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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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].
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.
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