“Destiny, Ah Fate, Mighty Reggie has Struck Out!”, by Jules Loh

The 1978 World Series pitted the defending champion New York Yankees against the Los Angeles Dodgers in a rematch of the previous year’s World Series.  Although the Dodgers won the first two games of the Series, the Yankees swept the next four, winning in six games to repeat as champions.

The Series featured some memorable confrontations between Dodgers rookie pitcher Bob Welch and Reggie Jackson of the Yankees.  In Game 2, Welch struck Jackson out in the top of the ninth with two outs and the tying and go-ahead runs on base to end the game.  In Game 4, Jackson avenged the strikeout when he singled off Welch to advance Roy White to second, allowing White to eventually score the game winning run on a Lou Piniella single.  In Game 6, Jackson hit a two-run homer off Welch in the seventh inning to increase the Yankees’ lead to 7–2 and solidify the Yankees’ victory to win the Series.

The poem below was written by AP correspondent Jules Loh.  In a tribute to the famous “Casey At the Bat” verse, Loh writes about Jackson’s Game 2 strikeout to Welch to end the game.

*

The outlook wasn’t brilliant
for the Yankees in L.A.
The score stood 4-3, two out,
one inning left to play.
But when Dent slid safe at second
and Blair got on at first
Every screaming Dodger fan had
cause to fear the worst.
For there before the multitude —
Ah destiny! Ah fate!
Reggie Jackson, mighty Reggie,
was advancing to the plate.
Reggie, whose three home runs
had won the year before,
Reggie, whose big bat tonight
fetched every Yankee score.
On the mound to face him
stood the rookie, young Bob Welch.
A kid with a red hot fastball —
Reggie’s pitch — and nothing else.
Fifty-thousand voices cheered
as Welch gripped ball in mitt.
One hundred thousand eyes watched Reggie rub his bat and spit.
“Throw your best pitch, kid, and duck,” Reggie seemed to say.
The kid just glared. He must have
known this wasn’t Reggie’s day.
His fist pitch was a blazer.
Reggie missed it clean
Fifty-thousand throats responded
with a Dodger scream.
They squared off, Reggie and the kid, each knew what he must do.
And seven fastballs later,
the count was three and two.
No shootout on a dusty street
out here in the Far West
Could match the scene:
A famous bat,
a kid put to the test.
One final pitch. The kid reared back
and let a fastball fly.
Fifty-thousand Dodger fans
gave forth one final cry…
Ah, the lights still shine on Broadway,
but there isn’t any doubt
The Big Apple has no joy left.
Mighty Reggie has struck out.


“Finding Casey’s Card,” by Robert L. Harrison

I had never considered the possibility that the mighty, fabled Casey would have a baseball card, but Robert Harrison has managed to spin an entire tale about it.  Seen as even more valuable than a card for either Mantle or Cobb, the Casey baseball card causes quite an uproar in this piece.

*

The outlook wasn’t great for
finding Casey’s card.
The dealers denied they had him
as I fought against the mob.
And then as Cooney was seen in mint
and Barrows appeared the same,
a sense of elation came to me in this baseball hobby game.

A cardshark got fed up and passed me in despair.
The rest clung to their hobby hopes
and prayed the Casey card was near;
They thought, by the Topps high numbers,
if we could only find his card,
we’ll pay any price even if it’s marred.

Then Flynn (Casey’s mate) was found in very good-
a crease along his neckline stretched into his wood.
So they all bid to possess that crazy players card
until all turned to silence when Mr. Mint
got the final nod.

After Flynn, they found Jimmy Blake,
a tobacco card mistake;
For Blake was frayed and ugly and had
scratches on him from head to toe,
and the collectors were not interested
for the price he fetched was very low.

Then from fifty baseball card collectors
there rose a mighty roar.
It echoed from every table, it bounced off the floor,
it was carried by the newsmen
and was heard outside the door,
for the Casey card, the rarest card
now everyone saw.

There was a full gloss in Casey’s picture
as he posed beside the plate
there were full white borders and a hawkish
look upon his face.
And from an old shoebox he was raised above the crowd.
This symbol of the hobby now had everyone aroused.

Ten thousand dollars was offered;
the smell of gum hung in the air.
Five thousand more, said another,
as he took up on this dare,
Then while the price was raising
beyond the hopes of hobby folk,
a disbelief filled the children’s minds;
for they thought this all was a joke.

For this gem-mint card was dropped
and fluttered everywhere;
the rarest of cards went flipping
and gave them all a scare.
And as the people scattered,
poor Casey turned up tales
and silence filled this card show
and ended all the sales.

From the dealers came a mumble
that roused up to a roar.
Then the auctioneer came over
and looked down on what they saw.
“Raise him! Raise him!” shouted
the newsmen from the back.
But no one would pick up Casey
as he lay by some wax packs.

Like some curse from the devil,
Casey’s origin was on display
and the owner’s face turned to horror
for there would be soon hell to pay;
so he signaled to a friend to sell
a Mantle rookie card,
but the words on Casey’s back would forever
leave him scarred.

“Reprint!” shouted everyone at once,
and the echo answered “Reprint!”
to all this now lonely bunch;
But baseball card collectors are not a discouraged race,
for now the plastic pages were turning
at a faster pace.
They passed up a Wagner and ignored
a perfect Cobb, just to find
again the mighty Casey card

The smiles soon vanished from the children’s lips
as they too joined in this game;
and I who viewed these mental flips
thought everyone there insane.
And now someone gave a TV pitch
in search of this cardboard gold,
asking everyone to even check their attics
as this story is being told.

Oh, somewhere Casey’s card is out there,
or so these dreamers think,
for they will stir up this hobby nation
until they find this missing link;
and somewhere I am laughing,
for I made up that baseball card,
and the refinding of poor Casey
will indeed be very hard.


“Casey – Twenty Years Later,” by Clarence P. McDonald

I have previously shared here variations of the legendary poem, “Casey At the Bat.”  It’s interesting, coming across the various spin-offs and seeing how fans might opt to continue Casey’s tale.  In this piece by Clarence McDonald, mighty Casey gets a chance to redeem himself — much later in his life.

*

The Bugville team was surely up against a rocky game;
The chances were they’d win defeat and not undying fame;
Three men were hurt and two were benched; the score stood six to four.
They had to make three hard-earned runs in just two innings more.

“It can’t be done,” the captain said, a pallor on his face;
“I’ve got two pitchers in the field, a mutt on second base;
And should another man get spiked or crippled in some way,
The team would sure be down and out, with eight men left to play.

“We’re up against it anyhow as far as I can see;
My boys ain’t hitting like they should and that’s what worries me;
The luck is with the other side, no pennant will we win;
It’s mighty tough, but we must take our medicine and grin.”

The eighth round opened- one, two, three- the enemy went down.
The Bugville boys went out the same- the captain wore a frown.
The first half of the ninth came round, two men had been put out,
When Bugville’s catcher broke a thumb and could not go the route.

A deathly silence settled o’er the crowd assembled there.
Defeat would be allotted them; they felt it in the air;
With only eight men in the field ‘twould be a gruesome fray,
Small wonder that the captain cursed the day he learned to play.

“Lend me a man to finish with!” he begged the other team;
“Lend you a man?” the foe replied; “My boy, you’re in a dream!
We came to win the pennant, too – that’s what we’re doing here.
There’s only one thing you can do – call for a volunteer!”

The captain stood and pondered in a listless sort of way.
He never was a quitter and he would not be today!
“Is there within the grandstand here”- his voice rang loud and clear
“A man who has the sporting blood to be a volunteer?”

Again that awful silence settled o’er the multitude.
Was there a man among them with such recklessness imbued?
The captain stood with cap in hand, while hopeless was his glance,
And then a tall and stocky man cried out, “I’ll take a chance!”

Into the field he bounded with a step both firm and light;
“Give me the mask and mitt,” he said; “let’s finish up the fight.
The game is now beyond recall; I’ll last at least a round;
Although I’m ancient, you will find me muscular and sound.”

His hair was sprinkled here and there with little streaks of gray;
Around his eyes and on his brow a bunch of wrinkles lay.
The captain smiled despairingly and slowly turned away.
“Why, he’s all right!” one rooter yelled. Another, “Let him play!”

“All right, go on,” the captain sighed. The stranger turned around,
Took off his coat and collar, too, and threw them on the ground.
The humor of the situation seemed to hit them all,
And as he donned the mask and mitt, the umpire called, “Play ball!”

Three balls the pitcher at him heaved, three balls of lightning speed.
The stranger caught them all with ease and did not seem to heed.
Each ball had been pronounced a strike, the side had been put out,
And as he walked in towards the bench, he heard the rooters shout.

One Bugville boy went out on strikes, and one was killed at first;
The captain saw them fail to hit, and gnashed his teeth and cursed.
The third man smashed a double and the fourth man swatted clear,
Then, in a thunder of applause, up came the volunteer.

His feet were planted in the earth, he swung a warlike club;
The captain saw his awkward pose and softly whispered, “Dub!”
The pitcher looked at him and grinned, then heaved a mighty ball;
The echo of that fearful swat still lingers with us all.

High, fast and far the spheroid flew; it sailed and sailed away;
It ne’er was found, so it’s supposed it still floats on today.
Three runs came in, the pennant would be Bugville’s for a year;
The fans and players gathered round to cheer the volunteer.

“What is your name?” the captain asked. “Tell us you name,” cried all,
As down his cheeks great tears of joy were seen to run and fall.
For one brief moment he was still, then murmured soft and low:
“I’m the mighty Casey who struck out just twenty years ago.”


Ken Burns’s Baseball: The Second Inning

 

Gushing with patriotism, the Second Inning of Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns begins with proclamations of the game of baseball being America’s “safety valve” and a montage of old baseball photos being scrolled to the sound of the national anthem and a spoken list of various American accomplishments during the early twentieth century.

Not all was perfect in the country, however, as Burns also points to an increase in racism across America, the growth of tenements, and a decline in baseball’s popularity.  As it always does, however, baseball managed to recover.  It was a time when small ball dominated the style of play, and pitchers like Christy Mathewson, “Three Finger” Brown, and Walter Johnson became legends on the mound.

Major league baseball entered the twentieth century in trouble, beset by declining attendance, rowdyism, unhappy players, and feuding, greedy club owners, but then divided itself in two, cleaned itself up, and succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. The World Series began, and season after season more than five million fans filled stadiums to see their heroes play, and countless millions more, who had never been lucky enough to watch them in person, followed their every move in the sports pages.

In part two of this documentary series, we see the rise of players like Honus Wagner and Ty Cobb, two of the most diametrically different players as the game has ever seen.  We meet player-manager John McGraw, who approached the game with a furious kind of passion recognized throughout baseball.  The “Christian Gentleman,” Christy Mathewson, also appeared on the scene playing for McGraw, and his precise pitching captured the attention of teams and fans across America.  Together, Mathewson and McGraw’s Giants dominated the sport.

2nd inningWe also see the rise of Ban Johnson and the American League.  The National Agreement brought peace between the new AL and the older National League, though the reserve clause remained intact, leaving ballplayers themselves with no voice in the administrative side of the game.  And to no one’s surprise, I’m sure, overpriced concessions have been a staple of ballparks since the game became a business.  This time period saw the introduction of hot dogs, served to fans in buns to allow them to hold them while watching baseball.

Once again, we see descriptions of racism in baseball followed closely by an update on the life of Branch Rickey.  Burns hints at the impact of seeing discrimination on Rickey’s views.  Later in this disc, there is a more in-depth discussion of black baseball, including the creation of the Negro Leagues led by Rube Foster.  The documentary also introduces (though it really doesn’t dive much into) the concept of “bloomer girls,” women playing baseball during this time period.

Some of the most recognizable pieces in baseball pop culture also came into existence in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.  Franklin Pierce Adams’s poem, “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon,” also known as “Tinker to Evers to Chance,” was written in 1910, Ernest Thayer’s iconic poem “Casey At the Bat” (1888) was recited frequently by performers, and Jack Norworth’s “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” became the game’s anthem.

The Second Inning ends at the conclusion of the 1909 season, following a discussion of Fred Merkle’s 1908 boner and a more direct rivalry between Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner in the 1909 World Series.  It’s hard to tell if Burns is particularly fascinated by Cobb, or if there are just too many good stories there to ignore, but Cobb does garner a fair amount of attention in this inning.  Not that I’m complaining — I wouldn’t have wanted to play against him (and probably not even with him), but Cobb does add some color to the game’s history.


“Casey’s Comeback,” by Steve Humphrey

Every now and  then I come across a spin-off of Ernest Thayer’s “Casey At the Bat.”  It’s fun to read the different perspectives on what might have happened next for poor Casey after that infamous outing.  This piece was written in 2013 by Steve Humphrey of Pacifica, California.

*

Many years had come and gone since Mudville lost that game

To get that far and fall just short, twas Casey some would blame

But most the fans were faithful for years they endured the pain

Their cursed up strugglin’ franchise was an insult to the game

But thru this redwood valley and along the ocean shore

Could it be that Casey this mountain of a man

Would come on out of hiding and deal another hand

But would these fans accept him could he get another cheer

Or would they not forget the fear of yesteryear

But light is shinning on him now the scars they did heal

As Casey started working out to catch that former zeal

He had but months to ready himself as spring was getting near

The workouts were so intensified his mission would not veer

He said no no to candy and certainly no to fries

And munched down all his salad and pushed away the pies

Is Casey really coming back screamed a patron of many years

As 20 heads tuned around they couldn’t believe their ears

This word it traveled fast from the market to the pews

From Robby Joe the Blacksmith to Mike who sells the shoes

Opening day’s upon us now as Casey made the team

It’s been years since they’d seen him, he still looks lean and mean

The season starts out slow again it looks like dejavoo

The fans are all tensed up inside yet no one hears a boo

They find themselves in last again as a few fans they do frown

And some guys to find comfort read the standings upside down

But through this dirt and dust and palms of grimy spit

The Mudville fans were taking favor to their team that just won’t quit

Then one game they were down by 12 and defeat was right upon ’em

This team they said in unison we got’em where we want ’em

They rise up in the standings now this team keeps showing promise

As the crowds keep growing larger there is no doubting Thomas

And now the season’s winding down and one thing is for certain

If they keep up with this winning first place they’ll be a flirtin’

Oh now the final week is here they still are in the thicket

The hardcore fans are camping out to try and get a ticket

The team is oh so unified and have each other’s back

With Casey in the middle the leader of the pack

And now their rivals come to them it is the final game

To see who gets the glory to see who gets the fame

They gather on the hilltops and nearby houses too

Some will even climb the trees for a desperate kind of view

Others find a knothole or spy a vacant crack

Some are a top the train cars some stand on a back

Every Royal rooter is gathered here today

No matter what the cost they’ll find a way to pay

The fans are growing restless now they go from pale to white

Adrenaline keeps a rising no fingernail left in sight

And now they sing the Anthem as tension starts to build

And now they introduce the players as home team takes the field

At last the game is underway at last the game is here

Does Mudville have the fortitude can they persevere

The game it starts out slowly now as Mudville gets behind

Their pitcher is a reeling for the plate he cannot find

A flair to the left an error to the right and even a whimpy dinker

Says a fan up in the stands “this game might be a stinker”

The baseball Gods that are out today have really pulled the rug out

As the Mudville players keep praying “just get us in the dugout”

Now the Mudville team is batting and are looking for a hero

And when the inning ends it’s just another zero

The game it Soldiers on, have the fans lost their glee

It’s the bottom of the ninth and Mudville’s down by three

But a spark deep down ignites them and soon the bags are loaded

The fan are going crazy, the older ones have coded

But when Taylor pops it up and Daniels does the same

Another at bat like that could end this chilling game

The Mudville fans are reeling now, could this be their fate

As Casey leaves the deck and taps his bat upon the plate

The pitchers name is Johnny, his face does show the look

As catcher signals him to throw that 12/6 hook

Now the ball comes spinning in it’s bending like a bow

As Casey looks upon it and decides to let it go

The ump he calls strike 1 the fans don’t think it’s true

’til Casey takes that same ol’ pitch and now it’s 0 and 2

But Casey keeps his faith, the fat lady she ain’t sing’n

Just one mistake from Johnny and Casey he’ll be swing’n

In eager anticipation no desire to be the bum

Casey waits in ready, in hopes of what’s to come

His hands are clenched around the bat his knuckles are snowy white

If this pitcher serves it up he’ll swing with all his might

“Come on” said Haley who was Casey’s longtime girl

“The heater may be coming, focus on the pearl”

And now the pitch is coming it’s looking like a beam

It’s smoking like a comet it’s followed by some steam

And just like that this pitch puts Johnny’s team in peril

As Casey hits the ball right upon the barrel

The sound it makes is different in fact it’s kind of eerie

How can a human being unleash this kind of fury

10,000 jaws were dropping they couldn’t believe their eyes

For when that ball had left the park it still was on the rise

The fans they jumped they hugged they cried then fell into a scream

Then poured onto the field to greet their Mudville team

They carried Casey on their shoulders for at least an hour or two

So never give up fight the fight and your dreams may come true


This day in baseball: “Casey At the Bat” is published

I’ve done a handful of posts about the poem “Casey At the Bat” by Ernest L. Thayer.  The poem first appeared in the San Francisco Examiner  on June 3, 1888, originally published under the pen name “Phin” because Thayer felt embarrassed to have written what he considered “bad verse.”  When others came forward to claim the work as their own, however, Thayer revealed himself as the true author.

To celebrate the anniversary of this classic poem, here’s a recording of James Earl Jones reciting the piece.  (And, yes, it’s pretty awesome.)


“Casey At the Bat,” by Walt Disney (1946)

Here’s a fun cartoon version of the poem, “Casey At the Bat” by Ernest Lawrence Thayer.  The narration of this video doesn’t recite the poem exactly, but the story line remains accurate, with some comedic embellishment.