The mighty Casey may have struck out, but Frank Deford said he doesn’t think that the hero of “Casey at the Bat” should have been portrayed as a buffoon.
“I never saw him that way,” said Deford, the veteran sportswriter who gave the keynote speech at the 25th annual Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture on May 29 at the National Baseball Hall of Fame. “I saw him as a heroic figure. He just had one bad at bat. He was waiting for his pitch.”
Deford, a longtime Sports Illustrated writer and correspondent for National Public Radio and HBO’s Real Sports, led off the sold out three-day symposium with a well received lecture, “Baseball, Casey and Me” about the famous baseball poem written 125 years ago by Ernest Thayer and originally published in the San Francisco Examiner. About 160 participants attended the HOF event that included 24 lectures where more than 60 papers were presented.
Deford has written 18 books including his 2012 memoir, “Over Time: My Life as a Sportswriter,” and the 1988 book about Casey called “Casey on the Loose: What Really Might Have Happened.” He said he came up with the idea for the latter book while trying to write a column for Sports Illustrated about the poem’s 100th anniversary.
“It took me very little research to decide that there wasn’t anything new to say about it,” he said. “We know more about Hamlet and Macbeth then we do about Casey. Thayer was like Conan Arthur Doyle, who tried to kill off Sherlock Holmes in the first book. Thayer got rather sick of Casey.”
Deford said that Thayer had never been to a baseball game when he wrote the poem. The poem was the last piece Thayer wrote for the Examiner, and may have been the only significant thing he ever wrote. It was only through a remarkable coincidence that actor DeWolf Hopper discovered the poem. Hopper was given the poem by a friend and recited it for the first time on Aug. 14, 1888; he would go on to recite it more than 10,000 times in his career.