This week’s poem is “Casey at the Bat” by Ernest Lawrence Thayer, and it tells the tale of mighty Casey’s hubris and what happened.
And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,Ernest Lawrence Thayer (1863—1940)
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.
Poem 226. Casey at the Bat
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.
Pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall, says the Bible. This poem tells the story of Casey, a fictional baseball player of mighty ability whose real-world inspiration might have been any of several top players of the 1880s when the poem was written.
Casey’s team Mudville, as imaginary as he is, are desperate for their star to rescue them from a dire situation: they are losing but three runs will save the day. Casey is batting fifth, however, and the tension rises as the first two batters in the team fail to score.
The crowd’s hearts falter, as the third and fourth batsmen are widely considered to be weak hitters unlikely to make much impression, but somehow they have got to the all-important second and third bases as Casey strides arrogantly to his position with a curled lip and a proud bearing. He stands aloof as the first two balls zip past him into the glove of the catcher, haughtily spurning the chance to score until the third and last chance.
With everything to play for, the pitcher throws the ball for the third time and Casey’s bat sings as he swings it lustily but the ball nestles in the catcher’s glove and Casey’s hubris is paid in full as his team lose on the cusp of victory.
I like this poem because it has a great rhythm and although my knowledge of baseball approaches zero, I can follow the action of the poem, I can appreciate the reactions of the crowd as the tension builds to the final denouement and Casey’s downfall, and I like the way Thayer writes.
This is perhaps one of the best-known poems in America and there are a lot of performances on YouTube, including a Walt Disney cartoon, a performance by James Earl Jones (the voice of Darth Vader) and an escapology routine by the American magicians Penn and Teller where Teller attempts to escape before Penn finishes reading the poem.