Baltimore Orioles: Happy birthday to Mighty Casey!

The Baltimore Orioles may well have a few things in common with the “mythical” Mudville 9. I say that of course because today is the “birthday” of one of my favorite American poems, Casey at the Bat, by Ernest Thayer. The poem was published on June 3, 1888, and of course features the Mighty Casey, who had the gall to strike out in a key moment of a game.

It’s a poem that’s beloved in baseball circles, and as I said it’s one of my favorite American poems. But in a way I’ve always felt badly for Casey. The guy struck out – it happens! However I think it’s the drama laid out in the poem which is what makes it so beloved.

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 someone 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.

That kind of paints a dramatic picture. As does the conclusion:

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.

Again, I’ve always felt that “the Mighty Casey” got a bit of an unfair spin. However the poem also has a very human quality to it in that nobody’s going to succeed 100% of the time. We all stumble and fall. But there is a chance at redemption, as is evidenced by a sequel to the poem by Grantland Rice circa 1906-07:

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.

Put together, those two poems tell a story about the American spirit. We may fail, but through failure can come success if you keep at it. And to me, that’s what Casey at the Bat has always represented. We see that in the Orioles every game, which is why perhaps they do have a lot in common with “the Mudville 9.”

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