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 get but a whack at that –
they’d put up even money, now, with Casey at the bat.
Credit: Wikimedia commons
Perhaps you are familiar with the famous baseball poem by Ernest Thayer. It was first published in 1888. For Chicago Cubs fans it seemed almost that long since their last World Series Championship. The Cubs won in 1907 and 1908. Fans had been waiting ever since for the North Siders to win again.
But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake,
and the former was a lulu and the latter was a fake,
so upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat,
for there seemed but little chance of Casey’s getting to the bat.
No matter how good the team or even how big a lead the Cubs may have had during a regular season, they always seemed to strike out when they were needed the most. I recalled vividly the crushed hopes of Cub fans in 1969 when the Cubs had such a big lead on September 2, no one thought they could possibly miss. Then they lost 17 of 25 games and the hated New York Mets went on a winning streak to steal away the pennant. Like this year’s Cubs’ team, the 1969 players just seemed too good to lose.
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 the 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 knocked upon the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
for Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.
The last time the Cubs made it to the World Series was 1945. Their team, just as all the others in major league baseball, had many replacement players. Most of the young and able-bodied men of the country were fighting in World War II. It was at game 4 in Wrigley Field that the now infamous “curse” was placed on the team by tavern owner Billy Sianis. It seems Billy bought two box seat tickets to the game, one for himself and one for his goat. The goat was let in, but after a rain fell on the crowd, the goat did not smell too good. Cubs owner and chewing gum magnate, P K Wrigley, had Sianis and his goat removed from Wrigley Field. On the way out, Sianis put a curse on the team which became a legendary story all around town.
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.
As the years wore on and some very good teams failed to bring any glory to town, local fans began to blame the Cub’s bad luck on Billy Goat. Over the years, the Cubs even let the Sianis family bring a goat to Wrigley Field to help lift the curse, but it never worked. The Cubs found ways to lose.
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.
The Cubs held a record of futility no other team could claim. When they last won the World Series, they were not even in Wrigley Field yet. The ballpark opened in 1914. Pictures of Chicago in 1908 show horse drawn carts on the streets. Now we go to the games by bus and by “L” train. Those who live on the north side of Chicago know not to drive to the park.
1908 Giants vs. Cubs
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 second oldest baseball park in existence (Marilyn and Garry will tell you which one is older) had never been home to a World Series champion. With a team that looked better than the Hall of Fame rich 1969 edition, this seemed to be the year the Cubs would bring home the trophy.
With the Cubs down 3 games to one in the Series, it looked bad, but our heroes battled back. Then in the 9th inning of game 7, the team lost its lead and the rains came. But that story did not end there.
If you don’t know the end of the poem, you can click the link that follows. Our story ended differently, this time. I am sure you heard about it.
Yes, there is joy in Wrigleyville. Mighty Casey hit that ball and knocked it right out of the park.
Read the entire poem here: “Casey at the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic Sung in the Year 1888,“ Ernest Thayer, The Daily Examiner, June 3, 1888. Or, here, where it is dedicated to Garry, a lifelong fan of America’s Pastime: FOR GARRY ON THE OCCASION OF HIS BIRTHDAY … CASEY AT THE BAT.