By Bera Dunau Staff Writer
---- — Tim Wiles is leaving the Baseball Hall of Fame, but the Mighty Casey will strike out again in Cooperstown.
Wiles, the Director of Research at the HOF, has played Casey, from the Ernest Thayer poem “Casey at the Bat,” for the hall of fame since 1996.
On Jan. 17 he will step down to become the director of the Guilderland Public Library.
“This is the 20th calendar year in which I’ve worked (for the hall),” said Wiles. “It’s certainly a bittersweet departure.”
Wiles started at the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1990 as an intern. He was hired in 1995, and has worked in as Director of Research ever since, although not always under that title.
Wiles said that he came to play Casey in part because the U.S. Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp depicting Casey. At the time, then Cooperstown Post Office Employee “Stretch” Redding used to dress up as people portrayed on commemorative stamps. Redding was unable to dress up as Casey for the stamp’s issuance ceremony, so then Cooperstown Postmaster Connie Tedesco called up the Hall of Fame to see if they had anyone who would be willing to do it.
“My theory was that I was the newest staff member,” said Wiles, on why he was selected to play the part.
When Wiles first dressed up as the character, on July 12, 1996, however, there was a very good reaction.
“There were lots and lots of families who wanted to pose for pictures with Casey,” said Wiles.
Soon Wiles was regularly dressing up as Casey for Hall of Fame events, and members of the public were asking him to start performing the poem.
He first did so in the fall of 1997 at the New York State Fair, when he performed “Casey At The Bat,” in front of an audience that included then Gov. George Pataki and then New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Wiles described the experience as “trial by fire.”
Since then, Wiles has appeared as Casey and performed the poem in a variety of different venues.
“I’ve done appearances on behalf of the hall in 22 states,” said Wiles.
Some of the places that Wiles has performed the poem are schools, minor league baseball games and FanFest, the annual convention held every year in the city where the All-Star Game is being held. At FanFest, Wiles said that he would perform the poem as many as ten times a day.
One of the places Wiles has not performed Casey is at a major league baseball game. While Wiles was invited to perform at one time by the Boston Red Sox, the opportunity fell through.
“I’m not ruling out a major league appearance in the future,” he said.
Wiles said that he really likes being able to perform the poem in front of children, and helping to maintain its place in popular culture.
“About half of the kids that I do this for … will be familiar with the story,” said Wiles, remarking on the poem’s endurance and citing it as one of the best known American poem’s.
When he performs, Wiles says that he introduces the poem and asks the audience to participate in certain parts, such as the calling of strikes on Casey, before beginning his performance. Wiles uses a bat while reciting the poem, which is either a bat from the 1930’s donated by Cooperstown resident Willis Monie or a bat donated by The Cooperstown Bat Company. The uniform he wears is based on one originally borrowed from The Glimmerglass Festival, which was used in performances they put on of the opera “The Mighty Casey,” which is based off “Casey at the Bat.” Although he’s grown out a mustache for the role, and has used a fake mustache provided by a Broadway Costumer, Wiles now uses temporary tattoos in order to recreate the handlebar mustache that has become associated with Casey.
Wiles said that his most memorable performance was when he performed after a talk given by Lennie Merullo, a baseball player who is currently the last living player to play in a World Series for the Chicago Cubs.
Merullo’s talk was about how he came to own a bat of Babe Ruth’s, a bat of Ty Cobb’s and a bat of Ted Williams’ and Merullo insisted that Wiles perform “Casey at the Bat” with Merullo’s 1927 Babe Ruth bat.
Early on in his time performing the poem, Wiles said that he was approached by Claude File, then a drama professor at the State University College at Oneonta. File asked Wiles if he would like pointers on improving his performance and, over the course of a winter, they worked together.
“It was extremely helpful to have him work with me,” he said.
While for some years Wiles would dress up as Casey and perform the poem multiple times a week, Wiles now only does so 10 to 12 times a year. One of the reasons for this is that, six years ago, Wiles and his wife Marie had a son, and he now has less time to travel around the country for appearances.
Wiles said his son has not yet seen him perform the iconic role, but he plans on changing this in the future.
Wiles time at the Hall is notable for far more than his performances as Casey. A co-author of “Baseball’s Greatest Hit: The Story of Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and a co-editor of “Line Drives: 120 Contemporary Baseball Poems,” he has also contributed to the Hall of Fame’s yearbook, written for its magazine Memories and Dreams and served on Memories and Dreams’ editorial board. He has also worked on a number of books released by the Hall.
“It’s the library that I use with my family,” said Wiles, who has lived in Guilderland since 2010. “It’s the center of the community in Guilderland.”
Living in Guilderland, where his wife is superintendent of schools, has meant a long commute for Wiles to his job at the hall.
“I’ve been enduring an 120 mile round trip commute since August 2010,” said Wiles. “I certainly will be happy to get off the road.”
Still, Wiles says that he treasures the time he has spent working for the Hall of Fame.
“I’m just so grateful to have had the opportunity to have worked here for so long,” said Wiles.
Wiles also says he will stay involved with the Hall of Fame, continuing his membership as well as his membership in the Society for American Baseball Research.
“I believe quite strongly in what we’re trying to do here,” he said.
He also said that baseball will continue to play a role in his life. A fan of the Chicago Cubs and the Boston Red Sox, Wiles said that not working at the Hall of Fame will actually allow him more time to read baseball books for pleasure, and that it will probably increase the amount of time he visits the Hall with his son.
He has also informed the Hall that he is willing to continue to make some appearances as Casey. His next appearance as Casey will be at the Annual Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture, and he also plans on bringing Casey to Guilderland.
“I hope to make at least one appearance a year (as Casey) at my new library,” said Wiles.
“Tim will be missed for the many ways ... in which he helped enhance the Hall of Fame experience for so many visitors,” said National Baseball Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson when asked about Wiles departure.
Asked whether the Hall was considering finding someone new to play Casey, or to supplement Wiles’ performances, Idelson gave a definitive no.
“There’s only one Casey and that’s Tim,” Idelson said.