Penned by Ernest Thayer in 1888, Casey at the Bat is a longform poem describing a typical baseball game, wherein the fans of the "Mudville Nine" are rooting for their beloved hitter Casey to win the game for them. An iconic poem in the annals of baseball history, it is possibly the Ur-Example of Down to the Last Play.
A game of baseball is taking place in the fictional town of Mudville. It's the bottom of the ninth inning and there are two outs, with the score four to two against Mudville. The fans are hoping their hero, Casey, can get to bat because he's the team's star player and known for his exceptional hitting. The two batters before Casey manage to get to second and third base, sending Casey up to bat to score the winning hit. However, Casey wants to look like an even bigger hero, letting the first two pitches go by as strikes. On the third pitch, Casey swings with all his might, but misses the pitch, causing him to strike out and making Mudville lose the game.
The poem is in the public domain, and can be read here.
Tropes found in "Casey at the Bat":
- Adaptational Alternate Ending: Tiny Toon Adventures adaptation called Buster at the Bat, with Buster in the titular role. While the Disney version followed the poem, the Tiny Toons adaptation ends with a last-minute switch in the final line as Buster knocks a home run out of the park. When immediately called out on that not being how the poem ends, Buster remarks that he's the hero.
- The Animaniacs spoof "Mighty Wakko at Bat" initially follows the poem's premise with its own words, though Wakko is jeered instead of cheered because he's not strong enough to hold the bat. He hits the ball and the outfielders being too Distracted by the Sexy courtesy of Minerva Mink and Hello Nurse keeps them from catching it. But the ball is caught at home plate before Wakko can get there, and he is initially declared out during the last stanza ("Oh, somewhere in this favoured land...") until he pops up from the large dirt pile under home plate and is declared safe.
- An Aesop: Dont be a showoff, or you could end up screwing yourself over.
- Animated Adaptation: Walt Disney has two of them: one in 1946 (recited by Jerry Colonna and set in 1902) as part of Make Mine Music!, later released as an individual short in 1954; and a sequel, Casey Bats Again, also released in 1954.
- Bathos: The poem's overly-dramatic narration is mixed in with a bunch of Large Hams in the stands and on the field.
- Downer Ending: "But there is no joy in Mudville — mighty Casey has struck out."
- Down to the Last Play: A case of an Unbuilt Trope. Casey invokes this trope by deliberately allowing the first two pitches to pass without swinging. He did not win the game for Mudville, as he swung at the last pitch and missed. The whole point of the poem was dedicated to mocking the drama associated with the "final play" of a game.
- Exact Words: "And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey's blow." As the final line reveals, this does not include the shockwave of the bat hitting the ball.
- Fan Works: A section of this collection of baseball poetry is devoted to "Casey at the Bat" and the many fan works it has inspired.
- Foreshadowing: The two lesser players up to bat before Casey both defy expectations by playing well. This sets us up for the ending where Casey also defies expectations by losing the game.
- Hope Spot: The Miracle Rally makes it look as if Mudville might win after all after two batters not known for their hitting somehow make it on base. Then Casey blows it.
- Last-Second Showoff: Casey deliberately lets himself get two strikes, because hitting a game-winning home run on the last chance seems more dramatic. However, he makes an ass of himself when it causes him to strike out and lose the game.
- Miracle Rally: Subverted. Two despised lousy batters make it to base, and it looks like Mudville will come back at the last moment. Then their team hero, Casey, strikes out, losing the game.
- Mundane Made Awesome: The poem treats its subject matter as though it is the most important thing ever, when it's really just a local game of baseball.
- No Communities Were Harmed: Some contended that Mudville was based on an actual location. One possibility is Holliston, Massachussetts; others say that Mudville was based on Stockton, California.
- Quaking with Fear: The pitcher was so nervous that his knees were trembling.
- Reality Ensues: Even the best batters can't reliably get a hit off an at bat, much less a home run off one pitch. If Casey hadn't stacked the deck against himself by deliberately taking the first two pitches for strikes, he might have batted in the tying run at least.
- "Shaggy Dog" Story: The poem sure seems to build up Casey making the winning score for his team. Too bad it doesn't happen.
- Technician vs. Performer: A work that favors Technicians over Performers. The two batters before Casey defied expectations by making safe plays, while Casey ruined the game for Mudville by taking an unnecessary risk strictly for dramatic effect.
- Title Drop:... if only Casey could get but a whack at that -
they'd put up even money, now, with Casey at the bat.
- Unbuilt Trope: Being one of the first works to use the Down to the Last Play trope, it counts as unbuilt because it shows how stupid it is to invoke this trope. In fact, the trope was once named for Casey, since he let the first two pitches go by as strikes so that he could hit the winning home run on what would be strike three so that he could look like an even bigger hero. Too bad for Casey that he blew it, swinging at the ball and missing, causing his team to lose the game.
- Well, This Is Not That Trope: Played for Drama in the last stanza. The last line of the next-to-last stanza misdirects the reader to think that Casey slammed the ball hard. Unfortunately, he hit nothing but air.and now the air is shattered by the force of Casey's blow.
- Wham Line: "But there is no joy in Mudville — mighty Casey has struck out."