Today is the anniversary of the publication of one of the most popular of all American poems. Casey at the Bat was first published in the San Francisco Examiner on June 3, 1888. The author of the poem was Ernest L. Thayer, a college friend of Examiner editor William Randolph Hearst. Thayer had worked with Hearst in college as a member of the staff of the Harvard Lampoon. When the poem was published it did not have Thayer’s name; instead, his Lampoon nickname “Phin” was used. This lead to future disputes about the actual author of the poem.
While Thayer was certainly the writer, another man should probably be given credit for popularizing the poem. The actor William De Wolf Hopper first performed the poem to an audience that included members of the New York and Chicago baseball clubs in August 1888. Hopper’s recitation was met with enthusiastic reviews, and he continued to share “Casey” with audiences around the country until it became not just America’s favorite poem about baseball, but one of America’s favorite poems period.
Casey at the Bat by Ernest L. 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
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
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
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
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
But one scornful look from Casey and the audience was awed.
They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles
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
But there is no joy in Mudville—mighty Casey has struck out.
Today’s Challenge: Strike Out for a Good Story
What are some examples of good narrative poems? “Casey at the Bat” is an example of a narrative poem, a poem that tells a story. Like any good story, a narrative poem should have characters, a plot, a setting, and a conflict. Some of the oldest known poetry is narrative, such as the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Iliad, and Beowulf. These poems existed in the oral tradition long before writing was invented and were sung aloud. Whether short ballads or long epics, these poems celebrated heroes and passed cultural values, ideas, and knowledge from one generation to the next. Research some narrative poems, either long epics or short ballads. Select one narrative poem that you would recommend, and write a paragraph explaining some of the background of your selected poem. Identify what details from the poem make it a narrative, and why you feel it is an important story. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)
Quotation of the Day: The most powerful person in the world is the story teller. The storyteller sets the vision, values and agenda of an entire generation that is to come. – Steve Jobs