptation by composer Frank Proto has been recorded by the Cincinnati Pops orchestra conducted by Erich Kunzel with baseball star Pete Rose narrating. A version for wind band and narrator by Donald Shirer based on "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" had its world premiere in July 2008.
Jackie Gleason in his "Reginald Van Gleason III" persona (in full Mudville baseball uniform) performed a recitation of the poem on his television show.
Wallace Tripp illustrated a popular 1978 book of the poem.
In 1986, Elliot Gould starred as "Casey" in the Shelley Duvall's Tall Tales and Legends adaptation of the story, which also starred Carol Kane, Howard Cosell, Bob Uecker, Bill Macy and Rae Dawn Chong. The screenplay, adapted from the poem, was written by Andy Borowitz and the production was directed by David Steinberg.
There are two known translations of the poem into a foreign language, one in French, written in 2007 by French Canadian linguist Paul Laurendeau and the title is Casey au bâton, and the Hebrew translation by the sports journalist Menachem Less entitled "התור של קייסי לחבוט" [Hator Shel Casey Lachbot].
On page 11 of his autobiography (titled Casey at the Bat: The Story of My Life in Baseball
), Casey Stengel
describes how his nickname of "K.C." (for his hometown, Kansas City, Missouri
) evolved into "Casey". It was influenced not just by name of the poem, which was widely popular in the 1910s, but also because he tended to strike out frequently in his early career, and fans and writers started calling him "strikeout Casey".
Ralph Andreano's 1965 book, No Joy in Mudville laments the dearth of heroes in modern baseball, which was in something of an economic decline during the 1960s.
The poem is referenced in television episodes of DuckTales, House, M*A*S*H, Back to You, Northern Exposure, The Simpsons, The Twilight Zone, and Teacher's Pet as well as the film Short Cuts, the song "Centerfield", the Broadway musical Cabaret, and Joe Walsh's "Rocky Mountain Way".
Death Cab for Cutie's album We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes features a song titled "No Joy in Mudville". "To The Dogs or Whoever", a song by American singer-songwriter Josh Ritter from his 2007 album The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter, includes a reference to the poem.
The poem is referenced in the Super Nintendo Entertainment System game EarthBound, where a weapon is named after Casey, which is powerful but inaccurate. There is a Pokémon character named Casey who is obsessed with baseball.
In the book "Faithful" by Steward O'Nan and Stephen King, describing the 2004 season of the Boston Red Sox, there is a chapter contributed by King, named "The Gloom is gone Mudville".
Casey's Corner is a baseball-themed restaurant in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, which serves primarily hotdogs. Pictures of Casey and the pitcher from the Disney animated adaptation are hanging on the walls, and a life-size statue of a baseball player identified as "Casey" stands just outside the restaurant.