Casey at the Bat

- 1863-1940

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 pall-like silence fell upon the patrons of the game.

A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to the 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 hoodoo, while the latter was a cake;
So upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat,
For there seemed but little chance of Casey getting to the bat.

But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
And Blake, the much despisèd, 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 five thousand throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
It pounded on 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 lit 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 flashed 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 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 dun sphere 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 favoured 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.

Related Poems

Baseball and Writing

(Suggested by post-game broadcasts)

Fanaticism?  No.  Writing is exciting
and baseball is like writing.
   You can never tell with either
      how it will go
      or what you will do;
   generating excitement—
   a fever in the victim—
   pitcher, catcher, fielder, batter.
	Victim in what category?
Owlman watching from the press box?
	To whom does it apply?
	Who is excited?  Might it be I?

It's a pitcher's battle all the way—a duel—
a catcher's, as, with cruel
   puma paw, Elston Howard lumbers lightly
      back to plate.  (His spring 
      de-winged a bat swing.)
   They have that killer instinct;
   yet Elston—whose catching
   arm has hurt them all with the bat—
	when questioned, says, unenviously,
   "I'm very satisfied.  We won."
	Shorn of the batting crown, says, "We";
	robbed by a technicality.

When three players on a side play three positions
and modify conditions,
   the massive run need not be everything.
      "Going, going . . . "  Is
      it?  Roger Maris
   has it, running fast.  You will
   never see a finer catch.  Well . . .
   "Mickey, leaping like the devil"—why
	gild it, although deer sounds better—
snares what was speeding towards its treetop nest,
	one-handing the souvenir-to-be
	meant to be caught by you or me.

Assign Yogi Berra to Cape Canaveral;
he could handle any missile.
   He is no feather.  "Strike! . . . Strike two!"
      Fouled back.  A blur.
      It's gone.  You would infer
   that the bat had eyes.
   He put the wood to that one.
Praised, Skowron says, "Thanks, Mel.
   I think I helped a little bit."
	All business, each, and modesty.
        Blanchard, Richardson, Kubek, Boyer.
	In that galaxy of nine, say which
	won the pennant?  Each.  It was he.

Those two magnificent saves from the knee-throws
by Boyer, finesses in twos—
   like Whitey's three kinds of pitch and pre-
      diagnosis
      with pick-off psychosis.
   Pitching is a large subject.
   Your arm, too true at first, can learn to
   catch your corners—even trouble
	Mickey Mantle.  ("Grazed a Yankee!
My baby pitcher, Montejo!"
	With some pedagogy,
	you'll be tough, premature prodigy.)

They crowd him and curve him and aim for the knees.  Trying
indeed!  The secret implying:
   "I can stand here, bat held steady."
      One may suit him;
       none has hit him.
   Imponderables smite him.
   Muscle kinks, infections, spike wounds
   require food, rest, respite from ruffians.  (Drat it!
	Celebrity costs privacy!)
Cow's milk, "tiger's milk," soy milk, carrot juice,
	brewer's yeast (high-potency—
	concentrates presage victory

sped by Luis Arroyo, Hector Lopez—
deadly in a pinch.  And "Yes,
   it's work; I want you to bear down,
      but enjoy it
      while you're doing it."
   Mr. Houk and Mr. Sain,
   if you have a rummage sale,
   don't sell Roland Sheldon or Tom Tresh.
	Studded with stars in belt and crown,
the Stadium is an adastrium.
	O flashing Orion,
	your stars are muscled like the lion. 

The Trouble Ball [excerpt]

for my father, Frank Espada


In 1941, my father saw his first big league ballgame at Ebbets Field
in Brooklyn: the Dodgers and the Cardinals. My father took his father's hand.
When the umpires lumbered on the field, the band in the stands
with a bass drum and trombone struck up a chorus of Three Blind Mice.
The peanut vendor shook a cowbell and hollered. The home team
raced across the diamond, and thirty thousand people shouted
all at once, as if an army of liberation rolled down Bedford Avenue.
My father shouted, too. He wanted to see The Trouble Ball.

On my father's island, there were hurricanes and tuberculosis, dissidents in jail
and baseball. The loudspeakers boomed: Satchel Paige pitching for the Brujos
of Guayama. From the Negro Leagues he brought the gifts of Baltasar the King;
from a bench on the plaza he told the secrets of a thousand pitches: The Trouble Ball,
The Triple Curve, The Bat Dodger, The Midnight Creeper, The Slow Gin Fizz,
The Thoughtful Stuff. Pancho Coímbre hit rainmakers for the Leones of Ponce;
Satchel sat the outfielders in the grass to play poker, windmilled three pitches
to the plate, and Pancho spun around three times. He couldn't hit The Trouble Ball.

At Ebbets Field, the first pitch echoed in the mitt of Mickey Owen,
the catcher for the Dodgers who never let the ball escape his glove.
A boy off the boat, my father shelled peanuts, waiting for Satchel Paige
to steer his gold Cadillac from the bullpen to the mound, just as he would
navigate the streets of Guayama. Yet Satchel never tipped his cap that day.
¿Dónde están los negros? asked the boy. Where are the Negro players?
No los dejan, his father softly said. They don't let them play here.
Mickey Owen would never have to dive for The Trouble Ball.

It was then that the only brown boy at Ebbets Field felt himself
levitate above the grandstand and the diamond, another banner
at the ballgame. From up high he could see that everyone was white,
and their whiteness was impossible, like snow in Puerto Rico,
and just as silent, so he could not hear the cowbell, or the trombone,
or the Dodger fans howling with glee at the bases-loaded double.
He understood why his father whispered in Spanish: everybody
in the stands might overhear the secret of The Trouble Ball.

At Ebbets Field in 1941, the Dodgers met the Yankees in the World Series.
Mickey Owen dropped the third strike with two outs in the ninth inning
of Game Four, flailing like a lobster in the grip of a laughing fisherman,
and the Yankees stamped their spikes across the plate to win. Brooklyn,
the borough of churches, prayed for his fumbling soul. This was the reason
statues of the Virgin leaked tears and the fathers of Brooklyn drank,
not the banishment of Satchel Paige to doubleheaders in Bismarck,
North Dakota. There were no rosaries or boilermakers for The Trouble Ball.

My father would return to baseball on 108th Street. He pitched for the Crusaders,
kicking high like Satchel, riding the team bus painted with four-leaf clovers, seasick
all the way to Hackensack or the Brooklyn Parade Grounds. One day he jammed
his wrist sliding into second, threw three more innings anyway, and never pitched again.
He would return to Ebbets Field to court my mother. The same year they were married
a waiter refused to serve them, a mixed couple sitting all night in the corner,
till my father hoisted him by his lapels and the waiter's feet dangled in the air,
a puppet and his furious puppeteer. My father was familiar with The Trouble Ball.

I was born in Brooklyn in 1957, when the Dodgers packed their duffle bags
and left the city. A wrecking ball swung an uppercut into the face
of Ebbets Field. I heard the stories: how my mother, lost in the circles
and diamonds of her scorecard, never saw Jackie Robinson accelerate
down the line to steal home. I wore my father's glove until the day
I laid it down to lap the water from the fountain in the park. By the time
I raised my head, it was gone like Ebbets Field. I walked slowly home.
I had to tell my father I would never learn to catch The Trouble Ball.

There was a sign below the scoreboard at Ebbets Field: Abe Stark, Brooklyn's
Leading Clothier. Hit Sign, Win Suit. Some people see that sign in dreams.
They speak of ballparks as cathedrals, frame the pennants from the game
where it began, Dodger blue and Cardinal red, and gaze upon the wall.
My father, who remembers everything, remembers nothing of that dazzling day
but this: ¿Dónde están los negros? No los dejan. His hair is white, and still
the words are there, like the ghostly imprint of stitches on the forehead
from a pitch that got away. It is forever 1941. It was The Trouble Ball.

The Things

When I walk in my house I see pictures,
bought long ago, framed and hanging
—de Kooning, Arp, Laurencin, Henry Moore—
that I've cherished and stared at for years,
yet my eyes keep returning to the masters 
of the trivial—a white stone perfectly round, 
tiny lead models of baseball players, a cowbell, 
a broken great-grandmother's rocker,
a dead dog's toy—valueless, unforgettable 
detritus that my children will throw away
as I did my mother's souvenirs of trips 
with my dead father, Kodaks of kittens, 
and bundles of cards from her mother Kate.