meaning and origin of the phrase ‘no joy in Mudville’

The American-English phrase no joy in Mudville denotes a sense of pervasive and shared disappointment.

It alludes to the defeat of the baseball team of Mudville, a fictional town in Casey at the Bat. A Ballad of the Republic, Sung in the Year 1888. This ballad was written by the U.S. poet Ernest Lawrence Thayer (1863-1940) and first published under the pen name of Phin in The Daily Examiner (San Francisco, California) of Sunday 3rd June 1888:

The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine that day;
The score stood four to two with but one inning more to play.
And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game.

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.

But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake,
And the former was a lulu and the latter was a cake;
So upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat,
For there seemed but little chance of Casey’s getting to the bat.

But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
And Blake, the much despis-ed [sic], tore the cover off the ball;
And when the dust had lifted, and the men saw what had occurred,
There was Johnnie safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third.

Then from 5,000 throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
It knocked upon the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.

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.

Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt;
Five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt.
Then while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
Defiance gleamed in Casey’s eye, a sneer curled Casey’s lip.

And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,
And Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.
Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped—
“That ain’t my style,” said Casey. “Strike one,” the umpire said.

From the benches, black with people, there went up a muffled roar,
Like the beating of the storm-waves on a stern and distant shore.
“Kill him! Kill the umpire!” shouted some one on the stand;
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;
He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the spheroid flew;
But Casey still ignored it, and the umpire said, “Strike two.”

“Fraud!” cried the maddened thousands, and echo answered fraud;
But one scornful look from Casey and the audience was awed.
They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain,
And they knew that Casey wouldn’t let that ball go by again.

The sneer is gone from Casey’s lip, his teeth are clenched in hate;
He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate.
And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,
And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey’s blow.

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 struck out.

In the course of the following years, Thayer’s poem was often reprinted in newspapers and recited on the stage by music-hall artists—as mentioned by The Chicago Daily Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) of Sunday 2nd June 1895:

There is one distinctively American poem that the papers never tire in printing and that is the classic entitled “Casey at the Bat.” It has been recited on the stage by various Thespians night after night with terrific execution and no well regulated newspaper will permit the baseball season to open without reproducing the stirring song.

Among those who recited Thayer’s poem on the stage was the U.S. baseball player Michael Joseph ‘King’ Kelly (1857-94)—as reported by The St. Joseph Gazette (St. Joseph, Missouri) of Saturday 28th January 1893:

KING KELLY AS A STAR.
Much Ease In Casey’s Manner, but Little In That of Kelly.

Michael J. Kelly, who is known to millions of baseball cranks the country over as King Kelly, the $10,000 beauty, has just made his debut as a vaudeville star at a big variety theater in New York. Kelly is a very handsome man and in that particular has a very good stage presence. The principal event of his nightly appearance is his delivery of “Casey at the Bat,” the poem De Wolf Hopper has recited with such success. The opening lines of the Kelly version are as follows:
   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.
There may have been ease in Casey’s manner, but there was very little in Kelly’s as he stepped into his place on the histrionic diamond at New York. Kelly is probably as near to being king of the national game as any man, but he has thus far failed to solve theatrical curve.
As an elocutionist Kelly undoubtedly fans the air as successfully as Casey did when he left no joy in Mudville by striking out. When one has heard De Wolf Hopper describe Casey’s unfortunate adventure, comparison between Hopper’s effort and that of Kelly naturally follows. Hopper’s performance is a work of art. One can almost see Casey as the comedian describes how he rubbed his hands with dust and wiped them on his baseball shirt preparatory to knocking out a 3-bagger. Kelly’s effort is without spirit, and the umpire says “strike two” as calmly as if there were several dozen left before Casey could possibly succeed in striking out. After the umpire has called two strikes on Casey King Kelly completes the poem as follows:
   The sneer is gone from Casey’s lip; his teeth are clenched in hate;
   He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate;
   And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go.
   And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey’s blow.
   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 struck out.
Despite his handicap, Kelly is very popular in New York and has thus far received something of an ovation from his friends. He also sings several songs with his partner, Jerome, and with much more success.

Kelly on the stage – illustration for King Kelly as a StarThe St. Joseph Gazette (St. Joseph, Missouri) – 28th January 1893:

baseball player Michael J. Kelly on the stage - St. Joseph Gazette (St. Joseph, Missouri) - 28 January 1893

 

As a consequence of its popularity, the poem came to be referred to in newspaper articles—as in the following passage from the account of a baseball game between San Francisco and Oakland, published in The Examiner (San Francisco, California) of Monday 2nd November 1891:

Shea went to the plate with an air like Casey of the ballad, but he did better for Oakland than Casey did for Mudville.

The earliest occurrence that I have found of the phrase no joy in Mudville is from The Daily Nonpareil (Council Bluffs, Iowa) of Sunday 25th August 1895—Council Bluffs is a city in, and the county seat of, Pottawattamie County, Iowa:

DESERTING THE OLD HULK.
LOCAL DEMOCRATS BOLT TO THE POPULIST RANKS.
Primaries Held by the People’s Party and Delegates Selected for County Convention Saturday at Liberty Hall.

There were several lively bolts from the democratic party yesterday that were brought to the front by the holding of the people’s party primaries in the various wards last evening. Such supposed dyed-in-the-wool democrats as William Knepher, Frank Childs and C. R. Mitchell will no longer be found in the ranks of the faithful as they are now numbered in the populist push that will go through the form of putting up a ticket next Saturday at the meeting at Liberty hall. This deflection [sic] is no surprise, for ever since the Marshalltown convention there has beenno joy in Mudville” so far as the Pottawattamie democracy is concerned.

A variant of the phrase appeared in the baseball news, published in The Evening Star (Washington, D.C.) of Thursday 11th June 1896:

Another cherry pie arrived in Washington this morning, in the shape of the St. Louis club, and the Senators will proceed to take three, good, hearty bites from the luscious pastry. Other clubs on the eastern circuit have been having a good time at the Browns’ expense, and it is a foregone conclusion that three straight, Mr. Breitenstein to the contrary notwithstanding, will be the sum total Saturday night. […] The Senators should win all three games, and if they lose one there will be joy in cyclonic Mudville.

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