Monday, January 26, 2009

The Mayor Hangs 'Em Up...

Sean Casey, the Mayor of the Majors, called it quits after 12 pretty good years in the show. The affable Casey said he'd only entertain offers that would give him a shot at starting; otherwise the cost to his clan would be too great. None came, so it's off to the MLB Network. His kids gain a semi-normal dad; baseball loses an elite ambassador.

The ol' first sacker joins an on-air crew of baseball analysts that includes old teammate Barry Larkin. He'll be a regular on the one-hour "Hot Stove" show that will fold into the eight-hour "MLB Tonight" once the season starts.

Casey was born on July 2, 1974 in Willingboro Township, New Jersey, and soon relocated to Upper St. Clair with his parents, Jim and Joan. His dad was a salesman, and Sean no doubt learned his gift of gab from him.

He was kind of a butterball as a kid, but a lovable one. One story has him running for class president in junior high, and he brought a bag of tootsie rolls to school to hand out as campaign fodder. Sean ate them all before he got to class.

Hey, just a minor drawback; every political race has its bumps. When the candidates were gathered together in the auditorium, he tore off his shirt. His tee underneath said "Casey-Mania." He won.

He and his pop were big Buc fans, catching games at TRS back in the Barry Bonds - Bobby Bo era. And as unspectacular as his bod was, even then, that's how spectacular he was as a high school batter.

Casey was taught how to hit by local coaching guru Frank Porco, who has a batting camp in the area. He showed Casey how to turn on offspeed pitches and how to go with the pitch when he saw the ball on the outside half of the dish, lessons he never forgot.

He raked the ball for the Panthers, but still had that body image problem. Casey sprouted to 6'-4" in HS, but still had the look of an overfed Ichabod Crane. The college scouts didn't give him a second look, so he went out and sold himself.

Richmond bit on his spiel, and they're glad they did. He was invited to school as a walk-on, hit the weights, and drilled liners to the tune of a .386 average as a frosh and .371 as a second-year guy. Casey played some in the prestigious Cape Cod wooden bat league as a sophomore, and hit .338 while leading the circuit in RBI.

As a junior for the Spiders, he led all Division-I hitters with a .461 average and put together a 31-game batting streak. He added 14 homers, 26 doubles and 70 RBIs in 55 games. Casey once homered in four straight at bats against Old Dominion. He was chosen as a second-team All-American behind Todd Helton of Tennessee.

Casey was drafted in 1995 in the 2nd round by the Cleveland Indians and was traded to the Cincinnati Reds for Dave Burba before the 1998 season after having fallen behind Jim Thome on the Indian roster.

He wasn't blocked at Cincy, which was in the throes of a Marge Schott youth movement. Casey was penciled in to start, but after two games, he got clocked in the cheek by a warm-up ball gone astray. He missed a month, and then spent another month in the minors, regaining his eye.

But Casey finished with a .272 average and seven homers in 302 at-bats, and showed so much promise that his competition, Paul Konerko, was traded away. He would spend eight years with the Reds, hitting over .300 and driving in over 80 runs for five of them. Casey made the NL All-Star Team three times in that span.

But the Reds couldn't win, and Casey was caught on the wrong side of the next rebuilding effort. He was shipped to his hometown Buccos in 2006 for Dave Williams, putting together a line of .296/3/21 in 236 at bats and winning the hearts of the Pittsburgh faithful, even though he missed huge hunks of time with a fractured vertebra from an early season collision at first, followed later by a pulled rib muscle.

Even a hometown hero can't make the club in the tub, even though there was talk of extending his contract before the second injury. He was dealt to Detroit at the deadline for the immanently forgettable Brian Rogers. And what a pick-up Casey proved to be.

He hit five homers and knocked in 30 runs down the stretch as Detroit held off the Twins for the wild card spot. But he really shined in the post season.

The Motown nine upset the Evil Empire as Casey hit .353 against the Yankees. He missed most of the ALCS sweep of the Oakland A’s, slightly tearing his left calf in Game 1. But he made it back for the Series, even if as a DH.

Casey led all hitters in the series with nine hits, five RBIs and a .529 average, but his teammates folded against the St. Louis Cards, losing in six games. His .432/2/9 in 10 games was one of the top shelf performances in the Tigers' storied postseason history.

The Tigers signed him up for one more year, and he hit .296 for them. Then Casey mosied off to the Red Sox, where he was invaluable off the bench and when injuries hit them. His .322 average helped carry them into the playoffs. That was his last hurrah.

The 34-year old Casey's lifetime stats in 12 MLB seasons were .302 BA/130 HR/735 RBI. And his fielding range was way above the league average, by a guy that might need a head start to beat Sid Bream in a footrace. In his dozen years, he never played another position on the field (except DH).

He banged out the first hit in both the history of PNC Park and Miller Park. Casey got both knocks with the same bat, and then shipped it off to Cooperstown for display the Hall of Fame.

Why the Mayor? Because if elections are indeed just popularity contests, Sean Casey wins hands down as the MLB's nicest guy. In a 2007 SI poll 2007, Casey was voted in "the friendliest player in baseball" by his fellow players. He garnered 46% of the vote with runner-up Jim Thome getting 7%.

His chatfests at first with opposing runners were legendary. Henry Rodriguez of the Cubs got so involved in one conversation that he was picked off in mid sentence. On another occasion, Sean ignored Reds manager Jack McKeon’s calls to play back, holding the Card's Mark McGwire close to first base just so he had someone to talk to.

Every community he played in loved him, too, both for his civic contributions and his friendly persona. Anyone could approach Casey and leave feeling like his best bud. In fact, he was first called the "Mayor" by his Cape Cod manager Mike Kirby while he was still in college, so his sunny disposition goes way back to his roots.

Casey is active in many charitable functions, such as Big Brothers and Make-A-Wish Foundation, as well as the "Casey's Crew" program, where he provided free high-priced tickets to disadvantaged youth. Casey is a co-founder of "Labels Are For Jars", an anti-hunger organization. He gave $10,000 to help build a field for disabled kids in Auburn, outside Detroit - and that was last year, after he left the team.

He's a religious guy, too, heavily involved with the Catholic Athletes for Christ and setting up prayer services for his teams.

Casey and his wife Mandi have three children, ages 7, 5 and 3. They live in Pittsburgh again, after moving back to the Steel City from Florida. Hey, who knows - maybe one day he will end up mayor. The City could sure do worse.

(For a full-tilt life story, visit Jock Bio and settle in for a good read of Sean Casey's career.)


WilliamJPellas said...

Casey had the chance to be a better ballplayer than he ended up being. I can honestly say I've never seen another guy who was so injury prone---well, maybe Nomar Garciaparra. But he's the only one who comes close. Casey was and is a great guy---no doubt about that---but whether it was a lack of conditioning (as I suspect) or what, the guy just didn't stay on the field at all after the first 3 or 4 years of his career. I don't think he would have been in Cooperstown or anything, but he surely ended up a lesser ballplayer than he should have been.

Ron Ieraci said...

No question, Will - Casey was one of the most often injured guys I can recall, and I'm sure it impacted his career, certainly post-Cincy. Having the speed of a snail and just average at best power didn't help, either. But he was a solid pro and a salesman of the game, and there's a lot to be said for that.