The most famous baseball poem in history is Casey at the Bat by Ernest Lawrence Thayer. Its subtitle is “A Ballad of the Republic Sung in the Year 1888.” The poem was first published in the San Francisco Chronicle and tells the story of one game of the baseball team of Mudville and its mighty hitting star Casey. With Mudville behind by two runs and two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, the crowd believes that if Casey could bat, he could save the game. Unfortunately, there are two batters ahead of Casey, and as the poem says, one is a “lulu” and the other is a “cake.”
Miraculously, both batters get hits, and Casey comes to the plate, cool and confident — so confident that he allows the pitcher to throw two strikes without trying to hit them. On the third pitch, Casey swings and strikes out — thus prompting the most famous line in the poem: “There is no joy in Mudville, the mighty Casey has struck out.”
One of the obvious inspirations for Casey was Mike “King” Kelly, the best and most famous baseball player of the day. Once he left baseball, Kelly had a vaudeville career in which he occasionally recited the poem. The poem might have faded from public memory except for DeWolf Hopper, another vaudevillian who recited the poem to such acclaim that it became a permanent part of his act. By his own count, Hopper recited the poem more than 10,000 times during his career.
The poem has become a permanent part of the culture, appearing in books, films, television shows, animated cartoons and much more.
The latest iteration is a five-and-a-half minute video where I recite the poem as a voiceover for painting this watercolor. You can see that video on Facebook or here: http://bit.ly/Thayer-CaseyattheBat
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