Casey at the Bat: Only half of the American story

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There is no joy in Mudville, for the Mighty Casey has struck out.

Forget Shakespeare: Perhaps the greatest modern tragedy could be the story of Casey at the Bat.

The Mudville Nine make a miraculous comeback, with two struggling hitters reaching base to bring the team superstar, Casey, to the plate with the opportunity to win the game.

Spoiling the ending: Casey whiffs. Mudville loses. No Disney ending to this story.

Since it was penned 120 years ago, the story has broken the hearts of generations of American children.

But Casey isn’t the only hero who fails. All baseball players are failures.

Twenty-nine of the 30 Major League teams miss the playoffs or are knocked out at some point, with only one emerging as the World Series champion.

The best hitters, who bat .300 for their career, fail 70 percent of the time they step to the plate.

Baseball is about learning to deal with, and even expect, Casey-like failure.

Success is relative. Getting out more often than you reach base is common practice, and the ultimate glory of hitting a home run happens only once every few games, if that.

For this reason, baseball is particularly American.

Perhaps the true link between America and baseball is the difficult nature of succeeding in this country and in the sport it considers its national pastime.

The American Dream is often mislabeled as an illusion. It does exist — it is just very hard to achieve.

Even our most successful billionaires went bankrupt on several occasions and crashed on more than a few of their friends’ couches.

For every story of a lowly worker who became a CEO, there are thousands of stories of workers trapped in dead-end jobs.

Casey at the Bat prepares all Americans to expect failure from even the most heroic baseball players and to, in turn, cope with the inevitable failure they will face during the course of their lives.

But the story ends prematurely.

The story of America isn’t one of homeless people.

We overcame long odds to beat England in 1776 … and 1812.

We helped unite the world after two fracturing wars.

We emerged as a dominant world power financially and politically.

But Casey never saw much of this.

Casey’s ballad was written 23 years after the end of the Civil War. He didn’t quite know what America would become.

Sure, failure is a part of the American experience. But so is the inevitable success that comes to those who persevere and work toward their goals.

Casey doesn’t always strike out.

Bill Mazerowski and Joe Carter hit walk-off home runs to win the World Series.

An injured Kirk Gibson came through with one of the most memorable home runs in baseball history when he won Game 1 of the World Series for the Dodgers in 1988.

The number of American billionaires who once had nothing but ambition continues to climb. And a presidential candidate claims to have grown up with nothing but love from his mom and hope for the future.

We need to write a second part of Casey at the Bat, one that you read to your kids when they fail their first test and need to rebound.

Casey experiences a comeback season the next year and hits .350, leading his team to the World Series.

Casey redeems himself in the eyes of Mudville.

Casey gets a ticker-tape parade.

Casey at the Bat embodies some American values. But it ultimately fails to display the true moral of the American story: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

America and its people may strike out a lot of the time … only to homer in the next at bat.

The American story doesn’t end with a K.

Comments

  • Jim

    I now what you mean about hearing of Casey for the first time in Grade School. Pure devastation…from which I never recovered…until reading your wonderful rendition. Well done…and thank you!

  • Bob

    Also, I'd note that baseball's best hitter don't fail 70% of the time - 60% maybe, but no 70% - you can't call a walk a failure, so 1-OBP is a better metric for the "% of failure."

  • Julian Rajeshwar

    From the title of this piece, I thought a more salient point was going to be made: the pitcher succeeds. One should give the pitcher credit for striking out the mighty Casey in a pressure situation.

  • y07

    You misspelled Mudville. Good job, summer fact-checkers!

  • Anonymous

    Baseball was a lot more fun in the old days: a larger strike zone, fewer walks, fewer home runs, less scoring, and perhaps best of all, FAR fewer tv or radio commercials.

    Today's game lasts about 3 hours. In the old days they lasted 2 hours or less. We even had 3 1/2 to 4 hour double headers way back then!

    It would be nice if we could again have the good old days of baseball and if the American Dream could be a reality for everyone.