Sean Casey debuts on BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot
A player probably known as much for his friendly demeanor as his impressive diamond skills, Sean Casey spent a dozen big league seasons showcasing both to fans of the National Pastime.
Whether it was while playing with the Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates, Detroit Tigers or Boston Red Sox, the popular first baseman proved to be a run-producing left-handed bat in the middle lineup as well as a consistent fielder. And with the spotlight its brightest, he produced one of the best World Series batting performance the game has ever seen.
Casey, who would end his big league career with more than 1,500 hits and a .302 batting average, debuts this fall as one of 36 players on the 2014 Baseball Writers’ Association of America Hall of Fame ballot.
BBWAA members who have at least 10 years of tenure with the organization can vote in the election, and the results will be announced Jan. 8. Any candidate who receives at least 75 percent of all BBWAA votes cast will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2014. The Induction Ceremony will be held July 27 in Cooperstown.
Sean Thomas Casey was born July 2, 1974 in Willingboro, N.J. Raised in the Pittsburgh suburb of Upper St. Clair, a successful high school baseball career didn’t immediately translate to the next level.
“I wasn’t the five-tool guy, the guy you looked at and said, ‘This guy is going to be the next big guy,’” Casey said. “I had no scholarship offers coming out of high school. I always felt I could hit and was going to make myself a great defensive player. I always believed I was going to play in the big leagues. I don’t think a lot of other people did.”
Casey eventually found his way to the University of Richmond, from where he was selected by the Cleveland Indians in the second round of the 1995 amateur draft. It wasn’t long before Casey earned a reputation as one of the top prospects in the minor leagues.
After finishing second in the NY-Penn League with a .329 batting average in professional debut in 1995, the sweet-swinging Casey led the Carolina League in hitting (.331) and slugging (.554) the next year. The 22-year-old made his big league debut late in 1997 after hitting a combined .380 with 84 RBI in 82 Double-A and Triple-A games.
With the Indians well-stocked at first base with Jim Thome and Richie Sexson, Casey was traded to the Reds for veteran starting pitcher Dave Burba the day before the 1998 regular season began.
A first-base fixture in the Queen City over the next eight seasons, Casey would be named to three All-Star teams and compile a .305 batting average while with the Reds. In 1999, his first full big league season, he led the National League in multi-hit games (66), ranked fourth in batting (.332) and hits (197), and sixth in doubles (42).
“During the course of a year, you sometimes see guys give away at-bats or take bad swings,” said Reds catcher Eddie Taubensee. “With Casey, if he goes 4-for-4 but gets out his next at bat, he’s not happy. He wants to go 5-for-5. I think that’s what makes him such a great hitter.”
A left-handed contact hitter who was equally adept at hitting lefties and righties, Casey’s approach to batting included and open stance and crouching at the plate.
“Usually,” he said, “I put the ball in play and I’m giving myself a chance.”
It was also during this time that Casey’s outgoing and positive personality became well-known throughout the baseball world.
“He’s just really good at life,” said Reds teammate Aaron Boone. “He has this way of making everyone around him feel important.”
The 1999 winner of the Hutch Award, for honor, courage and dedication to baseball, Casey was voted “the friendliest player in baseball” by fellow players in a 2007 Sports Illustrated poll.
“It means a lot to me if I’m looked at as a good guy in the game and a pretty good player,” Casey said. “It’s a nice combination.”
Because he got to know so many people while playing in the Cape Cod League in 1994 Case was dubbed “The Mayor.” The nickname stuck because he was not only approachable but would chat up runners at first base.
“I learned young that I shouldn’t be afraid to approach people or talk to people,” Casey said. “There’s nothing like being recognized. Maybe that’s why I talk to so many people.”
Traded by the Reds to his hometown Pirates – where he got the first hit in Pittsburgh’s new PNC Park – for pitcher Dave Williams in December 2005, less than eight months later Casey was shipped to the Tigers for minor league pitcher Brian Rogers.
It was during his tenure in the Motor City that Casey starred in World Series, hitting .529 (9-for-17) with a pair of home runs and five RBI in Detroit’s five-game Fall Classic loss to St. Louis in 2006. During 2006 postseason, he batted .432 (16-for-37) with five doubles, two homers and nine RBI in 10 games.
Casey’s big league playing career came to end after spending a single season with the Red Sox in 2008. During 12 major league seasons, he produced a .290 or better average eight times with six .300 seasons, including three straight with Cincinnati from 1999-2001. Defensively, he ranks 13th all-time with a .9954 fielding percentage as a first baseman (min. 500 games).
“Casey meant so much to the team,” said Reds outfielder Austin Kearns. “He was a leader in the clubhouse and out on the field.”
Bill Francis is a Library Associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum