Academic journal article Base Ball

Mysteries of the Mighty Casey

Academic journal article Base Ball

Mysteries of the Mighty Casey

Article excerpt

Baseball history is filled with Caseys, from the well remembered-Casey Stengel and Hugh Casey-to the obscure: Dennis Casey, a big league fly-chaser in 1884 and 1885, and Bill Casey, who pitched one inning in one game in 1887.

But there is only one "Casey at the Bat."

Ernest Lawrence Thayer's poem is, quite simply, one of the most enduring and oftrecited in American history. Baseball-wise, its final lines-"But there is no joy in Mudville; Mighty Casey has struck out"-rank right up alongside "Buy me some peanuts and Crackerjack" and "Who's on first?"

Once upon a time, the facts surrounding the poem's creation were cloaked in controversy. One thing is certain, however: "Casey at the Bat" serves to seamlessly blend baseball and American popular culture. Its longevity mirrors the appeal of a sport that is as much about failure as hurlers tossing perfect games, batters hitting for the cycle, and ninth-inning walk-off heroics. In baseball, of course, a batter may fail seven times out of 10 but still be a .300 hitter, and still make the Hall of Fame. Similarly, the Mighty Casey, the slugging hero of "Casey at the Bat," is all too human. He seems destined to bash a dinger for his Mudville nine. He always does, doesn't he? This is his calling. This is his fate. But excepting death and taxes, nothing in life is certain. And the Mighty Casey, as we learn at the poem's finale, does not smash a majestic homer. Instead, he ignominiously strikes out, which makes him all-too-human-and all-too-identifiable to the masses. As the eminent Yale University professor William Lyon Phelps once observed, "The psychology of [the poem] is perfect, which is why it rings the bell in every mind. We laugh at it, but we know it is honestly no laughing matter."

Not long after its publication in 1888, the phrase "Casey at the Bat" became part of the lexicon. In a May 30, 1895, account of a game between the New York and Philadelphia clubs at the Polo Grounds, The New York Times reported that, in a clutch situation, the Giants' Amos Rusie "was retired on strikes to the disappointment of the crowd. It was another case of the 'mighty Casey at the bat.'" On April 24, 1908, the paper referred to the New York Giants' Mike Donlin as "Casey-at-the-bat Donlin." On July 28, 1916, a ninth-inning bases-loaded blast by the New York Yankees' Rube Oldring against the Chicago White Sox was celebrated in the Times headline "Oldring Proves No Casey at the Bat." The appellation even transcended baseball. A May 21, 1926, Times theater review of Sean O'Casey's Juno and the Paycock was headlined "O'Casey at the Bat."

Casey Stengel biographer Robert W. Creamer reported that, early in his major league career, when Stengel whiffed in clutch situations, fans would yell out, "Hey, there's Casey at the bat again! Atta boy, Casey!" Apparently, the future Bronx Bomber skipper was unfazed by such ribbing. His 1962 autobiography was titled "Casey at the Bat: The Story of My Life in Baseball." Two years later, Stengel himself was credited as author of an introduction to one of the myriad published editions of Thayer's poem.

More than a century after its creation, the title has not lost its shine. In the 1980s, numerous newspaper articles spotlighting CIA director William Casey included "Casey at the Bat" in their headlines. On April 24, 1998, the Los Angeles Times charted the heroics of the Cincinnati Reds' Sean Casey in an article headlined "Larkin Likes This Casey at the Bat." On March 22, 2007, the paper announced that Casey Kotchman had won the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim first base job with the headline "Casey's at the Bat for Angels Again." Kenneth Turan, the Times movie critic, began an April 6, 1996, review of the Leonardo DiCaprio film Total Eclipse by quipping that the film is "the arthouse equivalent of 'Casey at the Bat.' Considerable ability has gone into a potential home run scenario, but the result is a big whiff all the way around."

As recently as 2010-April 17, to be exact-The New York Times printed, with "Apologies to Ernest Thayer," a Tom Connelly-authored takeoff, "[Bobby] Valentine at the Bat. …

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