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E.L. Thayer (“Casey” Turns 125, Still no Joy in Mudville)

On June 3, 1888, the iconic American hymn to baseball, “Casey at the Bat”, was first published. Baseball is so old, and no sport has been written about so much or so well, at least not in North America. Basketball was still only a gleam in Mr. Naismith’s imagination when “Casey” came out, and obviously the game was already a major part of American consciousness, as this poem has also become. It’s a lovely thing to read (or to hear, if you follow the link above to one of its destinations), and is really well made and made to be memorized and recited — oh, for those seemingly long-gone days! Some of these phrases sing: “Oh, somewhere in this favoured land the sun is shining bright / The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light…”

So here’s to the mighty Thayer, who apparently wrote little poetry besides this little piece of eternity, spun out when he was 25:

Casey at the Bat

by Ernest Lawrence Thayer

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 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 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 despisèd, 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 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 '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 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 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.

– See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15500#sthash.EIvjHJNK.dpuf

Comments (3)

  1. michael freeman

    I had heard, but never read or heard a version recited, of “Casey at the Bat”. And I have always wondered where the expression “there is no joy in Mudville” came from, but I had never put the two together. Thayer has a way of painting a vivid picture in a turn of phrase. It is interesting that he created this poem as a ‘one off’ and did not have any other poetry to speak of. Almost as if he did not recognize the genius of his own work.
    Thanks for the connection.

  2. My boy performed this poem with his class as an end-of-year event. Each kid memorized a bit. They all wore baseball caps, and shouted “Strike One!” and “Kill the Umpire!” at the same time. It was fabulous. What a great poem…

  3. sherri yazdani

    Thanks for this one! My dad used to recite this poem sometimes when we were in the car – I had forgotten how wonderful it is!

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