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Baseball history: ‘Casey at the Bat’

By John W. Dermody

Diamond Dust Network

The following poem first appeared in print in 1888 (probably on June 3) in the San Francisco Examiner. Frequently, "Casey at the Bat" is reproduced as only the final eight stanza, not the entire 13, but it is best to view all "innings."

It was written by Ernest L. Thayer, but it was made famous by William De Wolf Hopper, a New York singer and monologist, who recited it on stage an estimated 10,000 times. Some articles refer to him as a comedian, but certainly not in the same sense as today’s "stand-up" comics.

First, however, a little background is needed.

Prior to the above date, William Randolph Hearst went back to California to edit the Examiner after attending Harvard University. His wealthy father, George Hearst, had purchased the newspaper earlier so he would have a public relations vehicle to promote his own candidacy for the U. S. Senate in 1885.

Young William, who later became a millionaire publishing icon, took along with him three members of the Harvard Lampoon staff; Eugene Lent, F. H. Briggs, and Thayer.

Each had nicknames -- Thayer's was "Phin." He wrote a humorous column on a regular basis for the "Examiner" and signed his columns with his nickname.

In the spring of 1888, Thayer wrote Casey and submitted it for publication. It appeared in the Examiner in early June and was signed "Phin" as usual.

Incidentally, like many items of baseball memorabilia, a copy of the original Examiner containing the poem would be worth thousands of dollars in this day and age of "collectingmania."

When Casey made its first appearance, nobody hailed it greatly or thought it would become immortal. A few weeks later, (exact date unknown) the New York Sun published the last eight stanzas of the poem -- but signed its author as "Anon." Other than the "Sun," the public ignored it.

Then as now, it helps to have a press agent, so to speak. Archibald Clavering Gunter, a novelist, eventually proved to be "Casey's."

Always on the look out for incidents on which to base some of his novels, the New York writer actively read newspapers from around the country on a regular basis. When Gunter read Casey for the first time, he saved it, according to a historical account. He wasn't sure just what he would do with it, but he clipped and saved it anyway.

Many weeks later, in August of 1888, Gunter read that both the New York and Chicago baseball clubs would be attending the performance of De Wolf Hopper at the Wallack Theater in New York. Upon seeing the announcement, Gunter apparently knew what he wanted to do with the clipping of Casey he had retained.

Gunter approached Hopper, a good friend, and offered the poem for him to recite. He felt the baseball teams would enjoy a comic baseball recitation. Hopper agreed and recited it that night.

The rest, as they say, is history.

From that point, Casey the poem become immortal, although rarely is the complete poem recited. The final verses focus on the "mighty" Casey, and we all can identify with his moment of futility.

(There have likely been few poems parodied more than Thayer’s creative effort — and most of them are very bad, indeed.)

While a memorable poem, it took Hopper’s recital before a group of professional baseball players to bring Casey to life.

After reviews for Hopper's performance were published, three people came forward to claim authorship and demanded Hopper pay a royalty for having used the creative work. None could prove authorship, so Hopper kept it in his repertory.

Four or five years later, Thayer was living in Worcester, Massachusetts, and attended a performance by Hopper in that city. After the show, Thayer sent a note backstage requesting to meet the entertainer. Thayer gave him the rights to perform it without paying any royalties.

Folks who love baseball will always remember and quote Casey, even if it is just the most famous portion of the last line. The poem is part of baseball, just as is the playing of the National Anthem or singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" during the seventh inning stretch.

We can thank Ernest L. Thayer for also being a baseball fan.

A Ballad of the Republic, Sung in the Year 1888

It looked extremely rocky for the Mudville nine that day;
The score stood two to four, with but an inning left 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, leaving there the rest,
With that hope which springs eternal within the human breast.
For they thought: "If only Casey could 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 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 the much-despised 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 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 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 the 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 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.

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