Sean Casey  
 


Can nice guys finish first? That’s what Sean Casey’s fans wondered for 10 seasons before he won a pennant with the 2006 Tigers. There may not be a sweeter soul—trapped on a more frustrating team—in all of organized sports. A Hall of Fame chatterbox with a steel-trap mind, the Detroit star talked his way through the National League and is now doing his thing in the AL. Not only is Sean a wonderful human being, he also happens to own one of the loveliest swings in the game. This is his story…

GROWING UP

Sean Thomas Casey was born on July 2, 1974, to Jim and Joan Casey, in Willingboro, New Jersey. The family soon moved to Upper St. Clair, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Pittsburgh. Jim was a salesman for a chemical company. His calling card was his affability and interest in clients’ lives.

Sean grew up a Pirates fan. Like everyone else in Pittsburgh, he was swept up in the 1980 team’s dramatic championship. When the club enjoyed a resurgence later in the decade, he rooted for Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla and the rest of the Bucs. Sean and his dad would attend day games during the summer and try to sit as close to the field as possible, which usually wasn’t a problem in Three Rivers Stadium.

Next to baseball, pro wrestling was Sean’s passion. After attending a match at the age of 10, he proceeded to write a book about it for his fourth grade class at Stream Elementary. Sean loved to read and write, and excelled at English. His favorite author—long after he graduated to chapter books—was Dr. Suess. He still quotes from Green Eggs and Ham.

Sean was an intense athlete, but a genuinely friendly and happy kid, too. He never forgot a name or a face, and when he said, “How are you?,” he really wanted to know. His sunny disposition helped him keep the ups and downs of baseball in perspective and made him a favorite of even the most hard-bitten coaches, from Little League through high school.


 
 

Sean picked his role models wisely. He became a fan of Don Mattingly’s when he emerged as a batting champion for the New York Yankees in 1984, and two years later began emulating Will Clark of the San Francisco Giants. The batting stance he uses today was inspired by Clark, with a few modifications along the way.

The key influence for Sean during his formative years was Frank Porco, whom he met at the batting cages when he was 14. He became Sean’s swing doctor, preaching the importance of staying behind the ball and driving it up the middle or the other way. Pull the off-speed stuff if its in your wheelhouse, he taught Sean, but otherwise be satisfied with line drives. Porco found an able and willing student. The two would meet on Mondays, Porco would give Sean something small to work on, and he would spend the rest of the week perfecting it. The following Monday, Porco would add a new wrinkle.

Sean never really looked the part of a future big leaguer. For most of his childhood, he was ungainly and slightly overweight. Sean ran for class president in eighth grade and planned to hand out a bagful of Tootsie Rolls during his campaign. He ate them all on the way to school. During a speech at an assembly, he ripped open his shirt to reveal a tee-shirt that read “Casey-Mania.” Sean won the election.

The one blemish on Sean’s record was a shoplifting charge dating to when he was 15. Obsessed with baseball and super rookie Ken Griffey Jr., he pocketed some Griffey rookie cards from a local shop. When he was caught and turned over to his dad, the elder Casey handed his son a dictionary, and made him look up and read aloud the definitions of criminal, greed, selfish, thief and trust. Again and again and again.

Sean’s body began to change in high school, but not for the better. As he stretched out to 6-4, his hips spread out but his shoulders didn’t. When he ran, there was a lot of motion, but not much in the way of speed. Sean hit well for Upper St. Clair High School, however. He had terrific hand-eye coordination, great bat speed and a good feel for the strike zone. All that said, he still had the look of a player who wouldn’t go very far.

College recruiters completely ignored Sean, but hewas so sure he could play Division-I ball that he actually wrote letters to several coaches asking for a chance to prove himself. Ron Atkins, head man at the University of Richmond Spiders, was the only one to write back.

Impressed with the teenager ’s confidence, Atkins encouraged him to enroll at Richmond and try out as a walk-on. Sean made the team, and spent his freshman year spraying line drives to the tune of a .386 average. Atkins realized he might have a true gem on his hands, and asked Sean to build up his body. He hit the weight room at the same time his body began to mature, and underwent a rapid transformation.

As a sophomore, Sean boosted his homer output from two to 13 and hit .371 for the Spiders. He was invited to play for Brewster in the Cape Cod League, where he batted .338 and led the summer circuit in RBIs. Sean did all this against some of the top college pitchers in the country—while using a wood bat for the first time in his life. It was at this point he began to think he might have a future as a pro.

It was also at this point that Sean acquired his nickname, “The Mayor.” It was bestowed upon him by Brewster manager Mike Kirby. Sean was so good working the fans that Kirby thought he was stumping for votes.

ON THE RISE


Will Clark, 1987 Donruss

 

 
 

The 1995 season did nothing to quell Sean’s ambitions. On the contrary—more confident and incredibly patient, he led all Division-I hitters with a .461 average and compiled a 31-game batting streak. He finished the year with 14 homers, 26 doubles and 70 RBIs in 55 games. In a series against Old Dominion, he homered in four straight plate appearances. The Spiders finished the year 42-15, ranked 14th in the nation. Sean was honored as a second-team All-American behind Todd Helton of Tennessee.

The Cleveland Indians, fresh off their first World Series in almost half a century, had their eye on college talent in the draft. They used their first-round pick on Clemson first sacker David Miller and their second on Sean. The team had gotten by with stop-gap players at first and planned to move Jim Thome there. Sean and Miller provided insurance if he fizzled.

Sean was assigned to Watertown of the NY-Penn League, where his first manager was Joel Skinner. He hit .329 with two homers in 55 games—his worst season as a minor leaguer. Needless to say, there was little in the way of wisdom Skinner could impart. The skipper did find it refreshing when Sean would return to the dugout after failing to move a runner over—and apologze to everyone.

The Indians looked at Sean’s muscular 6-4 frame and determined he would one day become a monstrous power hitter. The organization began a program to get him to pull everything, but he resisted from the start and continued to work with Porco on the sly.

In 1996, Sean was promoted to Kinston of the Carolina League. In 92 games, he showed some of the pop the organization was hoping to see, batting .331with 31 doubles, 12 homers and 57 RBIs. Kinston made the playoffs, but after winning the opening game of its series with the Durham Bulls, Hurricane Fran ripped the club’s Grainger Stadium apart. The series moved to Durham, but Fran caught up with the teams and left the city without power for five days. The series shifted once more, to Winston-Salem, where Kinston split a doubleheader to advance. The soggy, road-weary Indians eventually lost the championship to Wilmington.

Sean was injured and missed the first two months of the 1997 season, but tore up the Eastern League upon his return with the Akron Aeros. He batted .386 in 62 games, earning a promotion to the Buffalo Bison of the American Association. Sean’s arrival in Buffalo found him DH-ing while uber prospect Richie Sexson remained at first base. When Sean outhit him by 100 points, Sexson began shagging flies in the outfield. Though the big righty topped the AA with 31 homers, Sean surpassed him on the organization’s talent charts and was closing in on top dog Russell Branyan. He ended his stint with the Bison with a .361 average and 12 extra-base hits in 20 games.

Sean hit a combined .380 for Akron and Buffalo in 1997, with 84 RBIs in 82 games. His average with men in scoring position was .480, and he hit .571 with the bases juiced. He stayed in Buffalo for the American Association playoffs, where he batted .344. Against Iowa in the championship game, Sean drilled a home run in the bottom of the 10th to win it.

Sean received a call-up from Cleveland after his dramatic clout and cracked a single in his first major-league at-bat. His batting average in six games was .200. While he was in Cleveland, Sean talked hitting with Dave Justice. The veteran applauded the youngster’s resistance to the Tribe’s attempts to alter his swing. He told Sean to keep making solid contact, and the homers would eventually come.

After the season, Sean was sent with Branyan to play for the Mesa Saguaros in the Arizona Fall League. Sean batted .396 and tied for the league lead with 61 hits. He was compared to Cubs All-Star Mark Grace. Branyan, a third baseman, belted seven homers, but revealed weaknesses in his swing that helped boost Sean to #1 status among Tribe hitting prospects. At this point he had nothing left to prove below the major-league level.


Todd Helton, 1999 Topps
 
 

By 1998, the Indians had decided that Thome—who split time at third and DH for several seasons—would be their first baseman of the present and future. The club also had lefty sluggers Brian Giles and Dave Justice, which made Sean expendable for the right price.

As spring training drew to a close, Cleveland’s starting pitching was its primary concern. The Indians had little competition in the AL Central, but its rotation was shaky past Charles Nagy and Bartolo Colon. Feeling they needed a veteran arm, the club called the Cincinnati Reds, who had Dave Burba, a gaping hole at first base, and an interest in cutting costs at the behest of suspended owner Marge Schott. Oft-injured Hal Morris had split the position with Eduardo Perez in '97, but neither man offered much of a long-term solution. The Reds jumped at the chance to acquire Sean and lop $3 million off the payroll, trading their Opening Day starter without a second thought—a day before the opener.

When the deal went down, GM Jim Bowden looked like the kid who robbed the candy store. He predicted to reporters that, five years down the road, this trade would rank with the one that brought Joe Morgan to the franchise in 1972. He also compared it to the Larry Andersen for Jeff Bagwell swap that transformed the Astros in the early 1990s.

In Sean’s first two games as a Red, he was overmatched against Kevin Brown and Trevor Hoffman, but touched Brian Boehringer for a two-run single. Before Sean played his third game in a Cincinnati uniform, he was struck in the right on an errant throw by Damian Jackson during double play drills. Sean fractured his cheekbone, and needed 20 stitches to close the wound and a plate with five screws to repair the structural damage. There was genuine concern that his remarkable vision would never be the same again.

No timetable was set for Sean’s return, but he was back on the field a month later with no apparent ill effects. After just three rehab games at Class-AAA Indianapolis, he proclaimed himself ready and was in the starting lineup for the Reds a couple of days later. After 16 games, however, he had only five hits, and got a ticket back to the minors.

Sean regained his stroke over the next month with the Triple A Indians and was recalled. He settled in at first base and, by mid-summer, the rookie’s idiosyncratic pre-at-bat ritual became part of a day at the ballpark for Reds fans. He would stretch, flex, rap himself on the helmet, adjust his gloves and then step into the box. Once dug in, Sean was all business. An aggressive swinger, he hit the ball where it was pitched, driving deliveries over the outer half to left field and getting his bat head around on inside stuff, which he could drill down the line.

Sean rediscovered his stroke in the second half, when he topped .300 with flashes of power. His ability to adjust to pitchers from pitch to pitch had the Cincy coaches really excited. Sean finished with a .272 average and seven homers in 302 at-bats.


Jim Thome, 1994 Stadium
 
 

Much of Sean’s first year was spent in quasi-competition with Paul Konerko, who was acquired in a July 4th trade with the Dodgers for closer Jeff Shaw. The Reds were out of the hunt by mid-season, so when Los Angeles offered up their top young hitting prospect, Cincy pulled the trigger. Konerko, the reigning Minor League Player of the Year, tried his hand at third and the outfield, but by season’s end it was clear that his future would be at first base. Bowden had to make a tough decision.

After the season, the Reds chose to keep Sean and trade Konerko. The Chicago White Sox offered centerfielder Mike Cameron and the deal was done. Cameron was the latest piece in the Reds’ rebuilding scheme, which saw the arrival of Danny Graves, Dmitri Young, Aaron Boone, Pokey Reese, Jason LaRue and Scott Williamson between 1997 and 1999.

MAKING HIS MARK

Sean established himself as one of baseball’s finest young first sackers in 1999, staying among the league leaders in hitting from April through September. Manager Jack McKeon promoted him to the middle of the order—batting third between Barry Larkin and cleanup man Greg Vaughn. Jim Leyland added Sean to the NL squad for the All-Star Game, at which point his average was in the .370s. His best game came against the Rockies, when he went 4-for-4 with a pair of homers, five runs and six RBIs.

Sean cooled off in July and August, but heated up down the stretch, when the Reds and Mets tied for the Wild Card spot. The New Yorkers prevailed in a one-game playoff, denying Sean his first taste of the post-season.

Still, it was quite a year. Sean just missed a 200-hit, 100-RBI season. At .332 with 25 homers, 42 doubles, 103 runs and a .539 slugging average, however, he put up monster numbers.


Paul Konerko, 1998 Fleer Tradition
 
 

In the span of two seasons, Sean had become the Reds’ most popular player. His easy manner and friendly spirit made him a hit with fans and the press. Yet, once he stepped between the foul lines, he was as tenacious and unforgiving a competitor as anyone in the league.

The big news for Cincy in 2000 was the acquisition of Ken Griffey, Jr. for Cameron and pitcher Brett Tomko. Griffey, who had led the AL in homers four times in five seasons, gave the Reds the power threat they needed, amassing 40 round-trippers during the year. Sean led a potent offense with a .315 average, and cracked 20 homers, the second-best mark on the club. He produced despite missing three weeks at the beginning of the year with a broken thumb.

As he had in 1998, Sean came back a little too quickly and found himself mired in a long slump. At one point, he flew home to Pittsburgh during a homestand to talk to Frank Porco. They stayed up until 2 am watching tapes and tinkering with his swing. He bought his old coach a satellite system as a thank you. Sure enough, Sean found his stroke in the second half, batting .372—the top average among National Leaguers. Cincy, meanwhile, played winning ball all year, but failed to build a consistent starting staff. The St. Louis Cardinals, with five solid starters, distanced themselves from the Reds and won the division by 10 games. McKeon was shown the door after the season, replaced by Bob Boone.

Sean got off to a quick start in 2001. He registered the first hit in the history of PNC Park in Pittsburgh and the first hit ever in Milwaukee’s Miller Park. He got both knocks with the same bat, and then shipped it off to Cooperstown for display the Hall of Fame.

Batting cleanup for the first time, Sean responded with a .310 average and topped the Reds in hits. It was a typical year for him, but it did little to prevent a dramatic reversal of fortune for Cincinnati, which lost 96 games. Larkin, Griffey and Boone suffered devastating injuries, reducing the Reds offense to pop-gun status.

After signing a lucrative, three-year extension, Sean suffered through his worst season in 2002, and the Reds didn’t fare much better. Super prospects Adam Dunn and Austin Kearns now flanked Griffey in the outfield, but the latter two were hurt and Dunn’s performance sagged without their protection. Sean’s average and power, meanwhile, evaporated as a mysterious discomfort settled into his left shoulder. Four MRIs revealed nothing, but the pain persisted. Sean took a cortisone shot, the pain went away, and he blistered the ball for a week. But when the ache returned, the hits stopped coming.

It hurt most when Sean went the other way, and as soon as enemy pitchers discovered this they just kept working him on the outside portion of the plate. Forced to pull everything, he slumped to .261 with six homers and just 42 RBIs. He played through the pain until the Reds were out of Wild Card contention and then opted for surgery in early September. Despite a spirit-sapping season, Sean never lost his love of the game, and even led the Reds in song after each victory. Kool & The Gang’s “Celebrate” was the title of choice, and the players would crack up watching their rhythm-free first baseman attempt to dance to the disco classic.


Sean Casey, 1999 Baseball America
 
 

The 2003 campaign looked like another tough year for the Reds. The team had done little to solve its pitching woes over the winter. It was so desperate for starters, in fact, that Graves was shifted from the bullpen to the rotation. Scott Williamson took over closing duties, but was traded to the Boston Red Sox after the All-Star break. By then the Reds were out of the running, and Boone was on his way to being fired. Cincy finished a game ahead of the lowly Milwaukee Brewers with 69 wins.

The pitching staff failed to produce a double-digit winner in '03, and injuries kept stars Larkin, Kearns, Griffey and Dunn out of the lineup for long stretches. With little support and a not-quite-healed shoulder, Sean produced an unremarkable season, with only 36 extra-base hits, 80 RBIs and a .291 average. For a guy who likes to know everything about everyone, Sean had his work cut out for him in the Cincinnati dugout, as 60 players saw action in a Cincy uniform. Sean and Jason LaRue were the only players on the active roster for all 162 games.

In 2004, rhe Reds began their first full season under manager Dave Miley, who had taken over for Boone the previous summer. Miley needed the Reds to hit, because once again, the pitching staff was of deep concern. Graves was back in the bullpen, and the starting staff was led by Paul Wilson, whose career record was well under .500.

Sean smoked the ball all spring and was neck and neck with Barry Bonds in the batting race when June began. Batting in front of a healthy Junior Griffey, Sean was hitting for average and power, and killing teams in the clutch. Though Kearns was lost to injury, Dunn rebounded with solid power numbers. As the All-Star break neared, the Reds were in the thick of the chase, in the NL’s most competitive division.

The Reds stayed in contention well into the summer, but a season-ending injury to Griffey and a lack of starting pitching caught up with them and they gradually faded under .500. It didn’t really matter, however, because no one was going to catch the Cardinals in NL Central. St. Louis finished with baseball’s best record and ran away with the division.

Sean was slowed for a bit after straining a calf muscle at the end of June. The injury led to a brief stint on the disabled list. When Sean returned, he still didn't look right. He slumped badly in July, collecting just 15 hits in 64 at-bats. But he rebounded over the campaign's final months, ending with a .324 average. His power numbers improved, as he smashed 24 home runs and tied a career-high by driving in 99 runs.

Sean was also one of the Reds who made sure the team didn’t roll over once they were out of the race. In late September, Cincy took three out of four from the Cubs at Wrigley to all but eliminate them from playoff contention.

Disappointing news greeted Reds fans ion October, when the club announced it would not bring back Larkin for the 2005 season. But the offensive future remains bright, with young sluggers Dunn, Kearns and Willy Mo Pena still around. Scrappy utility man Ryan Freel had a solid season as well, giving Cincinnati a great spark at the top of the lineup.

The '05 campaign found Sean on a losing team for the fifth straight year. He sucked it up and hit well through July, but a sore shoulder held down his numbers in August. In September, a Grade 2 concussion suffered in a collision with Pittsburgh’s Humberto Cota ended his season. His final stats only hinted at the season he could have had—.312 with nine homers and 58 RBIs. Not bad, considering the final seven weeks were a washout.

That December, after a deal with the Boston Red Sox fell through, the Reds dealt Sean to his old stomping grounds, Pittsburgh, for lefty Dave Williams. The idea was for Sean to provide leadership to the young Bucs, but his homecoming was not a happy one.

In a mid-April game Sean was clobbered while stretching for a throw at first. Diagnosed with two fractured vertebrae in his back, he was on the shelf for the next six weeks. In his first game back, he went 3-for-4 against the Brewers. A strained rib cage muscle hampered his swing for most of the summer, which was a lost one for the Pirates.


Sean Casey, 2003 Standing O
 
 

By the end of July, Sean was on the trading block. The Tigers offered minor leaguer Brian Rogers, agreed to eat the rest of Sean’s salary and the deal was done.

Sean joined baseball’s most overachieving team. The Tigers had built a huge lead in the AL Central early in the season on the strength of its terrific pitching staff and the play of untested players like Chris Shelton and Curtis Granderson. Sean was acquired to replaced the slumping Shelton, joining Placido Polanco, Magglio Ordonez, and Ivan Rodriguez to give Detroit the veteran presence (and left-handed hitter) it needed as the postseason approached.

Though Sean hit just .245 in 53 games with the Tigers, he offered the team the tough left-handed out it needed. He hit five homers and knocked in 30 runs as Detroit battled the surging Minnesota Twins down to the wire and hung onto a Wild Card spot. His final numbers with the Pirates and Tigers were eight homers, 59 RBIs, and a .272 average in 112 games.

Sean stung the ball at a .353 clip against the Yankees in a four-game upset of the New Yorkers in the Division Series. He was a non-contributor in Detroit’s ALCS sweep of the Oakland A’s, injuring his left calf in Game 1. Team doctors diagnosed it as a slight tear, but he was back on the field in time for the World Series, playing DH while Carlos Guillen handled first base duties.

After taking an oh-fer in Detroit’s Game 1 loss, Sean contributed an RBI single to a 3-1 victory that evened the series. The rest of the Fall Classic was a disaster for Detroit, but Sean—who was familiar with the St. Louis pitchers—hit as well in the final three games as he ever had in his life. He collected two of his team’s three hits in Game 3, and went 6-for-8 with a homer and four ribbies in the next two contests. He led all hitters in the series with nine knockss, five RBIs and a .529 average, but the Tigers batted just. 199 against the Cardinals and fielded atrociously.

Immediately after the World Series, speculation began over Sean’s future. A free agent, he decided to re-sign with Detroit for 2007, where he will likely protect new addition Gary Sheffield in the lineup. Whether or not Sean overcomes his injuries and attains the superstar status many predicted for him, he has proven to baseball that he is a big-time gamer. He is also, hands-down, the nicest man in baseball.

SEAN THE PLAYER


Sean Casey, Souvenir Poster
 
 

You don’t become a perennial .300 hitter giving away at-bats, and even when nursing one of his frequent injuries, Sean is a tough out. He stands close to the plate, but prefers to redirect inside pitches rather than pull them. Enemy hurlers generally choose to go inside, figuring a dink single is better that the doubles and homers he hits when he is able to extend his arms.

Sean’s stance and swing are reminiscent of Will Clark’s. He crouches slightly, with his lead heel elevated for timing, and uncoils into the ball from a slightly open stance. He is picky about what he swings at, but because he makes contact so frequently, he rarely sees more than four pitches in an at-bat. Sean produces relatively few fouls, and walks infrequently.

As a baserunner, Sean is unremarkable. He almost never beats out a hit, rarely attempts to steal, and takes extra bases only in the most advantageous situations. Sean will never win a Gold Glove, either, but at least he won’t embarrass himself around the bag.

Sean is a favorite of enemy baserunners, who can expect an amiable chat once they reach first. He holds running conversations with hundreds of players throughout the season. Once, Henry Rodriguez became so involved in their give and take that the Cincinnati pitcher picked him off. On another occasion, Sean ignored Jack McKeon’s cries to play back, holding on Mark McGwire just so he could talk to him.

Sean’s drive to improve has led him to pick the brains of baseball’s best players. He quizzed Dave Justice while with the Cleveland Indians, and says he has learned more from former teammate Barry Larkin than anyone else. In Detroit, the student has become the teacher, and manager Jim Leyland hopes his young stars go to school on the knowledge of "The Mayor."


Sean Casey, 2004 Upper Deck Vintage
 
 

Sean Casey

 
   
 

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