Casey at the Bat

From yesterday’s Writer’s Almanac:

It’s the birthday of poet Ernest Thayer, born in Lawrence, Massachusetts (1863). He went to Harvard, where he studied philosophy with William James and wrote for the Harvard Lampoon. After graduation, his fellow Lampoon writer William Randolph Hearst convinced Thayer to come to San Francisco, because his father, George Hearst, had bought the San Francisco Examiner and almost immediately turned it over to his son. Thayer was expected to move back to Lawrence and take over the family woolen mill business, and he was grateful to have another alternative, so he took off for California with Hearst.

close up photography of four baseballs on green lawn grasses
Photo by Steshka Willems on

Thayer wrote a recurring humor column for the Examiner, and for one of his last columns he wrote the poem “Casey at the Bat.” As usual, he signed it by his nickname from his Harvard days: “Phin.” When “Casey at the Bat” was reprinted in the New York Sun, it was published as “anonymous.” The poem didn’t get much notice, but a New York writer named Archibald Gunter clipped it out of the paper. A few weeks later, the comedian William DeWolf Hopper was putting on a huge post-game performance for the Chicago White Stockings, the New York Giants, and all their fans. He wasn’t sure what to perform, and his friend Archibald Gunter remembered the baseball poem he had clipped and passed it on to Hopper. It was a huge success. The newspaper reported the next day: “The audience literally went wild with enthusiasm; men got up on their seats and cheered, while old Gen. Sherman laughed until the tears ran down his cheeks. It was one of the wildest scenes ever seen in a theatre, and showed the popularity of Hopper and baseball.” It also showed the popularity of “Casey at the Bat.”Hopper performed the poem over and over, never knowing who had written it. One day Ernest Thayer — now back home in Massachusetts — attended a performance by Hopper, and revealed himself as the author. Hopper admitted later that Thayer wasn’t very good at reciting it, but he was delighted to meet the author, and Thayer gave him the rights to the poem

And finally, no piece of America is complete until Walt Disney has had his way with it. Go Sox!

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