Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

OK, it's not quite 400 years old. But in 1888, a simple verse was tucked into Page 4 of the San Francisco Examiner, squeezed between editorials and a regular column. The verse went largely unnoticed the day it was printed. But later that summer, a comedian named DeWolf Hopper recited the poem, a sad saga about an athlete, in front of an audience and the rest, as they say, is history. Over time, it became one of the country's most famous poems. And to mark the 125th anniversary, here's a full reading of the poem.

You're up, Frank Deford.

FRANK DEFORD, BYLINE: 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.

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. But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake, and the former was a lulu and the latter was a cake.

So upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat, for there seemed but little chance of Casey's getting to the bat. 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.

Then from 5,000 throats and more there rose a lusty yell. It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell. It knocked upon the mountains 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 on 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 gleamed 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, a haughty grandeur there. Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped. But 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 a 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, 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 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.

GREENE: No joy in Mudville, poetry on a Wednesday morning. Commentator Frank Deford reciting "Casey at the Bat" by Ernest Thayer, ahead of its 125th anniversary next week. Frank joins us each Wednesday from WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut. His latest book, "Over Time: My Life as a Sportswriter," is out now in paperback.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

(SOUNDBITE OF A SONG)

CHORUS: (Singing) Oh, what a lark to ride out to the park...

(SOUNDBITE OF A WHISTLE)

CHORUS: (Singing) ...and just to see Casey....

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Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford
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