In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com
Readers of the San Francisco Examiner are the first to learn of the woeful day in Mudville, as Ernest Thayer’s poem, “Casey at the Bat” is published for the first time. Thayer who had been Edition at the Harvard Lampoon, before going to work at the San Francisco Examiner first released the poem anonymously. Its publication and immediate popularity demonstrated just how much baseball was becoming part of American culture.
Over the years there have been theories as to who was the inspiration for the titular Casey. Some have suggested it was a member of the Harvard Baseball team when Thayer attended the university or King Kelly, one of the top stars in the National League who was playing with the Boston Beaneaters.
Ernest Thayer said he chose the name Mudville for his town to give the story a local flair, as in the days before radio and television, local baseball teams were are popular as the professionals. Thayer who was born August 14, 1863, in Lawrenceville, Massachusetts and raised in Worcester. Is said to have chosen the town of Holliston, Massachusetts as his inspiration as the town had a Mudville neighborhood at the time
The poem quickly spread east after its publication in San Francisco. By the summer it was being performed in Chicago and New York, by DeWolff Hopper with the White Stockings and Giants in attendance. Hopper was one of the most well-known actors of his generation. His rendition of “Casey at the Bat” was among the first recordings after the invention of the phonograph.
The poem is now public domain and is among the most famous works of the 19th Century. Over the years “Casey at the Bat” remained popular, with a Disney Animation in 1946, while well-known actors and baseball fans continue to perform it.
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 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.