Mike Wasserman: A favorite poem

Casey at the Bat
by Ernest Thayer

“Casey at the Bat” by Ernest Thayer has been a favorite poem of mine for the last 20 years, during which time I coached more than 100 boys in baseball, owned a baseball card shop for more than a decade, and put together two baseball sets (each over a 100 years old). This poem does a great job of bringing Casey’s at-bat to life, making the reader feel he or she is at the ballpark, witnessing Casey’s ego and eventual demise, first hand—using humor and rhyme to do so. It’s fun!

Supervisor Mike Wasserman, District 1
Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors

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 left 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 but get a whack at that,
We’d put up even money now, with Casey at the bat.

But Flynn proceed Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake,
And the former was a no-good and the latter was a fake;
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 despised, 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-huggin’ third.

Then from five thousand 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 as 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 from the stand; —
And it’s likely they’d have 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 the echo answered “Fraud,”
But one scornful look from Casey, and the multitude was awed.
The 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.

by Ernest Thayer



Filed under Favorites of Local Leaders

2 responses to “Mike Wasserman: A favorite poem

  1. I discovered this magnificent poem in 3rd grade. There was a copy in the library at Earl Warren Elementary School in Santa Clara and I read it several times before deciding to copy it. This was before copiers, so it was along time ago.

    Anyway, I memorized it and one night performed it for my father. My first performance! My brother told his teacher, who then invited me to recite it for his 6th Grade Class. My teacher then asked me to recite it for my class. I suppose this is the beginning of a thread that led to acting in high school and then eventually to running the Berkeley Shakespeare Festival and ultimately, to founding San Jose Rep.

    I still love baseball, and this poem evokes the love of that game through the humble failings of our hero, Casey. Excellent choice for a poem.

  2. Chris Moylan

    Penn and Teller do an outstanding live performance of this poem (Penn reads it, of course, since Teller is always mute in their act). Teller is hanging upside down in a straitjacket over an array of spikes, and Penn has his foot on the pedal that will release Teller’s feet from the overhead mount. Penn announces that he will push the pedal when he completes the poem. Penn stands close to the audience with Teller behind him, so that Penn cannot see Teller. Then he starts reading “Casey at the Bat” while Teller starts frantically wiggling to get out of the straitjacket. Part way through, Penn suddenly speeds up so that the poem starts sounding like a Federal Express commercial, and of course Teller gets free just as Penn’s foot comes down on that pedal. It brings the house down.

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