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Literature / Casey at the Bat

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"Love has its sonnets galore. War has its epics in heroic verse. Tragedy its sombre story in measured lines. Baseball has Casey at the Bat."
Albert Spalding

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, and intentionally lets 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. Read it here.

Tropes featured in Casey at the Bat include:

  • The Ace: Casey is the team's cleanup hitter, and all of Mudville's fans are certain he can win them the game. Unfortunately, he's let his successes go to his head, and Mudville pays for it.
  • An Aesop: Don't be a showoff. You could end up screwing yourself over if you care more about looking cool than achieving a goal.
  • Animated Adaptation: This poem has one in the form of a segment in the 1946 Disney anthology film Make Mine Music.
  • Bathos: The poem's overly-dramatic narration is mixed in with a bunch of Large Hams in the stands and on the field.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Even the best batters can't count on getting a hit from an at-bat, much less a home run off one pitch. Plus, Casey further stacked the deck against himself by deliberately taking the first two pitches for strikes; had he taken advantage of his full range of chances, he might have batted in the tying run at least. But because he wanted to look like a great hero, he blew it.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: The fans begin to shout "Kill the umpire!" after the umpire correctly calls the first two strikes.
  • Downer Ending: "But there is no joy in Mudville — mighty Casey has struck out." Despite the crowd finally getting to see Casey at the bat, he strikes out, and they lose the game.
  • Down to the Last Play: A case of an Unbuilt Trope, and the former trope namer. 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 by showing what would happen if it didn't work out.
  • 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.
  • Fatal Flaw: Abiding by the poem, Casey is The Ace and could likely have won the game if not for Pride. He tries to show off and deliberately allows two strikes ("That ain't my style!"), intending to win in a glorious final play... only to miss on the last pitch.
  • 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 by intentionally not swinging at the first two pitches and striking out.
  • How We Got Here: Done subtly. Most of the poem is in past tense, but the final two stanzas are in present tense.
  • 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 team hero Casey strikes out, losing the game for Mudville.
  • 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.
  • No Full Name Given: Four of the Mudville players don’t get their full names revealed, and it’s impossible to determine if Casey is his first or last name. The other four never get named at all.
  • Quaking with Fear: The pitcher was so nervous that his knees were trembling after Casey gets up to bat. Fortunately for him, and unfortunately for everyone else, he strikes Casey out as a result of Casey's arrogance.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: The poem sure seems to build up Casey making the winning score for his team. It doesn't happen, because Casey strikes out from overwrought vainglory.
  • Technician Versus 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."