Casey at the Bat

Happy 125th birthday “Casey at the Bat”

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Last week I noted my favorite baseball poem — Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “Baseball Canto” — but today marks the 125th anniversary of baseball’s most famous poem, “Casey at the Bat.” It was on June 3, 1888, in the San Francisco Examiner, when the words of Ernest Thayer were published for the first time:

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 …

Five hundred and twenty-eight words later the “air is shattered by the force of Casey’s blow,” and that sickly silence, in all likelihood, turned to booing. For, as we all know, I hope, mighty Casey struck out.

It has been argued that “Casey at the Bat” was inspired by the guy who, at the time, was likely the most famous baseball player around: Mike “King” Kelly, who had recently made headlines for a west coast tour, which Thayer covered. He was also recently famous purchased by the Boston Beaneaters from the Chicago Whitestockings for a then-princely sum of $10,000. Alex Rodriguez was a well-loved and popular ballplayer until he cashed in for huge money. Then everyone decided they loved to see him fail.  The same thing, it seems, was happening 125 years ago. The only difference, it seems, is that today’s hate comes in Mike Lupica columns and frothing-at-the-mouth blog comments rather than verse.

But there was one thing in common with the frothing-at-the-mouth blog comments: it was originally published anonymously. Under the pen name “Phin.”   The reason the thing was under a pen name at first was because Thayer — a buddy of Examiner publisher William Randolph Hearst — signed all of his humorous contributions that way. Probably so it didn’t look like Hearst was just giving columns to buddies. I have not seen a picture of Thayer, but I’m going to choose to picture him as Joseph Cotton in “Citizen Kane.”

For weeks little notice was taken of the poem, until a fellow named Archibald Gunter cut it out of the New York Sun — where it was once again published anonymously and gave it to a comedian named De Wolf Hopper, who would be performing at the Wallack Theatre with two baseball teams in attendance. Hopper recited “Casey at the Bat” and brought the house down. Probably because one of the baseball teams in the audience was Kelly’s former Chicago Whitestockings and, perhaps, they were getting a chuckle at the expense of their now-departed, highly-touted and highly-paid teammate.

Not that Kelly had any problem with it.  While Hopper became the most famous reciter of “Casey at the Bat,” Kelly himself would go on tours giving live performances of it as well.

The popularity of the poem has never really faded. It was recorded by Hopper and others as soon as recording technology was invented. It found its way into kids’ schoolbooks as the 20th century wore on. It has been recited countless times by figures as diverse as Elliot Gould, Jackie Gleason, James Earl Jones and Penn Jillette.  Jillette’s version was recited as his partner Teller tried to escape from a straight jacket. If he couldn’t do it before the end of the poem he’d be dropped on sharp blades. I bet that woulda brought the house down at the Wallack Theatre too.

A minor league team was named after the Mudville Nine, even if it was only for one year. “Casey at the Bat” was even was immortalized in Disney animation:

Beyond those on-the-nose inspirations, both Casey and Mudville have become metaphors of sorts, expanding even beyond baseball. Whenever there is pride before a fall, it’s handy for a writer to invoke the mighty slugger. Whenever there is a disappointed mob of fans of any stripe, the lack of “joy in Mudville” is appropriately trotted out.

It is in this way, I think, a funny little bit of verse about a ballplayer has transcended its origins, tapping into a major vein of human emotion. No, it doesn’t move one like T.S. Eliot or even make us think like Ferlinghetti’s “Baseball Canto,” but it does invoke anxiety and schadenfreude and says a little something still pretty relevant about hero worship. Relevant even 125 years later.

Bartolo Colon hit a foul ball with 102 MPH exit velocity on Monday

New York Mets pitcher Bartolo Colon  adjusts his cap after giving up a base hit to Philadelphia Phillies' Cameron Rupp during the fifth inning of a baseball game, Saturday, April 9, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
AP Photo/Julie Jacobson
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Everyone seemed to be able to hit Braves starter Mike Foltynewicz on Monday night. The right-hander served up three home runs to the Mets in the first inning, as David Wright, Yoenis Cespedes, and Lucas Duda each took him yard.

Even Mets starter Bartolo Colon wanted to get in on the action. Colon is not much of a hitter, as evidenced by his .089 career batting average and this swing he took two years ago.

Colon got a neck-high fastball from Foltynewicz and he was somehow able to make solid contact on it, sending a line drive down the left field line. It was foul, but it registered an exit velocity at 101.9 MPH via Statcast. Not bad for a guy whose hitting prowess is often the butt of a joke.

White Sox will designate John Danks for assignment

Chicago White Sox starting pitcher John Danks walks off the field after the third inning of a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles in Baltimore, Thursday, April 28, 2016. Baltimore scored four runs against Danks in the third. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky
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CSN Chicago’s Dan Hayes reports that the White Sox will designate starter John Danks for assignment. He notes the move is not yet official. Erik Johnson is expected to draw the start on Thursday as a result, Hayes adds. Danks was scheduled to start on Wednesday against the Red Sox, but Carlos Rodon will move up a day and start instead.

Danks, 31, was off to a bumpy start to the 2016 season. He lost each of his first four starts, compiling a 7.25 ERA with a 16/11 K/BB ratio in 22 1/3 innings. The lefty showed promise early in his career, but put up an aggregate 4.79 ERA since the beginning of the 2011 season. Danks was never able to find his stuff again.

Once Danks’ DFA is made official, the White Sox will have 10 days to find a trade partner, otherwise Danks will likely be released and become a free agent. Expect the latter, as Danks is owed the balance of his $14.25 million salary for the 2016 season, the final year of a five-year, $65 million extension signed in December 2011.

Danks has been in the White Sox organization since they acquired him from the Rangers in December 2006.

Pablo Sandoval had successful shoulder surgery

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Pablo Sandoval underwent successful surgery today to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. The Red Sox said afterward that he will be out the remainder of 2016 and that they anticipate him being ready for 2017. That’s the official word, of course, on what many reported last night. But it’s nice that it’s official.

It’s also nice that the surgery was “successful.” Of course it’s always “successful” the day of the surgery. No one has ever released a statement saying “Shlabotnik had knee surgery today. It was an unmitigated disaster. Like, oh my god, you don’t want to know and I can’t even with this.” If there are problems, they’re always revealed later.

Here’s hoping there are no problems for Sandoval.

What’s on Tap: Previewing Tuesday’s action

New York Mets starting pitcher Matt Harvey (33) delivers during the first inning of a baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds, Wednesday, April 27, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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We’re back to a full slate of games on Tuesday night. The game to watch tonight, especially if you’re a fan of mismatches, is Braves-Mets. The Mets easily handled the Braves on Monday night, winning 4-1. The club blasted three home runs in the first inning off of Mike Foltynewicz, which is nearly as many homers as the Braves have hit all season (five). The Mets went on cruise control from there. Bartolo Colon finished with seven strikeouts over eight shutout innings. Jeurys Familia gave up a run but was able to reach the finish line.

The Braves are now 6-19, a game ahead of the Astros and Twins for the worst record in baseball. It’s not particularly shocking since the Braves have embraced tanking in their final year at Turner Field. How low can they go? The Atlanta record for losses in a season is 106 by the 1988 club. The 1935 Boston Braves went 38-115. The Braves’ current .240 winning percentage would rank as the worst in franchise history — including Atlanta, Boston, and Milwaukee — if the season were to end today.

Tuesday’s pitching match-up features Matt Wisler for the Braves and Matt Harvey for the Mets. The two will square off at 7:10 PM EDT at Citi Field tonight.

The rest of Tuesday’s action…

Detroit Tigers (Justin Verlander) @ Cleveland Indians (Josh Tomlin), 6:10 PM EDT

Chicago Cubs (Jake Arrieta) @ Pittsburgh Pirates (Jon Niese), 7:05 PM EDT

New York Yankees (Luis Severino) @ Baltimore Orioles (Chris Tillman), 7:05 PM EDT

Texas Rangers (Martin Perez) @ Toronto Blue Jays (Marco Estrada), 7:07 PM EDT

Arizona Diamondbacks (Patrick Corbin) @ Miami Marlins (Justin Nicolino), 7:10 PM EDT

Los Angeles Dodgers (Scott Kazmir) @ Tampa Bay Rays (Matt Moore), 7:10 PM EDT

San Francisco Giants (Jeff Samardzija) @ Cincinnati Reds (Jon Moscot), 7:10 PM EDT

Boston Red Sox (Steven Wright) @ Chicago White Sox (Jose Quintana), 8:10 PM EDT

Los Angeles Angels (Nick Tropeano) @ Milwaukee Brewers (Junior Guerra), 8:10 PM EDT

Minnesota Twins (Alex Meyer) @ Houston Astros (Collin McHugh), 8:10 PM EDT

Philadelphia Phillies (Aaron Nola) @ St. Louis Cardinals (Michael Wacha), 8:15 PM EDT

Washington Nationals (Tanner Roark) @ Kansas City Royals (Chris Young), 8:15 PM EDT

Seattle Mariners (Hisashi Iwakuma) @ Oakland Athletics (Sonny Gray), 10:05 PM EDT

Colorado Rockies (Eddie Butler) @ San Diego Padres (Andrew Cashner), 10:10 PM EDT