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.
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.
We 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.
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
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.)
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.
Presenting the classic baseball poem, “Casey at the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic Sung in the Year 1888.” It was originally published in The San Francisco Examiner on 3 June 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 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 –
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 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 Jimmy safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third.
Then from 5,000 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.
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 a stern and distant shore.
“Kill him! Kill the umpire!” shouted someone on the stand;
And its likely they’d a-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.
~Ernest Lawrence Thayer