Date: Fri, 19 Dec 1997 20:12:18 -0500
From: Gerald Cohen gcohen[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]UMR.EDU
Subject: "Mudville" article #1
Here is the first of two articles on Mudville sent to me by the staff of
Western Historical Manuscript Collection (Columbia, MO) from its Peter
Tamony Collection of Americanisms. The article isn't conclusive but is
still of interest. At the top Tamony stamped S.F. Examiner and S.F.
Chronicle, May 20, 1979; he added in handwriting Sunday Punch, p.8/2-5.
The title of the article is "The Original Mudville," and the subtitle is
"Did Mighty Casey strike out in Stockton? (And qualify for its Hall of
Fame?)." The writer is Art Rosenbaum, Chronicle Sports Editor.
"The University of Pacific is raising money to build an Events Center
which will include a basketball court for some 6000 to 8000 spectators. A
place also will be provided for a Stockton Hall of Fame, memorializing
great events (not only sports) invovling both the University and the
One planned display will recognize Stockton as the original Mudville
in that remarkable and immortal American ballad, 'Casey at the Bat,'
written by Ernest L. Thayer, which first appeared in the fourth column of
the third page of the San Francisco Examiner on Sunday morning, June 3,
In the '80s, Stockton, a port town, was indeed nicknamed Mudville. As
everyone knows, the poem ends with super-slugger Mighty Casey striking out,
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.
Was Stockton really Thayer's (and Casey's) Mudville? There is, it
would seem, a legend behind the legend.
The most believable research indicates that Thayer wrote for The
Lampoon, the college humor magazine, and became friendly with fellow
student William Randolph Hearst, later to be publisher of the Examiner.
Hearst asked Thayer to contribute some humor pieces. Thayer stayed in San
Francisco for approximately a year and a half, then because of ill health
returned to Worcester, Mass. but continued to mail material. One of these
"Casey" might have died with first publication except for happenstance.
A rising young actor and bass singer, William DeWolf Hopper, was informed
that members of the New York Giants and Chicago White Stockings would be in
the audience one night and he wanted a special bit to highlight the
occasion. When he mentioned his need one day at lunch, a friend pulled out
a little clipping from his wallet, the original "Casey."
Hopper's rendition of the poem at old Wallack's Theatre on Broadway
created a national sensation. Thousands of different versions have been
recited since, ncluding the one Jim (Bottles) Leary does at the San
Francisco Press Club.
Curiously, Hopper never asked permission to act out the poem on the
stage and Thayer apparently disturbed that this was considered the only
work of merit in his portfolio, came to hate it and virtually deny he wrote
it. For years the true authorship of "Casey" remained largely a secret.
But the poem's message, like the fall of Humpty Dumpty, grew and grew.
And it became 'Stockton's own" in the mid-50's when the late Jack O'Keefe,
Stockton's chief of police and a principal in the local ball team, the
Stockton Ports, decided on a pre-season promotion.
Tom Mellis, at the time affiliated with the rival Modesto Reds,
remembers, 'O'Keefe decided, all by himself, that Mudville was Stockton.
He decided to have the poem re-enacted to open the season and he brought in
Max Baer, the former heavyweight champion and a giant of a man, to step up
to the plate and
strike out. It was all tongue-in-cheek but the Chief was absolutely right.
He created a new legend and clouded the old.'
John Peri is the former sports editor of the Stockton Record. He
recollects, 'Well, you know we are at sea level and this is delta land. We
were the frontier delta town where the 49er miners moved on up to the
hills. There was a lot of fog here and we were known as Tuleberg and also
Mudville because of the tidewater.
'Jack O'Keefe played baseball at St. Mary's College and was always a
fan, as well as owner and league director. The promotion you mention was
wonderful fun. The players wore old time uniforms and fake handlebar
mustaches. O'Keefe himself was a portly fellow, a living Stockton Port,
you might say, who could have played Casey himself.
Author Thayer supposedly told an interviewer once that his Mudville was
nowhere and everywhere, but most Eastern writers placed it near Thayer's
home in Massachusetts. And yet, possibly Thayer heard of Stockton/Mudville
and included it subsconsciously."
[G. Cohen: I omit the final two paragraphs of the article, since they
add nothing of substance.]
gcohen[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]umr.edu