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Think back to those amazingly languid summers of your childhood, when in the heat of the day you followed the game on a distant radio, watched the pros on the living-room TV, or cheered your local heroes at the hometown ballpark. Ernest Thayer's classic tale of baseball hopes and dreams comes to life like never before with LeRoy Neiman's lush, meticulously detailed charcoal drawings and an original introduction by Yankees manager Joe Torre, considered by many to be the greatest baseball manager of all time. These...
Think back to those amazingly languid summers of your childhood, when in the heat of the day you followed the game on a distant radio, watched the pros on the living-room TV, or cheered your local heroes at the hometown ballpark. Ernest Thayer's classic tale of baseball hopes and dreams comes to life like never before with LeRoy Neiman's lush, meticulously detailed charcoal drawings and an original introduction by Yankees manager Joe Torre, considered by many to be the greatest baseball manager of all time. These illustrations — a rare departure from the vibrantly colored paintings that made LeRoy Neiman famous — evoke Mudville's beloved Casey in images that are muscular, immediate, and unmistakably American.
A volume of matchless artistry, this edition of Casey at the Bat is a treasure for all generations.
The popular narrative poem about a celebrated baseball player who strikes out at the crucial moment of a game, illustrated with a cast of animal characters.
I've been thinking about why young boys and girls should read Casey at the Bat. Of course there's the excitement and expectation, which are part of the fabric of the game. But more important, it's a story about our ability to deal with what appears to be failure. The poem makes clear that it's not possible to succeed every time at the plate — or every day at whatever you do in life. Reading Casey at the Bat allows you a little more patience with yourself and with others.
Even though we may feel that Casey let us down, I don't believe our opinion of him as a player is really any different than if he'd hit that home run. This is something I tell my players. If Derek Jeter strikes out in a critical situation, am I disappointed in him? No, I'm not. You have to bring common sense to the game, which is easy for me to do because I'm not the one throwing the bat, feeling like I've let everybody down.
It's the same whether you're playing sandlot ball or at Yankee Stadium: There's a winner and there's a loser, exhilaration and misery. There's no greater feeling of satisfaction than winning and no lower feeling than losing. But it may be that remembering how you feel when you win keeps you from staying down when you're defeated. It's important for players to understand, "Hey, I didn't lose, he beat me this time." You've got to tip your hat to the other guy once in a while.
Striking out is as difficult for the pros as it is for Little Leaguers. It's perceived as failure, especially when a game isin the balance, as it was for Casey. I need to remind my players of all they've accomplished. What makes a good player is the capacity to forget the last at bat.
Although certain aspects of baseball have changed over the years, the one thing that has not changed — and part of the message of Casey at the Bat — is that it's still the playing of the game that counts. When all is said and done, you still put on your uniform, lace up your shoes, and get between the lines, where you're on your own.
When I read Casey at the Bat I visualize a Babe Ruth-type guy with a potbelly. But LeRoy Neiman's Casey has just come from the gym, which makes him a contemporary ballplayer — muscles rippling under his shirt. Still, I would choose a Mariano Rivera over a teamful of Caseys. There have been only a handful of batters who have hit .400, and even they fail six times out of ten. The pitcher always has the advantage. I remember watching Pedro Martinez pitch when I managed an American League All-Star team. You had Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa at the plate, and I thought to myself, "They won't even foul tip a ball off Martinez — you don't make a living hitting off Pedro Martinez." The axiom has always been and will always be: Good pitching stops good hitting.
There's serious nonverbal communication going on between a batter and a pitcher. It's all body language. I used to watch Bob Gibson on the mound, and he would intimidate me with a scowl; Roger Clemens too is good at that, as is Pedro Martinez. Something else that comes into play in this duel is the art of throwing close to hitters. Back in the years when I played, if a pitcher hit you, he never let on if it was intentional. This makes batters uneasy. And that's part of what any good pitcher needs to have going for him — an air of mystery.
A home run hitter has his own body language. He displays a confidence that says, "I'm going to make you throw the ball over the plate and I'm going to deposit it somewhere very far away." This kind of bravado translates through the body, and all the great home run hitters I've known have had it — as does LeRoy's Casey.
The home run is a very American thing. It's what kids in the backyard do — and it's what I did growing up. You hit a home run in the ninth inning of the last game of the World Series and you trot around what you imagine are the bases. But the home run is exactly what I try to have my players not think about. Even though it's the home run that turns people on, it doesn't work for the team, because it focuses too much on the individual. I like the home run to be a surprise rather than something we hold our breath for.
If you get excited about the home run, you have to accept the strikeout, which can be as sensational as the home run — and aside from DiMaggio, home run hitters strike out a lot. When someone like Casey or Babe Ruth or Mark McGwire swings, it's an ear-shattering sound: the swing and the miss. People complain that baseball moves too slowly. But I believe there's no more spellbinding confrontation than that between the pitcher and the batter. It's truly exciting — it's what baseball's all about.
Ultimately, Casey at the Bat is whatever you want it to be, a game of ball or a confrontation emblematic of life. But for me it comes down to something simple — putting in a good day's work and being satisfied with the fact that you've taken part in something very special. LeRoy places great passion into the faces of the players, as well as the crowd. He looks into their eyes and draws what he finds there. He puts a face and personality on this sport, which has become so impersonal. And he understands the passion that from time to time can be a part of our lives.
Casey at the Bat. Copyright © by LeRoy Neiman. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.