US humorous poet. After graduating with honours in 1885, he went to Paris, where his friend, William Randolph Hearst, invited him to contribute a humour column to the San Francisco Examiner; Thayer did so under the by-line ‘Phin’ (1886–88), writing a series of humorous ballads that included ‘Casey’ (appearing in 1888). It so caught on that he recited it over 10,000 times in the ensuing years. As ‘Casey at the Bat’ (its widely known title) increased in popularity, many tried to claim authorship (and many ballplayers claimed to have been the original Casey), but Thayer is recognized as the true author.
Thayer was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts. His father owned several woollen mills, one in Worcester, Massachusetts, where Ernest grew up. At Harvard he was regarded as a brilliant philosophy student of William James; he also contributed to the annual Hasty Pudding plays and was an editor of the Harvard Lampoon.
After staying in Paris from 1885, Thayer returned to Worcester in 1887 and unenthusiastically managed one of the family's mills; he retired after about 20 years, and ended up in Santa Barbara, California, in 1912, where he married a widow and spent the rest of his life.
His only other published poems were several more humorous ballads for Hearst's New York Journal (1896–97). For many years he found it a nuisance to be associated with the Casey ballad, but in his final years he came to accept that he had written a classic of its kind. It has inspired many musical works, movies, paintings, sculptures and – above all – endless parodies and variations.