Editor’s note: Monday marked the 125th anniversary of the first appearance of Ernest Lawrence Thayer’s “Casey at the Bat” in the San Francisco Examiner. It may well be the most popular American poem ever written, and it is certainly appropriate that in the Cooperstown area it be given its proper recognition. So, we are printing it in its entirety today and providing this first-person piece from Tim Wiles, director of research at the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Since 1996, I have had the privilege of doing costumed recitations of Casey at the Bat as part of my job at the Baseball Hall of Fame. I’ve performed the poem an estimated 2,000 times in 22 states, at ballparks, conferences, classrooms, Hall of Fame Induction ceremonies, weddings and other events.
The roots of my Casey gig are also local. When the U.S. Postal Service issued a Mighty Casey stamp in 1996, Cooperstown Postmaster Connie Tedesco asked if we had someone willing to dress up as Casey for the stamp’s issuance ceremony. A call was made to Glimmerglass Opera, which had presented William Schuman’s opera “The Mighty Casey” in 1989, and a costume was borrowed. All day long, people kept asking when I would recite the poem, and I was inspired to begin the process of memorizing it. An early performance was observed by Claude File, then a theater professor at the State University College at Oneonta, and he volunteered to help me refine my acting, blocking and elocution. His help was invaluable.
My debut performance came at the New York State Fair in 1997, where the Hall had sent a traveling exhibit. The heat was on for the first performance, as the audience included Gov. George Pataki and former standout pitcher Tug McGraw — himself known for reciting Casey. Since then, it seems I have recited Casey in every imaginable venue. My most intimate performance came in front of Hall of Famer Robin Roberts and three family members, and my biggest gig was for the 2007 Induction crowd, estimated at 82,000, which came to see Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn enter the Hall of Fame.
I’ve recited the poem at 10 All-Star Fanfests, and for many student groups at local schools. It’s a joy to share this ancient baseball text with kids, and to see it come alive in their eyes. Casey at the Bat has been beloved by five or six generations of baseball fans, and I’ve been proud to play a small part in that. As long as there is baseball, I think this poem will continue to capture the essence of the game — the drama, the hope and the failure — not just the strikeout by our hero, Casey, but the implicit next game and next at-bat, tomorrow, for this most hopeful of games.
— Tim Wiles, director of research, National Baseball Hall of Fame