Originally written on Baseball Prospectus  |  Last updated 11/3/14

In 1911, the National News Association printed a collection of poems (originally appearing in the New York Evening Journal) in a book called "Right Off the Bat: Baseball Ballads", by William F. Kirk. That book is now available in full for free on Google Books.

The 34 poems found in the volume are a fun, quick read. The works range from "The Big League" and "The Ballad of a Minor Leaguer" (stories about the difficulty of surviving the top leagues) to "Yellow" (a story about a cowardly, no-good ballplayer) and "The $11,000 Beauty" (about John McGraw). None of the pieces are all that long, rarely extending to more than two half-pages of the small book (likely in the 30-50 line range, if not shorter). In truth, I get the feeling that most of these poems either originated from a schoolyard or were intended for one. They aren't all that complicated. Not that I'm complaining; it's always nice to come across baseball-themed literature geared towards the general public.

I was a bit surprised, though, to find a new version of "Casey At the Bat" in the book, called "Casey On the Bat". At first, I thought the difference in prepositional phrases was merely academic, evidence of a difference in education or culture between the two authors. But then I realized that the phrase "on a bat" was meant as a synonym for "drunk" (much like "on a bender") and everything made perfect sense!

Casey On A Bat

It looked extremely rocky for the Boston team that day,
The score was one to nothing, with one inning left to play.
Casey, who played in centre field, had an hour too late --
He hadn't any alibi when staggering through the gate.
So when he tore his necktie off and stepped upon his hat
The manager looked grim and said, "It's Casey on a bat."

"Well," said the Boston manager, "with joy I ought to scream --
Here's Casey with a dandy load, the best man on the team.
He told me he was sober, but he couldn't quite get by
When he stepped upon his derby and was yanking off his tie.
Of all the hard luck in the world! The mean, ungrateful rat!
A blooming championship at stake and Casey on a bat."

Two Boston batters in the ninth were speedily retired,
"Here, Casey!" cried the manager, speaking as one inspired,
"Go in and bat for Grogan! There's a man on second base,
And if you hit the way you can we'll win the pennant race."
This is no knock on buttermilk, or anything like that,
But the winning hit was made that day by Casey on a bat.

I only wish the poet didn't seem to get lazy at the end and instead tried to expand his tale of a drunk Casey into a more satisfying length. That could have proven quite funny.

As I said, the other poems were mostly a quick, fun look at baseball life (both professional and local) at the turn of the century. You can read any number of them to be taken back to the time of Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson and John McGraw. My favorite of the bunch, however, focused on a slightly different aspect of the game in those days: women at the ballpark.

To the Lady Bugs

Lady Bug, Lady Bug, don't you fly home --
Stay till the ninth ere deciding to roam;
Don't you despair when the outlook seems blue,
Be a game Lady Bug -- see the game through!

"Why does that man wear those things on his shins?"
"How can we tell, when it's over, who wins?"
"Which is the umpire? Tell me, George, please,
And what do they mean when the call him a cheese?"
"Isn't that Matty, that little boy there?
What -- that's the bat boy? Well, I do declare!"
"Why do they throw to that man on first base?"
"Hasn't that Indian got a fine face?"
"What do they mean when they yell at each other?"
"Don't you think Wiltse looks just like my brother?"
"Can't I keep score just as well without paper?"
"See Mister Latham, the way he can caper!"
"Isn't this grand? I could come here at noon!"
"Well, I declare! Is it over so soon?"

Lady Bug, Lady Bug, feathers and fuss,
Ask all the questions you want to of us.
Maybe we'll kid you, but, please, don't you care;
Baseball is better because you are there.

Aw, isn't that sweet?


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