The Story Behind the Poem Casey at the Bat
By R. J. Brown
NCSA Member #3
When George Hearst decided to run for senator from California in 1885 he realized the need of an influential organ, and bought the San Francisco Examiner to promote his political ambitions. When the campaign was over, he presented it to his son, William Randolph Hearst who had just graduated from Harvard College. While in college the younger Hearst had been editor of the Harvard Lampoon.
When he went to California to edit the Examiner he took along with him three members of the Lampoon staff; Eugene Lent, F. H. Briggs, and Ernest L. Thayer. Each had nicknames -- Thayer's was "Phin." He wrote a humorous column on a regular basis for the Examiner and signed his columns with his nickname.
In the spring of 1888, Thayer wrote Caseyand submitted it for publication. It appeared in the Examiner in the June 3, 1888 edition and was signed "Phin" as usual.
When Casey made its first appearance, nobody hailed it with shouts of joy or suspected that it would become immortal. A few weeks later, (exact date unknown) the New York Sun published the last 8 stanzas of the poem -- but signed its author as "Anon." Other than the Sun, it was just plain ignored by the public.
To become immortal, everyone (or thing) needs a press agent. Archibald Clavering Gunter, an author of novels, was "Casey's" press agent. Always on the look out for incidents to base some of his novels on, Gunter, living in New York, sought and actively read newspapers from around the country on a regular basis. When he read Casey for the first time, he clipped it out to save. He wasn't sure just what he would do with it, but he clipped and saved it anyway.
Many weeks later, in August of 1888, Gunter read that both the New York and Chicago baseball clubs would be attending the performance of the comedian De Wolf Hopper at the Wallack Theater in New York. Upon reading the announcement, Gunter instantly knew what he wanted to do with the clipping of Casey he had saved.
Gunter approached Hopper, a good friend, and offered the poem for him to recite as he felt the baseball teams would enjoy a comic baseball recitation. Hopper agreed and recited it that night. The rest, as they say, is history. From that point forward in time, Casey become immortal -- while a good poem to begin with, it took a recital before a group of "famous" baseball players by a professional comedian to bring it to life.
After reviews for Hopper's performance were published, three people came forward to claim authorship and demanded Hopper pay a royalty to use "their" poem. None could prove authorship, so Hopper kept it in his repertory.
Four or five years later, Thayer, living in Worcester, Massachusetts at the time, attended a performance of Hopper in Worcester. After the show, Thayer sent a note backstage requesting to meet Hopper. Thayer gave him the rights to perform it without paying any royalties.
Newspaper collectors should check their issues of New York papers for August, 1888 (exact day unknown) for reviews of Mr. Hopper's performance of Casey -- You may have an issue almost as important as the first printing of the poem in the June 3, 1888 San Francisco Examiner.