DiMaggio doesn’t scare Casey

Part of the BASEBALL HISTORY series
Written by: Nate Tweedie

Baseball and pop culture have intersected in America for more than a century. The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum takes a look at these cross-over stars and events in our web feature #PopUps.

What made the Mighty Casey so mighty? Earnest Thayer's poem “Casey at the Bat” was first published on June 3, 1888. However, we never heard in the classic poem why Casey was so mighty. That, however, all changed on June 17, 1960. On this date, season 1 episode 35 of The Twilight Zone aired. Entitled “The Mighty Casey”, the hit TV show put a new spin on Thayer's classic poem.

The 1960 Twilight Zone episode puts two twists on the poem. The episode opens as most Twilight Zone episodes do, with Rod Serling talking to the viewer. Serling greets the viewer inside an empty stadium that he states is in Hoboken, N.J. Serling continues that this stadium used to house a National League team. Viewers are then transported back to an unknown time. The scene opens and the Hoboken Zephyrs are holding tryouts. The manager and general manager have a discussion that tells the viewer that Hoboken is the worst team in the league and that those at the tryouts are not netting any good talent. That is, until a man who identifies himself as Dr. Stillman appears in the dugout. The doctor states he has a left handed pitcher he would like to try out for the team. The pitcher is tall, has light hair, and is named Casey.

Casey's start to baseball doesn't start normally. He is knocked on the head by a foul ball, but seems unaffected. It comes out that Casey is only three weeks old. Casey appears to be a twenty-two year old male, but is in fact a robot. His fastball leaves his catcher’s glove smoking on his first pitch, his curve ball dives and moves all over for his second pitch, and his third pitch, the slowball, takes approximately three seconds to reach the plate. Casey's non-human origins are to be kept a secret between Casey, the doctor, and the manager and he is quickly signed to the Zephyrs.

Casey's first game leaves several impressions on the viewer. First, Casey is told not be nervous. Being a robot keeps Casey from understanding this human emotion. The manger begins to explain, "You know, nervous. Like its two out in the ninth, you're one up and Joe DiMaggio comes to the plate looking intent."

Casey responds that this would not make him nervous as he does not know anyone named Joe DiMaggio. Casey then takes the field against the New York Giants. Then, the screen changes and the viewer is able to track Casey's progress through newspaper headlines. It appears that Casey won 14 games before he got hit in the head by a line drive and wound up being examined by the team doctor. Upon evaluation it is found that Casey has no pulse, which leads to him being outed as a robot.

Upon Casey being identified as a robot, he is banned from baseball. His manager contests that as a lack of a heart is what makes Casey not be human, that if Casey has a heart installed, he should be eligible to play. The National League executive agrees and Casey then undergoes a procedure that gives him a heart. Dr. Stillman notes that Casey now smiles, something that he never had done before. This foretells of Casey’s downfall.

Casey takes to the mound and his pitching performance is far from stellar. Casey seems unable to get the opposition out. Finally Casey and his skipper talk. Casey reveals that he now has empathy. He purposefully lets the batters get hits because he does not want to hurt their feelings. Also, Casey admits that he wants to go into social work to help people. The doctor explains that Casey, being so young has not yet learned of competition and his emotion of empathy seems to be dominating his personality, thus the robot does cannot continue to play baseball.

A robot baseball player is fairly mild by Twilight Zone standards. Nevertheless, to see the classic poem Casey at the Bat be taken into this strange and new direction is a joy to those the first time they watch the episode. It is worth noting that unlike the poem version of the Mighty Casey, the robot Casey’s skills as a hitter are unmentioned.

Those who follow minor league baseball, or are fans of the Miami Marlins, know that the Zephyrs not only exist in the fiction of the Twilight Zone, but also are the Pacific Coast League Triple-A affiliate of the Marlins. The Zephyrs organization was founded in 1901 as the Kansas City Blues. After several city and name changes the organization adopted the name of the Denver Zephyrs in 1985 and moved to their current city of New Orleans in 1993. Since being named the Zephyrs, the team has been affiliated with the Reds, Brewers, Astros, Nationals, Mets, and presently the Marlins. It is currently unknown if any of their former or current players are androids.

Also, Twilight Zone creator and star Rod Serling’s hometown baseball team has been in the news recently. The Double-A Binghamton Mets of the Eastern League have made headlines this past month due to their proposed name change. The team allowed residents of New York and Pennsylvania to submit team names via their team website. The six names chosen as finalists, and now being voted on at the team’s website, are the Binghamton Bullheads, Binghamton Gobblers, Binghamton Rocking Horses, Binghamton Rumble Ponies, Binghamton Stud Muffins, and Binghamton Timber Jockeys.

Finally, the setting for this episode of the Twilight Zone, Hoboken, N.J., has a very proud baseball history. In the 1840s, the New York Knickerbocker Baseball Club, one of the earliest organized clubs, began to play their home games on the Elysian Fields in Hoboken.

Nate Tweedie is the manager of on-site learning at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
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Part of the BASEBALL HISTORY series