January 17, 2013
Casey at Bat in the Twilight Zone
The original run of Twilight Zone is filled with classic episodes dealing with substantial or clever topics. The truth of beauty. The loneliness of time. William Shatner's sanity. "The Mighty Casey", Rod Serling's only foray into the world of baseball, is not one of those episodes. In fact, some even call it one of the worst episodes in the show's history.
The story deals with Mouth McGarry, the manager of the Hoboken Zephyrs, the worst team in the major leagues ("If we win one game, we have to call it a streak!"). One day, a strapping, young pitcher with a record-setting fastball, a cartoonish curve, and a Bugs Bunny slowball named Casey joins his team. The catch? Casey is a robot. He's an odd man, never smiling, but on the mound he's the greatest there ever was. Suddenly, the Zephyrs are the best team in the league. That is, until the day Casey gets beaned and sent to the hospital.
WARNING: Fifty-three year old spoilers ahead! At the hospital, the doctor finally discovers Casey's true nature. The commissioner is called and, after a careful reading of the rules ("'A team shall consist of nine men.' … 'Men', understand? Not robots."), Casey is only allowed back on the team if he's given a heart. The twist? Giving Casey a heart makes him sensitive and unwilling to strike anybody out. He can no longer pitch at a stellar level ("...one minute he could look like three Bob Fellers and the next like a tanker with nothing."). Instead, he leaves to be a social worker—but not before leaving the blueprints with McGarry.
"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 is 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 are interested as to where these gentlemen come from you might check under "B" for baseball, in the Twilight Zone."
The episode tries to be funny (especially with Casey's odd nature and overpowering pitching ability), but it doesn't succeed very well. The slapstick is uninspired and Jack Warden as McGarry isn't a commanding lead actor. That, however, can be partially explained. The episode was originally shot with Paul Douglas, known for his role as the manager from the original Angels in the Outfield, as McGarry, but he died only a few days after filming. The poor and staggered performance he had given during those last few days was, as described by Serling, because "we were watching him literally die in front of us." They re-shot the episode (at Serling's personal expense) with Warden in Douglas's place.
There's a chance that a healthy Douglas, channeling the ease and charm of his Angels character, could have put "The Mighty Casey" into the annals of classic Twilight Zone, but it's unlikely. A weak script and poor comedic directing hindered the episode from the start. Still, it is a Twilight Zone episode about baseball that implies that the newly relocated Los Angeles Dodgers built their World Series-winning team through a robotic pitching staff. That has to be worth something!