Quite honestly, a team Hall of Fame never seemed like a big deal to me — a nice honor, sure, but nothing like Cooperstown. It’s something, I always thought, to which those being inducted paid lip service: They’d make the speech, eat their free dinner, shake some hands and go about their own lives.
That was until I threw out the softball icebreaker to Sean Casey on Saturday before his induction into the Reds Hall of Fame. The question was one I know he’d been asked several times before, but I threw it out to get the ball rolling and expected a nice, rehearsed response. What I got was a suddenly silent, reflective and nearly tearful 15-20 seconds.
“I’m sorry,” Casey said, trying to find the words and then collect himself. “I didn’t expect that.”
There are a lot of things you can say about Casey — he’s gregarious and sometimes over the top, and even if you don’t like his puppy on crank delivery on MLB Network or FoxSports Ohio, it’s anything but an act. Casey is genuinely one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, and his joy is just who he is.
I wasn’t on the Reds beat when Casey was a Red; I was a backup guy, only there occasionally — one of those people you know but probably can’t remember their name. When Casey was still a Red, he remembered my name, but since then it’s been left behind. Instead, he always shows a hint of recognition and calls me “brother,” like he does so many others. It’s his way of showing you that he knows and cares about you, which I’ve never doubted, even if he can’t remember exactly who I am.
So, this vaguely familiar person asks him the same question he’s been asked over and over during the past week, and Casey took a moment — if silence is golden, a moment of silence with Casey is platinum — and considered the answer.
“It kind of means everything to me, there’s so much history with the Cincinnati Reds and I feel like I grew up in this town,” Casey said. “There’s so many great players. It means everything to me. I had a lot of big moments in my career and this is one of the biggest.”
And at that moment, Johnny Bench came over for a word and interrupted us for a minute. Casey gave Bench a big hug and the two talked, before Casey and I resumed our discussion. The following is the rest of our conversation.
CityBeat: I guess that’s what we were talking about, you talk about the history of this team and there’s Johnny Bench...
Sean Casey: Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Frank Robinson — all those guys that are part of the Big Red Machine, it’s amazing. To tell you the truth, I don’t take it lightly. I understand what it means, that’s why I’m so touched by it. It’s nice to be recognized for being a good player or whatever, but it’s more to be honored at this level by the Cincinnati Reds, one of the best organizations in baseball, the oldest organization in baseball, all the history that’s here. To be one of 81 guys in that Hall of Fame is pretty cool.
CB: You came in late in spring training in ’98; how were you welcomed to the team?
SC: I knew Aaron Boone, just from playing against him in the Arizona Fall League and the minor leagues. Barry Larkin was one of the first guys to say, “Hey, we’re glad you’re here.” I later found out he and (Dave) Burba were good buddies, so he was probably lying to me. But he was so nice. We were so young, Pokey Reese, Dmitri Young, Eduardo Perez. I’ll never forget this. I got hit in the eye in the third game or whatever and was sent to the hospital. I came in, really, to take Eduardo Perez’s job. And I didn’t know anybody and I was in the hospital not feeling too good and the first person to come see me was Eduardo Perez. ... All baseball things aside, I really needed someone. I didn’t know anybody here and I was in the hospital by myself, a 23-year-old kid with a career-threatening injury and for him to show up for me was pretty neat.
CB: What do you see as your legacy here?
SC: I think the nickname, “The Mayor” fits me and my personality well. Hopefully the fans knew I truly put on the uniform for them every day and I was out there for them. I guess when I look back, it’s not the numbers or those kind of things. I hope when you talk to my teammates, they’ll say I was a good teammate. I hope they said I played hard every day.
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