Ernest Thayer’s 1888 baseball poem Casey at Bat is perhaps the most famous American sports poem. That poem, beloved by many, tells the story of the Mudville baseball team’s star player, Casey, striking out swinging at home when he had the chance to, at a minimum, tie the game by driving in two batters on second and third bases. While perusing the August 1906 edition (volume 1, number 6) of The Scrap Book magazine, I came across a “reply” poem to Casey at Bat – Casey’s Revenge. This version of Casey’s Revenge was authored by Henry Grantland Rice, writing under the name James Wilson.
In this article, I will reprint the original Casey at Bat and James Wilson’s Casey’s Revenge.
The Original: “Casey at Bat” by Ernest Thayer
Casey at Bat was published anonymously by Ernest Thayer on June 3, 1888. It needs little introduction, because it is both well-known and easy to follow. The Mudville baseball team enters the ninth and final inning down by two runs. The star batter, Casey, takes the plate with runners on second and third and two outs. After watching the first two pitches – which were called strikes – the over-confident Casey took a mighty swing on the third. Casey hit nothing but air, striking out swinging, and leaving the home Mudville fans quite disappointed.
It would be hard to follow Casey’s Revenge without knowing Casey at Bat. For that reason, I reprint Casey at Bat below.
“Casey at Bat” (1888) by Ernest Thayer
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 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 preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake, And the former was a lulu and the latter was a cake; 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-hugging third. Then from 5,000 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 when 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 some one on 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 echo answered fraud; But one scornful look from Casey and the audience was awed. They 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 clinched 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.
Response: “Casey’s Revenge” by Grantland Rice
Casey’s Revenge was authored by Henry Grantland Rice, one of the renowned sportswriters of his age. Several sources that have republished the poem, including the Baseball Almanac, indicate that it was first published in June 1907. However, its appearance in the August 1906 edition of The Scrapbook serves as proof that Casey’s Revenge was first published no later than 1906.
The Scrapbook indicates that the poem was by a “James Wilson.” However, at least one other source expressly noted that Rice used “James Wilson” as a pseudonym for publishing Casey’s Revenge. While I do not know why Rice used the “James Wilson” pseudonym to publish Casey’s Revenge in 1906, he included the poem in his collection of baseball ballads in 1910.
Rice’s Casey’s Revenge, written eight years after Casey at Bat, takes place some time after Casey at Bat. The Mudville team was in a slump and the fans had turned on Casey. Casey’s star had been tarnished by the the infamous strike out, and now he faced again the pitcher who had struck him out. Could the great Casey redeem himself? Read on to find out.
“Casey’s Revenge” (1896) by James Grantland Rice (“James Wilson”)
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. 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 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 clinched 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 his 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 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! Oh, 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!
Additional Casey Poems by Grantland Rice
Casey’s Revenge was the first of three Casey at Bat-inspired sequels by Grantland Rice. His 1910 collection of baseball ballads included two other poems about Casey. Mudville’s Fate is a dark poem wherein the town of Mudville withers away after Casey struck out .. It makes no direct reference to Casey’s Revenge, but the collection of Rice’s poems lists it as third in the Casey series. Rice published another poem – The Man Who Played With Anson on the Old Chicago Team, which provides a darkly humorous account of Casey’s life after he struck out.