Casey at the Bat is undoubtedly an All-American favorite poem. It deals with romance, grace, rhythm, balance, tragedy and comedy. It is a poem that has been performed in countless times. Casey at the Bat was recited for the first time by the actor De Wolf Hooper on August 14, 1888 in Wallack’s Theater in New York city. Since then, Hooper estimated once to have performed it over 10,000 times. We can call that success.
Why is Casey at the Bat so popular? To begin with, the plot of this narrative poem by Ernest L. Thayer takes place in a setting that most Americans would love: a crowded baseball park in the 8th inning, the home team losing four to two and the best hitter to come. Could anyone think of something that causes more expectation? Mighty Casey contemptuosly approaches home and faces the pitcher. More suspense is added when the first two balls pitched are called “strike.” The pitcher throws his third ball… and we all know the rest.
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.
Despite its tragic ending, Casey at the Bat is a story of success. When the Walt Disney Studios released their animated version of the story in 1946, a whole generation of baseball fans learned to associate the voice of Jerry Colonna to the poem. Years later, in 1954 Disney released Casey Bats Again when Casey’s daughters redeem his reputation.
Casey has become part of the American myths, the man who shatters the dreams of five thousand cheering voices. As author Bernard Malamud (The Natural) puts it: “the whole history of baseball has the quality of mythology.”
If Casey had hit a homerun, or at least a single to drive Flynn and Blake to tie the score, then he wouldn’t have been a myth. The paradox here is that his tragedy made him successful. Casey at the Bat is the story of more than 114 years of tragic success.