“Casey @ the Bat Analytics,” by Mitchell Nathanson

This parody of Ernest Lawrence Thayer’s “Casey At the Bat” was published in 2019 by Mitchell Nathanson, author of A People’s History of Baseball.  Not only does it incorporate modern-day metrics like WAR, PitchTrax, and exit velocity, the poem also paints a frighteningly accurate picture of today’s in-stadium crowds.  The piece is very well done, and in spite of shaking my head in recognition, I find that I rather enjoy it.

*

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 whiffed again, the eighteenth K that night,
A sickly silence fell, for somehow baseball wasn’t right.

A straggling few got up and left, annoyed they even came;
And most who stayed were kind of drunk or wagered on the game.
Yet still to come was Casey, whom the fans had long extolled,
Though at the age of 31 the metrics deemed him old.

But first ahead was Flynn, a player much accursed;
His BABIP was atrocious, and his WAR was even worse.
Another guy came up as well, his name recalled by few;
Confusion sowed by double switches made in hour two.

But Flynn defied the numbers, making contact with the ball;
And sent it on a mighty arc — it caromed off the wall.
—The guy should be on third,— a salty graybeard spat and cursed,
As Flynn removed his batting gloves, a jogger still at first.

The other guy, as well, reached base, a waiver-wire addition;
Dropped by a last place club dumping salary without contrition;
And when the blaring music stopped, fans noticed what occurred,
Instead of crossing o’er the plate, young Flynn just jogged to third.

As Casey stepped into the box, the scoreboard roared “Make Noise!”;
Which the crowd most surely would’ve done, if not for all their toys.
About 5,000 hometown fans were checking in on Twitter;
So most remained oblivious to Casey as the hitter.

Ten thousand eyes were somewhere else as he scratched upon the dirt;
And Velcro-strapped his batting gloves and touched six places on his shirt.
And kissed his bat, then tapped the plate nine times or maybe 10;
Then from the box did Casey step, and start it all again.

The pitcher’s antics on the mound were also quite a show;
Whole seasons seemed to pass before he hinted at a throw.
Yet here it came, the cowhide sphere, arriving at great speed;
‘strike one,— the umpire firmly called. But PitchTrax disagreed.

The fans who watched upon their phones could see it plain: outside;
Unless their phones had zero bars, or batteries had died.
“Kill him! Kill the umpire!” the fans all stood and roared;
At least so roared the older ones, the younger ones seemed bored.

Two strikes remained. The oldsters, fretting, began to wring their hands;
While younger fans, in hour four, sped toward concession stands.
Then Casey dug in once again; the second spheroid flew,
But Casey still ignored it, and the umpire said, ‘strike Two.’

“Fraud!” cried the maddened few at all the blue-clad, rulebound fools,
While waving off the heady clouds sent up from nearby Juuls.
Now Casey’s face grew stern and cold, the fans all rose as one;
As midnight neared their hope was clear: just let the game be done.

As Casey runs the metrics, and adjusts his swing for lift;
The fielders check their little cards, and drift into a shift.
And now the pitcher fires a rocket off, despite his ample gut;
And now the air is shattered by great Casey’s uppercut.

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sport is as it used to be;
And fans still hang on Casey’s fate, not exit velocity.
But that era’s gone — don’t cry into your $15 beer;
While all the laughing children shout, “Football season’s here!”


Review: A People’s History of Baseball, by Mitchell Nathanson

Through his book A People’s History of Baseball, Mitchell Nathanson offers up a fresh perspective on the history of our beloved national pastime.  In the same way that Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States explores and tells the histories of the underrepresented populations of America, Nathanson’s book delves into the untold stories behind the scenes of baseball.  While popular baseball histories tell of patriotism, virtue, and heroism, Nathanson probes deeper to uncover a world of player oppression, power struggles, racism, and questionable politics.

Nathanson debunks myths about the perfection and nobility of baseball, as portrayed by the owners and the media.  He points out, “[J]ournalists often assume the passive role of stenographers, copying down what is said rather than actively probing their own angles, digging behind the scenes, searching for the story that perhaps is not the one presented to them but the one that lies behind it. …. [C]lub owners … gravitated toward this vehicle in their continual quest to get their preferred message across to the American public.”  Through this book, Nathanson attempts to rectify this lack of journalistic muckraking.

He breaks apart the idea of baseball’s beginnings as a “gentleman’s game,” and forces readers to take a harder look at the perception of baseball as a game of patriotism, pride, and morality.  Through exposing myths, Nathanson does not merely provide an alternative history of baseball, he offers readers a sort of history of baseball’s history of myths.

When looking at the Black Sox Scandal, for example, the author does not merely perpetuate the common argument over whether the players really did throw the World Series.  Rather, he explores the mindset of baseball and of the nation as a whole, reveals the motives of the forces involved in the decision to ban the players, and considers the position of the players themselves.

Nathanson also delves into the “Great Experiment” of bringing on Jackie Robinson as Major League Baseball’s first black player.  Breaking the color barrier, he argues, would have worked with just about any player at the time, because America had experienced enough social pressure leading up to this point that the event became inevitable.  Furthermore, the expectation of Robinson to maintain an impeccable moral character created a double standard that only served to indirectly continue black oppression.

He describes the revolutionary publications of Bill James in the 1980s, who introduced a new way of looking at baseball statistics to the American public.  Contrary to popular belief, baseball presented a wide array of complexities that went beyond merely throwing, catching, and hitting.  Nathanson reveals how Bill James’s work only marked the beginning of a whole new outlook on statistical baseball, as embodied today through social media and fantasy baseball.

In many ways, one could almost title this book A Player’s History of Baseball, as Nathanson devotes much of the text to the defense of baseball players against their owners and the media.  In his quest to expose the hypocrisy and self-service of baseball’s owners, Nathanson wound up placing baseball players on a pedestal, making it appear as though the players could do no wrong, and they were merely victims of an unfair managing body.

While Nathanson does touch on a number of subjects throughout baseball history, the scope of the book also proved limiting.  Though it seems that the brevity of coverage certainly provided for an unencumbered reading experience, in a book of breakthrough revelations, a more in-depth collection of descriptions and explanations would have brought more life to the histories contained within its pages.

Nevertheless, Nathanson presents historians and baseball fans alike with an engaging book that challenges readers to look at baseball with a fresh perspective, and he does so in an easily accessible and readable format.  He pulls no punches in his analysis, which provides a refreshingly objective approach in the midst of the uber-patriotism that continues to surround the game.