Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Casey at the Bat Published June 3, 1888

On This Day in Baseball History June 3, 1888: The poem Casey at the Bat by Ernest Lawrence Thayer is published in the San Francisco Daily Examiner. Here is the text to the eternal Baseball poem that every Baseball fan can relate to:
Casey at the Bat 
By Ernest Lawrence Thayer
The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine that day:
The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play,
And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
A pall-like silence fell upon the patrons of the game.
A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to the hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought, “If only Casey could but get a whack at that—
We’d put up even money now, with Casey at the bat.”
But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake,
And the former was a hoodoo, while the latter was a cake;
So upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat,
For there seemed but little chance of Casey getting to the bat.
But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
And Blake, the much despis├Ęd, tore the cover off the ball;
And when the dust had lifted, and men saw what had occurred,
There was Jimmy safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third.
Then from five thousand throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
It pounded on the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.
There was ease in Casey’s manner as he stepped into his place;
There was pride in Casey’s bearing and a smile lit Casey’s face.
And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,
No stranger in the crowd could doubt ‘twas Casey at the bat.
Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt;
Five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt;
Then while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
Defiance flashed in Casey’s eye, a sneer curled Casey’s lip.
And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,
And Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.
Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped—
“That ain’t my style," said Casey. “Strike one!” the umpire said.
From the benches, black with people, there went up a muffled roar,
Like the beating of the storm-waves on a stern and distant shore;
“Kill him! Kill the umpire!” shouted someone on the stand;
And it’s likely they’d have killed him had not Casey raised his hand.
With a smile of Christian charity great Casey’s visage shone;
He stilled the rising tumult; he bade the game go on;
He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the dun sphere flew;
But Casey still ignored it and the umpire said, “Strike two!”
“Fraud!” cried the maddened thousands, and echo answered “Fraud!”
But one scornful look from Casey and the audience was awed.
They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain,
And they knew that Casey wouldn’t let that ball go by again.
The sneer is gone from Casey’s lip, his teeth are clenched in hate,
He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate;
And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,
And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey’s blow.
Oh, somewhere in this favoured land the sun is shining bright,
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout,
But there is no joy in Mudville—mighty Casey has struck out.
Here is Walt Disney's 1946 animated version of Casey at the Bat:

Until Then Keep Playing Ball,
Baseball Sisco
For Further Reading:
- Click here for an audio recording of De Wolf Hopper reciting Ernest Lawrence Thayer's Casey at the Bat recorded June 16, 1909 from the Library of Congress Website

Monday, June 1, 2015

Lou Gehrig Starts His Consecutive Games Streak June 1, 1925

On This Day in Baseball History June 1, 1925: The man who would be known as the Iron Horse, Lou Gehrig started his consecutive games streak by being inserted as a pinch hitter by New York Yankees manager Miller Huggins for shortstop Paul "Pee Wee" Wanninger in a 5-3 loss to the Washington Senators. Similar to how Cal Ripken Jr made an inauspicious start to his streak, Gehrig would bat for Wanninger in the eight inning against future Hall of Fame pitcher Walter Johnson and deliver a soft flyball out to left field.

Up to that point in his first two seasons with the Yankees, Gehrig was nothing more than a pinch hitter and defensive replacement. Gehrig only appeared in 23 games during the 1923 and 1924 seasons combined. Circumstances beyond his control would lead to Gehrig's baseball immortality being cemented. Many people believe that the streak started the next day on June 2, 1925 when as per legend, Wally Pipp asked to take a day off. Gehrig stepped in for Pipp at first and didn't give the bag up until the day that he took himself out of the lineup thirteen years later on May 2, 1939. Just as Steve Buscemi says as Nucky Thompson in the pilot episode of Boardwalk Empire: Never let the truth get in the way of a good story, the story of Gehrig's rise and Pipp's fall makes for a good story but its not entirely true.

Jonathan Eig in his book Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig describes the events that went into Gehrig becoming an everyday player for the Yankees:
Huggins was frustrated. The season was only two months old, yet his team seemed to be giving up. Players had been missing curfew, practicing halfheartedly, mouthing off in the dugout, and drinking too much. Pipp wasn't giving him problems off the field, but on the field the first baseman was a disaster. Huggins had already dropped Pipp from the fourth spot in the batting order to the sixth, and Pipp had not responded. He was batting .244 with only three home runs and twenty-three runs batted in. During the last three weeks of May, his batting average was an anemic .181. After the loss to Walter Johnson, Huggins decided to try a new lineup. Maybe the veterans would respond to the threat of losing their jobs. He benched not only Pipp but also catcher Wally Schang and second baseman Aaron Ward. (Page 65)
After starting at first for ten seasons for the Yankees, Pipp suffered a head injury during batting practice a month later which resulted in a fractured skull that limited his playing time during the remainder of the 1925 season. Pipp's contract would be sold to the Cinicnnati Reds for the 1926 season and would retire after the 1928 season.

Gehrig as we know became a cornerstone for the New York Yankees become a Hall of Famer as part of a formidable one-two punch with not only Babe Ruth but also Joe DiMaggio. It would seem that the illness that bears his name was the only thing that could stop the Iron Horse.

Here is the boxscore from the June 2, 1925 edition of the New York Times for the June 1, 1925 game between the Washington Senators and New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium:

Until Then Keep Playing Ball,
Baseball Sisco

For Further Reading:
- Click Here for Lou Gehrig's career statistics from Baseball
- Click Here for Wally Pipp's career statistics from Baseball
- Click Here for the boxscore for the June 1, 1925 game between the Washington Senators vs The New York Yankees from Baseball
- Wally Pipp: A son's tale about the start of Gehrig's consecutive games streak by Chris Anderson
from the Sarasota Herald Tribune dated April 22, 2009