|"The outlook wasn't brilliant for the Mudville nine that day..." So began "Casey at the Bat, A Ballad of the Republic, Sung in the Year 1888," a poem that appeared in the fourth column of page 4 of the Sunday, June 3, 1888 San Francisco Examiner. The poem that would become the most famous American verse ever written was bylined "Phin" and sandwiched inconspicuously between editorials on the left and Ambrose Bierce's weekly column on the right.
Ernest Lawrence Thayer, or "Phinney," as such classmates as William Randolph Hearst and George Santayana called him, had been the editor of the Harvard Lampoon. After Hearst was kicked out of Harvard for sending personalized chamber pots to several professors, his father gave him the Examiner to run, and the errant heir soon asked Thayer if he would write a humor column for the paper.
It took Thayer half a day to write "Casey." The piece might have been forgotten altogether had not a novelist named Archibald Clavering Gunter clipped it and given it to his actor friend William DeWolf Hopper, who was performing a comic opera entitled Prince Methusalem at New York's Wallack Theatre on August 14, 1888. The Giants and White Stockings had been invited to the show, and Hopper thought the new piece particularly appropriate. Before beginning, though, he congratulated Tim Keefe, who was in attendance, on his feat of 19 straight victories.
Hopper, whose fifth wife was gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (their son Paul Hopper played Paul Drake in the Perry Mason television series), later described his first reading of the poem in his autobiography, Once a Clown, Always a Clown: "When I dropped my voice to B flat, below low C, at 'the multitude was awed,' I remember seeing Buck Ewing's gallant mustachios give a single nervous twitch. And as the house, after a moment of startled silence, grasped the anticlimactic denouement, it shouted its glee."
Had Casey hit the ball out of the park, we might never have heard of Thayer or Hopper or been subjected to the countless parodies of "Casey at the Bat." Hopper hit upon its appeal when he wrote, "There is no more completely satisfactory drama in literature than the fall of Humpty Dumpty." He would go on to recite the poem more than 10,000 times, each time in five minutes, 40 seconds....
-- Daniel Okrent & Steve Wulf
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 pall-like silence fell upon the patrons of the game.
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 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 hoodoo, while the latter was a cake.
So upon that stricken multitude, grim melancholy 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 Blake, the much despised, tore the cover off the ball.
And when the dust had lifted,
and 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 through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
it pounded through on the mountain and recoiled upon 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 lit Casey's face.
And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,
no stranger in the crowd could doubt t'was 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 flashed 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 dun sphere 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 has fled from Casey's lip, the 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 little children shout,
but there is no joy in Mudville --
mighty Casey has struck out.
Baseball Anecdotes, Daniel Okrent & Steve Wulf
Copyright 1989 by Daniel Okrent
Published by Oxford University Press (New York), 1989
available at ABEBOOKS