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The boys of summer
By M.V. Moorhead

March 18, 2006

My wife really blindsided me this past Valentine’s Day. Having thanked me graciously for the dozen roses that showed up at her office, she then handed me my present: An envelope out of which I was informed that I was now the holder of season tickets to the 2006 Arizona Diamondbacks. My roses suddenly felt pretty shabby.

After I had completed my grateful groveling, I was left to reflect that, yes, the great baseball beast is stirring, stretching, yawning, as its hibernation comes to a close. Cactus League is in full swing; the regular season gets going in early April. For me, this means it’s an excellent time to reread “Casey at the Bat.”

The work of a Harvard philosophy grad named Ernest Lawrence Thayer who wrote nothing else of distinction, “Casey at the Bat” was first published, with no fanfare and to little initial response, on Page 4 of the June 3, 1888 edition of the San Francisco Examiner. A couple of months later, the vaudeville actor William DeWolf Hopper (future husband of gossip columnist Hedda Hopper and father of actor William Hopper of TV’s Perry Mason) recited the poem to a Gotham audience which included members of the New York Giants and the Chicago White Stockings.

The performance was a hit, became a signature of Hopper’s act, and put “Casey” on the map. Since then it’s become quite possibly the most popular and widely reprinted American narrative poem—only “A Visit From St. Nicholas” might rival it.

Poets as diverse as Robert W. Service and T.S. Eliot were among its admirers. My father, who liked to compose sentimental verse in the vein of Edgar A. Guest (though generally less mawkish than Guest’s), loved “Casey” and read it to us now and then when we were kids.

For those who may not know the piece—sportswriter Grantland Rice mocked such benighted souls with his 1926 “He Never Heard of Casey!”—it’s a “Ballad of the Republic” which tells, in ringing, lofty rhyme, of the final inning of a game in which the home team, Mudville, is down by two runs. With only one out left, Mudville’s star slugger Casey improbably makes it to the plate, and in the lines that follow Thayer distills the essence of that special bitterness that accompanies the frustration of the Hope That Springs Eternal in the Human Breast.

“Casey at the Bat” is about as readily available as any poem in English. It has been anthologized for more than a century, it can be found online in seconds, and it’s also available in several fine picture-book editions. One, with lovely illustrations by C. F. Payne, sets the tale in the 19th Century, while an inexpensive edition from Putnam Juvenile, illustrated by Patricia Polacco, depicts the drama unfolding in a Little League game. Yet another edition, with striking charcoal drawings by LeRoy Neiman, also features a surprisingly reflective foreword by Yankes skipper Joe Torre.

But the definitive “Casey” volume must surely be The Annotated Casey at the Bat from Dover, edited by Martin Gardner. This tome includes, in addition to an informative introduction and exhaustive notes and appendices, the original “Casey,” along with an early corruption, a later (and lesser) revision by Thayer, and an array of about two dozen parodies and sequels, ranging from Al Graham’s 1939 “Casey’s Daughter at the Bat” to MAD Magazine’s “‘Cool’ Casey at the Bat ” to Ray Bradbury’s “Ahab at the Helm.”

With full acknowledgement of Thayer’s unshakable primacy among bards of the hallowed Diamond, I nonetheless humbly offer the following baseball sonnet of my own. I have low hopes for its popularity, but optimistic vaudevillians may feel free to recite:


(Erie Seawolves vs. Norwich Navigators; Erie, PA., 7/15/05)

In Inning Three, the rain began to fall,

After a flawless, golden summer day

Of eastern breezes, easing clouds so small

They seemed to mock the fear of rain away.

But thunderheads arrived, and from their locks

A yield of heavy droplets started pinging

Upon the roof behind the batter’s box,

And drowning out the song our bats were singing.

The score was eight to three, our boys on top,

When lightning cracked, and pools began to form;

Thus Intercession brought things to a stop,

And chased us out through winds no longer warm.

One barefoot smiling player, as he fled,

Dropped down and rode his belly like a sled.













































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