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May 30, 2003

by Bill Hogan


June 3rd will mark the anniversary of Ernest L. Thayer's 1888 classic baseball poem "Casey at the Bat." It's hard to believe that Mighty Casey is going to be 115 years old. That means he's almost old enough to sign a long-term contract with the New York Mets.

The heartbreaking tale of Casey's failure at the plate is timeless. "There is no joy in Mudville --" has become a long-standing mantra for the forlorn and downtrodden. In 13 stanzas, Thayer manages to aptly describe the demise of a baseball hero and the dashed hopes of an entire town.


A century has come and gone since Casey emerged on the baseball scene. The game has changed. The players have changed. The fans have changed and certainly the prices at the concession stand have changed.

I've been known to be somewhat cynical on occasion. I can be a tad bit sardonic, maybe even a little sarcastic at times. When I read Thayer's brilliant work recently, it occurred to me that things would have been a whole lot different in Mudville had that game been played today.

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.

The fans that were left would have been anything but silent. Cooney and Barrows would have been booed off the field, out of the dugout and into the clubhouse. This would – in turn – have given the players time for a quick trim and maybe a shave before heading out for the evening.

A straggling few got up to go, in deep despair the rest
Clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast;

The team was down by two with two out and the next two batters were bums. There would have been a mass exodus from the stadium. Women and children cast aside as the disgruntled crowd raced through the turnstiles into the parking lot; the only hope springing eternal being the outside chance that there's still time to beat the traffic.

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 occurred,
There was Jimmy safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third.

"It's about time you did something, Blake, you over-paid Bum." "Hey, Flynn, my grandmother can run faster than that. You shoulda scored easy – next time take off your skirt and high heels."

So here comes Mighty Casey after all. Two out, men on second and third and Mudville's savior at the plate.

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 some one on the stand;
And it's likely they'd have killed him had not Casey raised his hand.

Time to poke a few modern day holes in Thayer's well-spun yarn. If the best player on the field gets brushed back with a little chin music there's a better than even chance he rushes the pitcher's mound. A bench-clearing brawl starts and both the pitcher and batter are ejected and later fined by the league office.

This would have – in hindsight – been the best case scenario for Casey. It would have saved him from the embarrassment of striking out on three straight pitches.

And instead of a couple of over-zealous fans yelling "Kill the umpire!", more likely, a couple of over-intoxicated boobs would have jumped out of the stands to chase the man down and actually try to kill him. At the very least, a battery, bobble head doll or cell phone would have been tossed angrily in his direction.

Lastly – and I'll bet Barry Bonds can see this one coming – Casey wouldn't have had the opportunity to strike out because, with first base open, he would have been walked intentionally.

Chances are there still would be no joy in Mudville, but it wouldn't have been Casey's fault. A point his agent would make when negotiating Casey's next contract.

Click here to read Ernest L. Thayer's "Casey At The Bat".


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