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Ernest Lawrence Thayer

humor columnist

Ernest Lawrence Thayer

Ernest Lawrence Thayer was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts, on August 14, 1863, and raised in Worcester. The son of a wealthy mill owner, he was expected to enter the family business. He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard in 1885, with a degree in philosophy. At Harvard, he edited the Harvard Lampoon.

One of Thayer's fellow editors at the Lampoon was William Randolph Hearst, and upon their graduation Hearst offered Thayer a position as humor columnist for the San Francisco Examiner. Thayer accepted and, between 1886 and 1888, contributed numerous pieces under the pen name Phin. He returned to the family mills in Massachusetts in February 1888, but continued to send pieces to Hearst for several years.

In 1912, Thayer moved to Santa Barbara, married Rosalind Buel Hammett, and retired from both writing and mill operations. He died in 1940.

Casey at the Bat

On June 3, 1888, the Examiner published a humorous poem entitled Casey at the Bat. Originally received with little fanfare, the poem suddenly became famous when, on August 14, 1888, stage performer William De Wolf Hopper staged a comic performance of the poem after a baseball game between the Chicago White Stockings and the New York Giants. The performance made both Hopper and the poem famous, but it would be a few years before the author of the poem would himself become famous.

Hopper performed Casey at the Bat many times over, almost always to rave reviews, but never knew who the author was. Finally, in the early 1890's, he was invited to meet the man who had helped him become famous, Ernest Lawrence Thayer. Although Hopper would later say that Thayer's rendition of Casey left a lot to be desired, he left the meeting with little doubt that Thayer was indeed the man who had written the poem. Questions surrounding who Casey was based upon, as well as which team the Mudville Nine was supposed to represent, were never answered, however.

Casey at the Bat
A Ballad of the Republic, Sung in the Year 1888

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 of 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 even money now with Casey at the bat.

But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake,
And the former was 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 despis-ed, tore the cover off the ball;
And when the dust had lifted, and the men saw what had occurred,
There was Johnnie safe at second, and Flynn a-hugging third.

Then from 5,000 thoats 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 the 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 clenched 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.


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The Robinson Library >> American Literature >> 19th Century

This page was last updated on 08/14/2018.