While it may not be a literary work of art, there may be no more famous piece of baseball literature than “Casey at the Bat“. Penned by Ernest Thayer in 1888, it has been the subject of numerous stage performances, songs, plays and movies. But I got to wondering about the actual circumstances that unveiled themselves during the game. Have any real-life games actually ended as this poem did?
Let’s look at the critical play-by-play portions of the poem:
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 sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game.
So the situation is 4-2, 2 outs, last inning, no one on base. The final line infers that Mudville is the home team.
A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought, if only Casey could get but a whack at that –
We’d put up even money, now, with Casey at the bat.
So we can confirm that it is the bottom of the final inning, as most despairing patrons wouldn’t leave in the top of the inning.
But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
And Blake, the much despised, tore the cover off the ball;
And when the dust had lifted, and the men saw what had occurred,
There was Jimmy safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third.
The third batter singled, and moved to third on a double by the fourth batter. Up stepped Casey . . . and a couple of stanzas later . . .
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.
Casey looks at strike one . . . and one stanza later . . .
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 spheroid flew;
But Casey still ignored it, and the umpire said, “Strike two.”
Casey watches strike two . . . setting the stage for the dramatic ending:
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 favored 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.
Armed with this description, I wanted to know if any game had ended 4-2 on a strikeout with runners on second and third, (hopefully after a two-out single and double), and . . . for the cherry on top, could the batter have looked at the first two pitches before swinging at the third? I went through the 60+ years of Baseball Reference’s Play Index regular season play-by-play data to try and find a match.
Here’s all the games since 1950 that ended on a strikeout with the score 4-2 and runners on 2nd and 3rd:
We have 36 “4-2” contests, of which 14 ended in the bottom of the ninth.
Of the games for which we DO have pitch-by-pitch data, there were two that ended on an 0 and 2 count, as “Casey” did. Unfortunately, neither of those had the home team on the losing end. But here are the details anyway. On July 29, 1995, the Reds’ Ed Taubensee pinch-hit in the top of the ninth and struck out on three pitches, but he swung at the first pitch. Just over two years later (August 28, 1997), Russ Johnson of the Astros pinch-hit in the same circumstance and also swung at the first pitch on the way to k’ing on three pitches.
So, we won’t have the EXACT match to the poem, but how close can we get? If we can’t have a match on the precise pitch count and swing/look outcome in the final at-bat, how about trying to match the baserunner setup? Has any 4-2 game that ended in a strikeout (regardless of the number of pitches) featured two outs, then a single and double?
There has been just one such circumstance. This May 12, 1984 contest between the Twins and Brewers:
|Bottom of the 9th, Brewers Batting, Behind 2-4, Twins’ Pete Filson facing 7-8-9|
|b9||0||J. Sundberg||P. Filson||Strikeout|
|b9||1||E. Romero||P. Filson||Groundout: SS-1B|
|Charlie Moore pinch hits for Rick Manning (CF) batting 9th
|b9||2||C. Moore||P. Filson||Single|
|Ron Davis replaces Pete Filson pitching
Bobby Clark pinch hits for Dion James (RF) batting 1st
|b9||2||B. Clark||R. Davis||Double; Moore to 3B|
|b9||2||J. Gantner||R. Davis||Strikeout|
|0 runs, 2 hits, 0 errors, 2 LOB. Twins 4, Brewers 2.|
So, Jim Gantner, with a .367 slugging percentage and only 183 strikeouts in 2468 plate appearances heading into the 1984 season, provided the closest real-life “Casey” ending in Major League history.
And in case you are wondering, the following “Casey”s have never struck out to end a game down two runs (regardless of score) with runners on 2nd and 3rd:
If we want to stretch the poem’s story slightly, the following “Casey”s have never struck out the final batter with runners on 2nd and 3rd up two runs (regardless of score):