Original Air Date: June 17, 1960
Writer: Rod Serling
Director: Robert Parrish and Alvin Ganzer
“This locker and liniment emporium houses a major league baseball team known as the Hoboken Zephyrs, all of which by way of introduction to next week’s show, a wild and wooly yarn about the great American pastime. It’s called ‘The Mighty Casey’ and it’s all about a left-hander who pitches like nothing human simply because he isn’t. Mr. Jack Warden takes us into the stadium next week for nine fast innings on The Twilight Zone…. What you’re looking at is a ghost, once alive but now deceased. Once upon a time, it was a baseball stadium that housed a major league ball club known as the Hoboken Zephyrs. Now it houses nothing but memories and a wind that stirs in the high grass of what was once an outfield, a wind that sometimes bears a faint, ghostly resemblance to the roar of a crowd that once sat here. We’re back in time now, when the Hoboken Zephyrs were still a part of the National League, and this mausoleum of memories was an honest-to-Pete stadium. But since this is strictly a story of make believe, it has to start this way: once upon a time, in Hoboken, New Jersey, it was tryout day. And though he’s not yet on the field, you’re about to meet a most unusual fella, a left-handed pitcher named Casey.”
“The Mighty Casey” is a whimsical, delightful episode in The Twilight Zone series that explores a now-familiar theme: cheating in major league sports. Cheating occurs when the drive to win overcomes the fear of playing by the rules. However, the episode’s silly tone is overshadowed by a darker backstory. “The Mighty Casey” was marred by logistical problems from the outset –it had to be filmed twice when the original lead actor (Paul Douglas) suddenly died during production. Previously Douglas had played a baseball team manager in the 1951 film Angels in the Outfield. Douglas was initially not crazy about the script but he accepted the role in “The Mighty Casey” at the personal invitation of Rod Serling. When Douglas came on board The Twilight Zone crew had to be reassured that Douglas was dependable –he was known to be a heavy drinker. Unbeknownst to anybody at the time, he was also suffering from near-cardiac failure. During filming Douglas could barely remember his lines and he was constantly out of breath. His condition was later revealed, and within a few days he suddenly died in the midst of shooting this episode. Rod Serling later morbidly stated: “we were watching him literally die in front of us.” Devastated, Serling put up $27,000 of his own money to re-cast, re-shoot, and re-edit the whole episode for CBS with Jack Warden in the lead role (Warden previously appeared on “The Lonely”). Almost none of the original footage with Paul Douglas is known to have survived.
Mr. “Mouth” McGarry (played by Jack Warden) is the manager of the Hoboken Zephyrs, a struggling American baseball team. One day he is approached by a scientist named Dr. Stillman (played by Abraham Sofaer) who has invented a robot named Casey (played by Robert Sorrells -an actor who died in prison while serving a life sentence for murder). Casey appears like a man but his flawless mechanical pitching impresses everyone. McGarry and Stillman strike up a deal and Casey becomes the new secret weapon of the Zephyrs, pitching shut-out after shut-out.
However, in a routine medical exam the league discovers that Casey has no heartbeat. At the risk of losing Casey, Dr. Stillman promises the league that he will provide Casey with a heart so that he may continue to play. At the end, Casey is given a heart by Dr. Stillman but in exchange he has traded his cold, machine-like skills for sentimental compassion. Now, Casey sympathizes with the other team he has been crushing, and he cannot continue dominating them. In the end, Dr. Stillman gives Casey’s blueprints to McGarry who then has an epiphany -perhaps to create a whole team of robotic baseball players for himself.
“Once upon a time, there was a major league baseball team called the Hoboken Zephyrs, who, during the last year of their existence, wound up in last place and shortly thereafter wound up in oblivion. There’s a rumor, unsubstantiated, of course, that a manager named McGarry took them to the West Coast and wound up with several pennants and a couple of world championships. This team had a pitching staff that made history. Of course, none of them smiled very much, but it happens to be a fact that they pitched like nothing human. And if you’re interested as to where these gentlemen came from, you might check under ‘B’ for Baseball – in The Twilight Zone.”
The Twilight Zone Trivia:
- The title of this episode is in reference to the 1888 Ernst Thayer baseball poem “Casey at the Bat.”
- Episodes employing comedic elements (like “The Mighty Casey”) were often dismissed as campy by reviewers, much to Rod Serling’s dismay.
- “The Mighty Casey” suffered from the fact that the episode had to be filmed twice due to the original actor’s death (as detailed above).
- The baseball scenes were filmed at the Los Angeles version of Wrigley Field, an often-used venue for Hollywood films featuring baseball action scenes.
- According to Anne Serling in her introduction to Stories From The Twilight Zone, Rod Serling was a great fan of baseball. He often used phrases like “Hello, sports fan!”
Click here to return to my survey of The Twilight Zone series.
Click here to read my reflections on Rod Serling’s short story “The Mighty Casey.”