The Casey Variations

By Shmuel Ross

As you no doubt know, the version of "Casey at the Bat" that is known and loved today was written by Ernest L. Thayer, a dead white guy who lived from 1863 to 1940. What you may not know, however, is that like many other great works of literature, it wasn't completely original. Much as Shakespeare adapted his historical plays from pre-existing stories, the legend of Mighty Casey can be traced as far back as the written word, and beyond. In fact, there are even some cave paintings that show a guy with a club in a really familiar stance.

I thought it might be nice to share a few excerpts from some of the many other versions of "Casey at the Bat" written through the ages. I'd like to start with a contemporary of Thayer, another dead white guy, Lewis Carroll. Carroll, who lived from 1832 to 1898, is best known for writing Alice's EXCELLENT Adventure in his spare time, when he wasn't attending seances and taking photographs of naked children.

'Twas extrock, and the Mudnineville
Did palloreath the paytures of the game.
All faincede were the stracking few,
But the restish crowd redramed.

Beware Caymightsey, O my son;
His dirty hands, his baneball hat;
Beware the Umpireman, but shun
Caymightsey at the bat.

I only have so much space here, unfortunately, so, at this point, let's switch versions, reaching waaay back in time to the earliest version found in print. This is by a dead white guy who's also the anonymous bard who wrote Beowulf. This is a modern translation from the sequel to that thrilling epic, known to the world as Beosball.

And greatly, the Mud-danes     felt gray and despondent
For lo, in the lineup          left in rotation
Preceding great Casey,         chief among batters
A favorite of fans,            fearless and mighty,
Irish in heritage,             an icon for Celts,
On a thousand occasions,       he came through in the clutch.
Before him was Flynn,          a flailer, a pudd'n.
Called up from the minors      though callow, untested;
Unlike mighty Casey,           who'd lifted much were-gild
From countless opponents,      including the owners...

Actually, it takes the author of Beosball another twenty-three pages until Flynn steps up to the plate, so perhaps this would be a good time to cut to our next poet, who is yet another dead white guy; this time, Alfred, Lord Tennyson. This particular stiff Caucasian lived from 1809 to 1892, and is known for the wonderfully lyrical quality of his work. This excerpt is no exception, and it talks about what happened after Flynn hit his single, and Blake stepped up to the plate. Tennyson makes much of the fact that Blake had a batting average of only .100, and hadn't surpassed that all season long:

Fielders to right of him;
Fielders to left of him;
Pitcher in front of him
      Glowered and thundered;
Standing his ground and well,
Boldly he swung; the knell
Showed that he'd hit it far
Under the crowd that swelled,
      Breaking one hundred.

At this awesome moment, with Casey himself coming up to bat, there is naturally only one choice if we want to truly understand what must have been going through his mind. Yes, for a powerful, meaningful soliloquy, there's nobody quite like the immortal Shakespeare.

(Of course, you all know that Shakespeare didn't write his own stuff; if you believe he did, you probably also believe that Grant is buried in Grant's Tomb. No, many scholars believe that the real writer was the Earl of Oxford, or Sir Francis Bacon, or perhaps Christopher Marlowe. Personally, I think it was actually Dr. Seuss, but I'll save the proof of that for another time.)

But I'm getting far off the subject. Here, then, is Shakespeare's version of Casey's soliloquy:

To swing, or not to swing: that is the question;
Whether 'tis nobler in the batter's box to suffer
The balls and strikes of the pitcher's construction,
Or to swing hard against the breaking ball,
And by good timing hit a home run. To try; to swing;
For the wall; and by a swing to say I hit it out
Beyond the fence, into the parking lot
And someone's windshield— 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To try; to swing;
To swing? Perchance to miss! Ay, there's the rub;
For with that swing, a strike and not a run
May come to pass, and then I'll be the goat,
Which gives me pause. There's the debate
That roils inside my heart, here at the plate.

At this point, we turn to Emily Dickinson, who was not, in fact, a dead white guy, but rather, in all likelihood, a dead white gay person. Considering some of her rhymes, I figure that's close enough. Poor Emily didn't get out very much, and probably never even saw a baseball game. Considering that her local team would have been the Red Sox, perhaps it's just as well. Her life had enough pain as it was.

Dickinson is, of course, most famous for writing poetry designed to go perfectly with the theme to Gilligan's Island. Or "The Yellow Rose of Texas," if you prefer.

A Batter — standing — at the Plate
May rub His Hands — with Dirt
And Bees in Fields of Clover green—
May buzz — over Dessert

But Batters have to earn their Pay
And win the Game at Home—
While Bees who don't make Honey will
By Winter — long be gone.

I'd like to end with that great American master, Robert Frost, who's a dead white guy, and damn proud of it.

Whose game this is, I think I know
They count on me to stop the show;
I'm calm, collected, without fear...
As that "Strike Two" flies by, below.

I grip the bat; my sword, my spear;
It's served me well, throughout the year;
The fans can sense that this is fate,
The pitch I want will soon appear.

I know my streak will never break.
I pound my bat upon the plate.
When in the clutch, I'm at my peak;
And now I swing, with all my weight.

And now my name is dark, and bleak.
I missed the ball; I'm up the creek.
And one at-bat can break a streak,
And one at-bat can break a streak.

Copyright 1999, 2003 by Shmuel Ross. All rights reserved.