Real Life “Casey at the Bat” Endings

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:

Inn Out Batter Pitcher Play Description
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.
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/20/2011.

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:

Casey Blake (1037 career strikeouts), Casey Candaele (211), Sean Casey (577), Casey Kotchman (289), Casey McGehee (281), Casey Parsons (11) and Casey Wise (36).

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):

Casey Coleman (102 career strikeouts), Casey Cox (297), Casey Daigle (30), Casey Fien (9), Casey Fossum (607) and Casey Janssen (223).

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14 Responses to Real Life “Casey at the Bat” Endings

  1. Ember Nickel says:

    When I tried to really analyze it I was thrown by the “one inning more to play” going along with the inference that Mudville are at home, it’s really somewhat less than that. :p

    • dianagram says:

      Yeah …. its a bit of a grey area descriptively, but I really do believe Thayer is discussing the bottom of the final inning here.

      • big o says:

        enjoyed this article .

        your concern about what you call “… a bit of a grey area…” , i’ll admit , i don’t understand .
        maybe , thayer , as a mudville fan , cared only about his team’s HALF of the inning ,
        but , clearly , with this : “… with but one inning more to play.” , they were down to their
        final three outs .

        to better understand the game of baseball that thayer wrote about , this link is provided :
        http://www.baseball-almanac.com/rulechng.shtml
        perhaps your readers will find some interesting stuff , here .

        some major rules changes going on during this period , but , 125 years later , the
        emotions run true , and any kid who has ever played this game has found himself to be in this exact situation , whether imaginary or not .

        again , nice job on this article .

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  4. Bob Schlesinger says:

    This is really great.

  5. Cyril Morong says:

    Great post. Alot of fun. Interesting to see some “mighty” hitters on the list like Mays and Griffey and most recently Pujols. It might be interesting to see if any of the Caseys on the list ever did come up in the bottom of the 9th or an extra inning and did drive in the winning run.

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  7. Vidor says:

    There’s one problem with your 5-12-1984 contest. Cooney and Barrows, the first two batters, both “died at first”, which to me at least strongly implies that they both grounded out. So really, to match the circumstances, you should find a game where the visiting team won 4-2 with a bottom of the 9th that went groundout, groundout, single, double (runners on 2nd and 3rd), strikeout. In your Twins-Brewers game the leadoff batter struck out rather than grounded out. So really, “Casey at the Bat” has never happened in real life. Which is fascinating when you think about how many big-league ball games have been played since 1876.

    • Diane says:

      Hmmm ….. I think you may be right with that conclusion regarding how the first two batters went down. Thanks for reading and responding.

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  9. Chad says:

    Interestingly, looking at the other ones that ended on an 0-2 count, there was one that had the home team batting in the bottom of the ninth and had runners at second and third–however, it couldn’t have been further from the poem, starting with the fact that the strikeout was looking, continuing to the fact that it was on the fourth pitch, not the third…and oh yeah, when the bottom of the ninth started, the home team trailed 4-0. That would be the 4/19/07 game. Double, RBI double, hit batsman, single (lead runner stopping at third), sac fly, groundout moving the runners to second and third, and then the strikeout.

    Actually…so did the other one where it was the fourth pitch, but it was nonetheless an 0-2 count (5/7/97). This one’s a lot closer. Again, the runners are on second and third, and this time the third strike is swinging. The first pitch was taken, but in addition to the obvious two-strike foul, strike two was also swinging. But the flow of the inning was all wrong: both runners reached with no outs, a walk and a single putting the first two on before a bunt attempt was popped up to the pitcher and the runners were pushed over by a groundout, first baseman unassisted. Close, but not quite.

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