Part of the enduring popularity of Ernest Lawrence Thayer's baseball poem "Casey at the Bat" is its surprise ending, where the indomitable slugger does the unthinkable: He strikes out. Throughout the poem, the reader is led to believe that Casey will come through in the end. His popularity, leadership qualities, and nearly mythic hitting prowess are all clues to Casey's inevitable success.
Thayer begins his poem on a dreary note, with Mudville losing 4-2 in the final inning--presumably, the bottom of the ninth. The first two batters "died at first," leaving the home team down to its last out. Many of the fans begin to leave...
... The rest / Clung 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.
But, then, Flynn singles "to the wonderment of all." Next, the "much despised" Jimmy Blake doubles, putting runners on second and third and bringing none other than
... Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.
Thayer sets up the reader right up until the end, and nowhere in the poem is there a clue that this Ruthian slugger will not send the fans home happy in the end. It is only the final line that reveals the unthinkable failure of Casey, and it is precisely this unexpected conclusion that makes "Casey" an unforgettable classic.