Editor’s note: Today marks the 125th anniversary of the first appearance of Ernest Lawrence Thayer’s “Casey at the Bat” in the San Francisco Examiner. It may well be the most popular American poem ever written, and it is certainly appropriate that in the Cooperstown area it be given its proper recognition. So, we are printing it in its entirety today. We urge parents to read it aloud to their children, but no one does a better rendition of “Casey” than Tim Wiles, director of research at the Baseball Hall of Fame. We asked Tim to tell us how he has come to be virtually synonymous with the poem, and he was kind enough to provide the following account:
Since 1996, I have had the privilege of doing costumed recitations of Casey at the Bat as part of my job at the Baseball Hall of Fame. I’ve performed the poem an estimated 2,000 times in 22 states, at ballparks, conferences, classrooms, Hall of Fame Induction ceremonies, weddings and other events.
The roots of my Casey gig are also local. When the U.S. Postal Service issued a Mighty Casey stamp in 1996, Cooperstown Postmaster Connie Tedesco asked if we had someone willing to dress up as Casey for the stamp’s issuance ceremony. A call was made to Glimmerglass Opera, which had presented William Schuman’s opera “The Mighty Casey” in 1989, and a costume was borrowed. All day long, people kept asking when I would recite the poem, and I was inspired to begin the process of memorizing it. An early performance was observed by Claude File, then a theater professor at SUNY Oneonta, and he volunteered to help me refine my acting, blocking and elocution. His help was invaluable.
My debut performance came at the New York State Fair in 1997, where the Hall had sent a traveling exhibit. The heat was on for the first performance, as the audience included Gov. George Pataki and former standout pitcher Tug McGraw — himself known for reciting Casey. Since then, it seems I have recited Casey in every imaginable venue. My most intimate performance came in front of Hall of Famer Robin Roberts and three family members, and my biggest gig was for the 2007 Induction crowd, estimated at 82,000, which came to see Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn enter the Hall of Fame.
I’ve recited the poem at 10 All-Star Fanfests, and for many student groups at local schools. It’s a joy to share this ancient baseball text with kids, and to see it come alive in their eyes. Casey at the Bat has been beloved by five or six generations of baseball fans, and I’ve been proud to play a small part in that. As long as there is baseball, I think this poem will continue to capture the essence of the game — the drama, the hope and the failure — not just the strikeout by our hero, Casey, but the implicit next game and next at-bat, tomorrow, for this most hopeful of games.
— Tim Wiles, director of research, National Baseball Hall of Fame
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 sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game.
A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought, if only Casey could get but 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 lulu and the latter was a cake;
So upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat,
For there seemed but little chance of Casey’s getting to the bat.
But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
And Blake, the much despis-ed, tore the cover off the ball;
And when the dust had lifted, and the men saw what had occurred,
There was Jimmy safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third.
Then from 5,000 throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
It knocked upon 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 on 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 gleamed 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 its likely they’d a-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 spheroid 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.