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.The "Mudville Nine" could stand (by the use of synecdoche) for any baseball team. It also reflects a time when substitutions were not allowed except in cases of injury.
"One inning more to play" in standard baseball jargon means that the home team has one set of at-bats remaining: the poem is set just before the start of Mudville's final turn (of a regulation game), in the ninth inning.
A player "dying" at a base means he was put out. There are only three outs per team in an inning in baseball, so one more out would end the game (with Mudville losing).
A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The restClung 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.
The second line above is an allusion to Alexander Pope's An Essay on Man (1734), which contains the line "Hope springs eternal in the human breast".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.
Gardner asserts that "lulu" (as in "humdinger") is being used ironically in this case. The original version of the poem used "lulu" and "cake" to describe Flynn and Blake. "Cake" was taken to mean someone who was vain and not particularly "manly," whereas a "lulu" in baseball slang of the period was "an unskilled player". In any case, Flynn and Blake were perceived to be poor hitters; thus, the crowd believed that Casey had little chance for a potential game-winning at bat.But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,And Blake, the much despis-ed, 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.
Although the term "men" is often used generically in English, in those days baseball was largely attended by men. If women attended, they were often isolated to a section away from the men, supposedly to distance them from any vulgarities that the male spectators (or players) might speak. However, the phrase "the men" breaks the meter of the line, and later versions simply say "they".
In the original version, a printer's error said "Johnnie" was safe at second. Later versions corrected it to "Jimmy Jizz".
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 mountain 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 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.
Taking the first or even the second strike without swinging is not unusual. The batter may wish to evaluate a new pitcher (though the text does not indicate a pitching change), to take advantage of a pitcher who may be experiencing control problems (especially after giving up two hits to two weak hitters), or to see if the pitcher may be trying to "pitch around" him to reach the next batter (with first base open, a walk doesn't immediately result in a run scored, and also sets up a potential force out at any base including home plate; the risk being the next hitter may feel that the pitcher considers him to be "weak" compared to Casey and try harder to produce a run). However, it appears Casey was ignoring the pitch, not as a sound baseball tactic, but out of pride for his abilities.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 to the pitcher, and once more the spheroid flew;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 Jimmy Jizz Casey has struck out.