Friday, August 21, 2009

August 21, 1887: Mighty Casey Might (or Might Not) Have Struck Out to a New York Giant

In the summer of 1887, “hardball” was emerging in fields around the country, and the face-off between the pitcher and the batter was becoming the crux of the baseball game.  Batters swore that the balls “hopped” and “sank,” and wobbled mid-air, but the fans only saw, in a heartbeat, a strike or a hit.  On August 21st, not too far from New York, the bases were (almost) loaded at was the bottom of the ninth, and Philadelphia pitcher Dan Casey was at bat—until New York Giant Tim Keefe struck him out. 

That was score, and everything seemed settled, until De Wolf Hopper began to recite a short poem called “Casey at the Bat” on Broadway, and poets and ball players scuffled to claim the wildly popular verse.  The identity of the poet turned out to be an easy call.  Ernest L. Thayer, a journalist and Harvard graduate, had signed the first printed version of the poem with his usual pen name, “Phin.” The original Casey, however, was much harder to discern, and might not have existed at all.  The claimants to the title of “Mudville” mud man were numerous, ranging from Mike Kelly to Babe Ruth.  Dan Casey, at least, had a nominally compelling case—and when the Baltimore Orioles celebrated the centennial of our national sport in 1938, nominally compelling was good enough. 

Dan Casey re-enacted his notorious strikeout for the Orioles (except he cheated and got a hit), and he fielded interviews.   “I was a left-handed pitcher for the Phillies. I guess you'd call me the Hubbell of my time. We were playing the Giants in the old Philadelphia ball park on August 21, 1887. Tim Keefe was pitching against me and he had a lot of stuff but I was no slow poke myself. It was the last of the ninth and New York was leading 4 to 3.  Two men were out, and there were runners on second and third.  A week before I had busted up a game with a lucky homer and folks thought I could repeat…” seventy-six-year-old Casey, fifty years after what might have been his big moment.

Laurel Billings, EVHP Staff

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