As a young child, I had the experience of hearing the poem “Casey at the Bat” read to me. It is a fond memory of my childhood, sitting in my grandfather’s lap and hearing this bear of a man recite the verses, being careful of the cadence to execute the rhymes, while my precocious brain eagerly worked to make sense of the words on the page. This was the same grandfather who told stories of how good Honus Wagner was, and how big he played … as if his arms, if fully extended, could reach all the way from second base to third.
Anyway, the classic poem by Ernest Lawrence Thayer, in case you haven’t heard or read it, tells the story of the home town hero named Casey. Much to the chagrin of the 5,000 fans, he ends up (SPOILER ALERT ☺) striking out with 2 men on and 2 men out in the bottom of the 9th inning, allowing his team to lose by two runs. The last line is perhaps the most famous:
“But there is no joy in Mudville – mighty Casey has struck out.”
I recently discovered, while looking for something else, another poem by Grantland Rice called “Casey’s Revenge.” It was inspired by the original and is maybe the first summer sequel. Grantland Rice was famous for a few other things, among them this quote :
“For when the One Great Scorer comes
To write against your name,
He marks not that you won or lost-
But how you played the game.
The poem “Casey’s Revenge” made me think of our own home team and their wild ride into the playoffs last season. They, and their faithful fans, had endured a full 20 years of striking out. After all that time, they finally hit the ball – when it counted.
Here it is:
Casey’s Revenge — By Grantland Rice
There were saddened hearts in Mudville for a week or even more;
There were muttered oaths and curses—every fan in town was sore.
“Just think,” said one, “how soft it looked with Casey at the bat,
And then to think he’d go and spring a bush league trick like that!”
All his past fame was forgotten—he was now a hopeless “shine.”
They called him “Strike-Out Casey,” from the mayor down the line;
And as he came to bat each day his bosom heaved a sigh,
While a look of hopeless fury shone in mighty Casey’s eye.
He pondered in the days gone by that he had been their king,
That when he strolled up to the plate they made the welkin ring;
But now his nerve had vanished, for when he heard them hoot
He “fanned” or “popped out” daily, like some minor league recruit.
He soon began to sulk and loaf, his batting eye went lame;
No home runs on the score card now were chalked against his name;
The fans without exception gave the manager no peace,
For one and all kept clamoring for Casey’s quick release.
The Mudville squad began to slump, the team was in the air;
Their playing went from bad to worse—nobody seemed to care.
“Back to the woods with Casey!” was the cry from Rooters’ Row.
“Get some one who can hit the ball, and let that big dub go!”
The lane is long, some one has said, that never turns again,
And Fate, though fickle, often gives another chance to men;
And Casey smiled; his rugged face no longer wore a frown—
The pitcher who had started all the trouble came to town.
All Mudville had assembled—ten thousand fans had come
To see the twirler who had put big Casey on the bum;
And when he stepped into the box, the multitude went wild;
He doffed his cap in proud disdain, but Casey only smiled.
“Play ball!” the umpire’s voice rang out, and then the game began.
But in that throng of thousands there was not a single fan
Who thought that Mudville had a chance, and with the setting sun
Their hopes sank low—the rival team was leading “four to one.”
The last half of the ninth came round, with no change in the score;
But when the first man up hit safe, the crowd began to roar;
The din increased, the echo of ten thousand shouts was heard
When the pitcher hit the second and gave “four balls” to the third.
Three men on base —nobody out —three runs to tie the game!
A triple meant the highest niche in Mudville’s hall of fame;
But here the rally ended and the gloom was deep as night,
When the fourth one “fouled to catcher” and the fifth “flew out to right.”
A dismal groan in chorus came; a scowl was on each face
When Casey walked up, bat in hand, and slowly took his place;
His bloodshot eyes in fury gleamed, his teeth were clenched in hate;
He gave his cap a vicious hook and pounded on the plate.
But fame is fleeting as the wind and glory fades away;
There were no wild and woolly cheers, no glad acclaim this day;
They hissed and groaned and hooted as they clamored: “Strike him out!”
But Casey gave no outward sign that he had heard this shout.
The pitcher smiled and cut one loose —across the plate it sped;
Another hiss, another groan. “Strike one!” the umpire said.
Zip! Like a shot the second curve broke just below the knee.
“Strike two!” the umpire roared aloud; but Casey made no plea.
No roasting for the umpire now —his was an easy lot;
But here the pitcher whirled again—was that a rifle shot?
A whack, a crack, and out through the space the leather pellet flew,
A blot against the distant sky, a speck against the blue.
Above the fence in center field in rapid whirling flight
The sphere sailed on —the blot grew dim and then was lost to sight.
Ten thousand hats were thrown in air, ten thousand threw a fit,
But no one ever found the ball that mighty Casey hit.
O, somewhere in this favored land dark clouds may hide the sun,
And somewhere bands no longer play and children have no fun!
And somewhere over blighted lives there hangs a heavy pall,
But Mudville hearts are happy now, for Casey hit the ball.
So, here’s to Misters Walker, McCutchen, Alvarez, Harrison, Martin, Marte, Mercer, Davis, Snider, Sanchez, and Polanco, et al.
May they represent our Mudville well… and hit the ball like Grantland Rice’s Casey did.
(Read more from Dr. Donnelly here.)