Sunday, December 14, 2008


I have always hated the poem, “Casey at the Bat.” I see, in the sneering mocking of the hero in that poem, the decadence of the liberal: “There are no heroes, only puffed up false ones.”

Well, Casey, like “Rake” Windermere, comes back. In two poems, one by Grantland Rice, and one by Clarence P. McDonald, Casey shows himself to be the hero that I, and other children and childlike men, always knew him to be.

In Rice’s poem, Casey has fallen into despondency after his famous failure.

He soon began to sulk and loaf, his batting eye went lame
No home runs on the score card now were chalked against his name
And the fans without exception gave the manager no peace,
As one and all kept clamoring for Casey’s quick release.
Then the pitcher “who had fanned him in the pinches” comes to town. No one expects anything from Casey when he steps to the plate, once again, with the game on the line.

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 the 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 the 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.

O, 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.


There is no sequel to this plot, except in Mudville’s square
The bronze bust of a patriot -- arms crossed -- is planted there.
His cap is cocked above one eye -- and from his rugged face
The sneer still curls above the crowd -- across the marketplace.

And underneath, in solid bronze, these words are graved in flame --
"Here is a man who rose and fell -- and rose again to fame --
He blew a big one in the pinch -- but facing jeering throngs
He came through Hell to scramble back -- and prove a champ belongs."

My favorite Casey poem, however, is McDonald’s, called “Casey, Twenty Years Later.” In this poem, twenty years have passed. Casey’s former team is playing, and losing, to a rival team. Due to injuries during the course of the game, Casey’s old team finds itself short a player. They call for a volunteer from the stands. I love the last line of the poem:

"Is there within the grandstand here"- his voice rang loud and clear
"A man who has the sporting blood to be a volunteer?"

Again that awful silence settled o'er the multitude.
Was there a man among them with such recklessness imbued?
The captain stood with cap in hand, while hopeless was his glance,
And then a tall and stocky man cried out, "I'll take a chance!"

Into the field he bounded with a step both firm and light;
"Give me the mask and mitt," he said; "let's finish up the fight.
The game is now beyond recall; I'll last at least a round;
Although I'm ancient, you will find me muscular and sound."

His hair was sprinkled here and there with little streaks of gray;
Around his eyes and on his brow a bunch of wrinkles lay.
The captain smiled despairingly and slowly turned away.
"Why, he's all right!" one rooter yelled. Another, "Let him play!"

"All right, go on," the captain sighed. The stranger turned around,
Took off his coat and collar, too, and threw them on the ground.
The humor of the situation seemed to hit them all,
And as he donned the mask and mitt, the umpire called, "Play ball!"

Three balls the pitcher at him heaved, three balls of lightning speed.
The stranger caught them all with ease and did not seem to heed.
Each ball had been pronounced a strike, the side had been put out,
And as he walked in towards the bench, he heard the rooters shout.

One Mudville boy went out on strikes, and one was killed at first;
The captain saw them fail to hit, and gnashed his teeth and cursed.
The third man smashed a double and the fourth man swatted clear,
Then, in a thunder of applause, up came the volunteer.

His feet were planted in the earth, he swung a warlike club;
The captain saw his awkward pose and softly whispered, "Dub!"
The pitcher looked at him and grinned, then heaved a mighty ball;
The echo of that fearful swat still lingers with us all.

High, fast and far the spheroid flew; it sailed and sailed away;
It ne'er was found, so it's supposed it still floats on today.
Three runs came in, the pennant would be Mudville's for a year;
The fans and players gathered round to cheer the volunteer.

"What is your name?" the captain asked. "Tell us you name," cried all,
As down his cheeks great tears of joy were seen to run and fall.
For one brief moment he was still, then murmured soft and low:
"I'm the mighty Casey who struck out just twenty years ago."