For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat. (20)
Not just Casey, it's mighty Casey to you.Thayer wanted to be sure that we pictured Casey as powerful and impressive—a picture of masculinity. Using the adjective "mighty" does a pretty good job of getting those qualities across. Mission accomplished.
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. (21-24)
This is a high-pressure, high-stress situation. The game is on the line, and it's all up to Casey. Does this make our "hero" sweat and squirm? No way. Like all good alpha-males, Casey relishes the limelight. He thrives on being the center of attention in big, pressure-filled moments. He's cool and calm under pressure. He "smiles" in the face of difficult odds. This calm, cool demeanor lets everyone in the stands know that Casey is indeed the man. He has the crowd in the palm of his beefy hand.
And it's likely they'd have 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; (36-38)
Like most alpha-males, Casey is a born leader. The fans follow his lead (luckily for the umpire, in this case). He doesn't have to shout or plea with the rabid crowd, just a simple gesture—"Casey raised his hand"—puts them back in line and lets the game go on. What a guy.
And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game. (3-4)
In the poem's very first stanza, the speaker lets us know that this is no recreational league game. This is a serious, life or death competition—and not just for the players. The fans are so invested in their hometown team that the thought of a loss is almost sickening.
A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast; (5-6)
Okay, so a few of the Mudville fans bail out. There are always a few nonbelievers in every crowd. But most of the Mudville faithful stick around despite near certain defeat. Why? Because it ain't over 'till it's over, and these fans are competitive. They haven't lost yet, so they aren't going anywhere.
Then while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
Defiance gleamed in Casey's eye, a sneer curled Casey's lip. (27-28)
Baseball is a team sport, but often the battle comes down to two individuals: the pitcher and the batter. Casey and the pitcher are locked in fierce competition and they know it. On paper, this pitcher has the advantage. He only needs to get one out. But he's facing Mudville's hero, and Casey is confident he can beat the odds and get the winning hit. These two lines really bring the competitive focus away from the teams and onto Casey and the pitcher.
The sneer is gone from Casey's lip, his teeth are clinched in hate;
He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate. (45-46)
Have you ever noticed that people look at you a little differently after PE class? It could be because of that dance you do every time you score a point, or maybe it's the way you taunt the other team (you really shouldn't say those things about someone's mother). Even the most mild-mannered among us can get pretty whipped up in the heat of battle. Competition has that kind of transformative power. Casey is changed by the intensity of the competition. He goes from a smiling vision of "Christian charity," to a hateful madman whacking home plate with a bat. This is why we just had to forge that note to get out of PE. It's just too dangerous.
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 stuck out. (49-52)
Ultimately, competition comes down to winning or losing, success or failure. It's harsh, but true. It doesn't matter how many times someone feeds us that line—"it's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game—deep down, we know it's just not true. We compete to win and when we don't it stinks. For those Mudville fans, their team's loss is a serious blow. Just as Casey was locked in a battle with the pitcher, Mudville was competing with another town. Casey was representing Mudville itself. Casey's failure does more than just make the fans sad or the team sad. Mudville itself, the whole town, has absorbed the loss and become part of the defeat. Happiness seems impossible. If you want happiness, you'll have to go "somewhere" else, someplace with a winning team.
A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought if only Casey could but get a whack at that—
We'd put up even money now with Casey at the bat. (5-8)
The Mudville fans have attached their sense of hope to their hero, Casey. In the minds of the fans, even against impossible odds, Casey would be capable of saving the day. We expect a lot from our idols and heroes, right? The Mudville fans are no different. They truly believe that Casey can deliver them, their team, and their town from the jaws of defeat.
Then from 5,000 throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
[…] For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat. (17, 20)
The crowd goes nuts when they get a glimpse of "mighty Casey" coming to the plate. They have supreme confidence in their hero. The description of Casey as "mighty" makes him sound almost god-like: mighty Casey, mighty Zeus. In the mind of many Mudvillers (Mudvillians?) the game is already in the bag. With Casey at the plate, the game is as good as won.
"Fraud!" cried the maddened thousands, and echo answered fraud;
But one scornful look from Casey and the audience was awed. (41-42)
Casey has this crowd in the palm of his heroic hand. They admire him so much that they are willing to follow his every command. Even when they are swept up in a frenzy of hatred and rage, Casey is able to calm them down with no more than "scornful look."
The relationship between Casey and the crowd seems almost paternal—Casey is scolding the crowd like they are misbehaving children. The crowd looks up to, is "awed" by, Casey, much like a small child looks up to a parent. One stern look from Casey, and they jump right back in line.