“The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine that day. …” Ernest Lawrence Thayer’s “Casey at the Bat” appeared in the San Francisco Examiner on June 3.
The ballad hardly seemed destined for immortality, but a young comedian and singer named DeWolf Hopper rescued it from the dugout of time. In New York City, Hopper was appearing in a comic opera called Prince Methusalem . At a special performance before the New York Giants and the Chicago White Stockings, Hopper recited the ballad in the middle of the second act. So popular was his rendition that Hopper added it to his permanent repertoire. He recited the saga of Casey’s strikeout more than ten thousand times throughout his career. “Casey” has been reprinted countless times, set to music, and even produced as an opera, making it the most popular piece of comic verse in American letters.
Thayer himself was somewhat perplexed by the phenomenal success of “Casey at the Bat.” “Its persistent vogue is simply unaccountable,” he wrote years later, “and it would be hard to say, all things considered, if it has given me more pleasure than annoyance.” Hopper attributed the ballad’s popularity to its eternal mythic resonance: “There are one or more Caseys in every league, bush or big, and there is no day in the playing season that this same supreme tragedy, as stark as Aristophanes for the moment, does not befall on some field.”