Sean Casey (MLB NETWORK)

Sean Casey

This article was written by Sam Borgemenke

Sean Casey (MLB NETWORK)Nicknamed “The Mayor” because of his enthusiasm for meeting and helping others, Sean Casey proved to be one of baseball’s best ambassadors through his determination to benefit his teammates and community at large. Leading through his competitive spirit, the lefty-hitting first baseman batted .302 over 12 major-league seasons (1997-2008). After his playing career, he became a popular analyst for the MLB Network.

Casey played for the Indians, Pirates, Tigers, and Red Sox, but he established himself as one of the Reds’ best-loved performers. During his eight years with Cincinnati, he was selected to three All-Star teams and twice received the team’s Joe Nuxhall Good Guy Award. In 2012 he was inducted into the club’s Hall of Fame. 1 “In all honesty, he’s the finest person I’ve ever known,” remarked longtime Reds broadcaster Marty Brennaman.2

Sean Thomas Casey was born on July 2, 1974, in Willingboro, New Jersey. Casey was the second of two kids, following his sister, Beth. In 1980, his parents, Joan and Jim, moved the family to Upper St. Clair, Pennsylvania, because Jim worked for Mobay Chemical Corporation.3 By early in Sean’s MLB career, Jim was running Casey Chemical out of his home.

Casey three right-handed but batted lefty. While growing up he practiced his hitting at the Bethel Park Grand Slam batting cages under the tutelage of hitting guru Frank Porco.4 At home Casey practiced his swing in the garage by hitting a tethered ball into a net. Casey played first base at Upper St. Clair High School.

After his freshman year, Casey traveled to Pittsfield, Massachusetts, with his buddy Grant Jackson Jr. to spend an eye-opening fortnight with former big-league pitcher Grant Jackson Sr., a coach with the Cubs Class AA club. The elder Jackson made such an impression that Casey later stated, “Grant Jackson Sr. was like a second father to me.”5

In 1992 Casey led Upper St. Clair High School to the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League championship.6

However, Casey’s determination was tested when the only college that offered him a scholarship was John Carroll University, a Division III school near Cleveland. He politely declined and wrote to nearly 30 institutions, such as Penn State, Notre Dame, and Clemson. Only the University of Richmond responded. Casey “leaped at the offer” of a $1,000 annual scholarship to the $22,000-per-year school.7

Over the course of his three-year, 158-game collegiate career at first base with the Spiders, Casey hit a remarkable .405 with 158 RBIs. In 1993 he produced a stellar .386 batting average and .447 on-base percentage and was named a freshman All-American and second-team All-Colonial Athletic Association (CAA). Casey was named first-team All-CAA the following season after he hit .371.8

During summer 1994 Casey played for the Brewster (Massachusetts) Whitecaps in the Cape Cod Baseball League and batted .338 to earn all-star recognition. It became common to see Casey shake hands and talk with many people in the stands at Whitecaps games. Because of this Brewster manager Mike Kirby told him, “Casey, play baseball. You’re not the mayor.”9 That line and Casey’s infectious positivity led to him gaining the nickname “The Mayor.”

The 1995 season was Casey’s best for Richmond. He became the first CAA player to win the Triple Crown, and his .461 batting average led all Division I players.10 His 31-game hitting streak was the second longest in school history and the second longest in the nation that season. The Spiders won a game in the NCAA Tournament for the first time, and Casey was named second-team All-America, as well as Player of the Year by the CAA and Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC).

In the 1995 June Amateur Draft, Casey was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the second round (53 rd overall). He left Richmond after his junior season as the Spiders’ record holder for single-season slugging percentage (.824) and career doubles (67).11

Casey began his professional baseball career with the Watertown Indians in 1995. In 55 games he drove in 37 runs and produced a .329/.380/.444 slash line to help the club to win the championship of the Low Class-A New York-Penn League.

In 1996 Casey advanced to the High Class-A Carolina League and improved to .331/.402/.544 in 92 games with the Kinston Indians. His season ended prematurely on July 23 because of an ankle injury, but he won the circuit’s batting title.12

Casey missed the first nine weeks of the 1997 season with a wrist injury.13 Upon joining the Akron (Ohio) Aeros, he proved he was healthy by hitting .386 against Double-A Eastern League pitching. Although he was only with the Aeros for 62 games, Casey met his future wife, Mandi Kanka, a University of Akron volleyballer who taught special education.14 They were introduced by Casey’s childhood friend Mike Junko, then the University of Akron’s quarterback.

Cleveland promoted Casey to the Triple-A American Association before summer 1997 was over, and he swatted .361 in 20 contests. He was named the Indians Minor League Player of the Year after hitting a combined .380 with 15 homers and 84 RBIs in 82 games between the two levels. In addition wherever he went, he solidified his reputation for talking to opposing players when they reached first base.

On September 12, 1997, Casey made his big-league debut for Cleveland, against the Chicago White Sox at Comiskey Park as a ninth-inning pinch-hitter, and he singled to right field. “I’d just hit the game-winning home run in the Triple-A World Series, which was awesome, then I got called up to the big leagues, which was unbelievable,” he described. “First major-league at-bat, I had no bat, no helmet, no batting gloves. So, I used Manny Ramírez’s bat, Tony Fernández’s helmet and Jeff Manto’s batting gloves, and I got a hit off Jeff Darwin on a 1-2 slider.”15 He appeared in six games overall, batting .200 (2-for-10) with a walk, hit by pitch, and an RBI. At the conclusion of the season, Casey was rated Cleveland’s top minor-league position player.

On the eve of the 1998 season opener, however, Casey was traded to the Cincinnati Reds for Dave Burba—a 31-year-old right-handed pitcher.16 This was a “stroke of luck for Casey, whose path to Cleveland was blocked by [future Hall of Famer] Jim Thome.”17 Reds manager Jack McKeon thought the 24-year-old Casey someday would be considered one of the top three or four hitters in the league.18 The next day (March 31), Casey struck out as a pinch-hitter on Opening Day against the San Diego Padres. His first hit with the Reds was a two-run, opposite-field single on April 1 as a seventh-inning pinch-hitter.

While turning a double play during batting practice on April 2, Casey was hit below his right eye on a throw from teammate Damian Jackson.19 He was placed on a stretcher and transported to the local hospital, where he received 20 stitches to close the resulting cuts. With his orbital bone shattered and blood in his eyeball, Casey’s future in professional baseball was uncertain. Throughout hospitalization he received “concerned phone calls from trainers at each of his four minor-league stops and from Indians front office personnel who just traded him.”20 The first visitor was Eduardo Pérez—a player Casey was battling for Cincinnati’s first base job.21

Casey began rehabilitation and took batting practice with former hitting coach Porco. Incredibly the vision in Casey’s once-injured eye improved to 20/10. After seeing this, Porco said, “A miracle took place … I talked to a doctor … You’ve got a better chance to win the lottery than to have your eyesight improve in that kind of surgery. One in a hundred million.”22

After he missed 28 games, Casey returned to the Reds lineup as the first baseman on May 5. By May 22 however, he had been relegated to pinch-hitting and was batting only .150. Casey was sent down to the Reds’ Triple-A Indianapolis Indians affiliate where he found his groove, hitting .326 in 27 games. On June 19 he returned to the majors to stay. Casey finished his rookie season as Cincinnati’s primary first baseman, hitting .272 in 96 games thanks to a strong second half.

On July 6, 1998, Casey proposed to Kanka at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort. Rev. Paul O’Brien, a young priest from Boston that Casey befriended during his time in the Cape Cod summer league, married the couple in November 1999.23

After a rocky start in 1999, Casey launched himself into the national spotlight. During the Reds’ 24–12 win at Coors Field on May 19, he went 4-for-4 with two homers and scored five runs. He went deep two more times in the first game of a doubleheader on June 5, then went 5-for-6 the next day. Through the first three months of the season, he hit a smoldering .382. His dazzling start earned him his first All-Star selection. Casey later stated that “a highlight of his career was the 1999 All-Star Game at Fenway Park when Ted Williams threw out the ceremonial first pitch.”24

On August 19, Casey’s home run off the Pirates’ Kris Benson in the bottom of the eighth won a game, 1–0. The Reds had been in last place on May 14, but they won 96 games and led their division in the final week of the season before finishing 1-1/2 games behind the Astros.

Casey’s career-high .332 batting average that season placed him fourth in the National League. He compiled a .399 on-base percentage, a .539 slugging percentage, and scored 103 runs. He finished 14 th in NL MVP voting, and received Major League Baseball’s prestigious Hutch Award—named for the late Fred Hutchinson—in honor of Casey’s competitive spirit and ability to fight through adversity.25

Sean Casey (TRADING CARD DB)Casey had found a home in Cincinnati and sported uniform number 21 for the Reds from 1998 through 2005. “The Mayor” won over teammates and the community through his unmatched dedication to the game and the people surrounding it. He volunteered for various charities and organizations to help the local community. For six years, for example, Sean and Mandi participated in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program—an organization that “pairs couples with disadvantaged youths.”26 Casey was involved heavily with Make-A-Wish Foundation visits at Friday home games and would make frequent visits to the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and Shriner’s Hospital for Children. These visits were “sometimes on official, Reds-sponsored trips, sometimes unannounced on his own.”27

In 2000 Casey batted .315 with 20 homers. Between July 4 and July 30, he hit safely in 21 consecutive games, a personal best. His 3.4 WAR was the Reds second most, behind Ken Griffey Jr. (5.5).

Casey’s level of play earned him a raise from $400,000 to $3 million in arbitration the following winter.28

Casey had another spectacular season in 2001 that began with him recording the first-ever hit at two major-league ballparks; a feat no other big-leaguer has achieved as of 2022. On April 6, Casey stroked a second-inning single off the Brewers’ Jeff D’Amico at Miller Park in Milwaukee. On April 9, he homered off the Pirates’ Todd Ritchie in the first inning at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. Michael Wilmer, a Post-Gazette employee, caught the latter ball and asked Casey for $5,000 in exchange. Casey replied, “I’m not willing to pay $5,000 … My life will go on without the ball … Obviously, I’d love to have that ball, but I’ll always have those memories.”29

Although the Reds lost 96 games, Casey made his second All-Star team and hit .310 on the year.

In early 2002 Casey agreed to another arbitration deal with the Reds—a one-year, $4 million contract.30 Cincinnati then signed the 27-year-old to a three-year extension worth $20.2 million to secure Casey’s services through 2005.31

But 2002 was a down year for Casey. After batting .294 through June, he slumped and finished at .261, with a career-low slugging percentage. On August 18 however, Casey hit his only career walk-off home run.

In 2003 Casey bounced back to bat .291 with 14 homers. His contagious smile was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise lackluster Cincinnati ballclub. On June 13 though, he demonstrated another side of his leadership. The Phillies were upset with the Reds’ Adam Dunn for steamrolling Philadelphia catcher Mike Lieberthal. When Dunn batted again, Philadelphia pitcher Carlos Silva threw consecutive pitches behind him, which earned an ejection from umpire Doug Eddings. Lieberthal tackled Dunn when Dunn tried to charge the mound, but Casey was the first player out of the Reds’ dugout to join the fray.

Casey was suspended for three games by MLB’s chief disciplinarian, Bob Watson, but insisted “he has no regrets.”32 “You have to look at the circumstances of why I went out there,” Casey explained later. “Silva put his glove on top of Dunner’s head and sucker-punched him … I didn’t think that was just baseball at that point.”33

Casey contributed off the field as well in 2003, starting “Casey’s Crew,” which provided 24 complimentary field-level tickets to disadvantaged youngsters every Saturday home game.34 Following an extra-inning win over the Houston Astros on August 15, a woman driving on Reed Hartman Highway in Cincinnati rolled her car several times. Casey pulled her from her car and let her sit in his while he called 911. When the police arrived, Casey helped her out, and she asked, “What’s your name?” Casey simply replied, “Sean,” and left.35

“Sean’s integrity and sincerity are unquestioned,” said his wife, Mandi. “What you see is what you get.”36 Casey approached his family life with the same dedication and authenticity as his play and service in the community. “I take pride in what I do. I love coming to work every day. But this doesn’t last forever. Now I also know I’ll always have my family. I know I’ll always be Dad to them,” said Casey.37

Before 2003 was over Casey was inducted into the halls of fame for the University of Richmond and the Cape Cod Baseball League.38

In 2004 Casey re-emerged as one of baseball’s premier hitters, with a .324 batting average, a career-high 44 doubles and a 4.4 WAR. That season, he was the third-toughest batter to strike out in the NL—once every 15.9 at-bats. Casey was selected to his third All-Star Game, won his second Joe Nuxhall Good Guy Award, and won the Reds’ Ernie Lombardi MVP Award.

After that campaign, Cincinnati picked up Casey’s $8.5 million contract option for 2006.39

When the Reds visited Boston for the first time since the 1975 World Series in June 2005, one of the headlines was not about the teams on the field. Casey joined with the local priest who had married him, comedian Conan O’Brien, and brand designer Mike Toth to combat food insecurities. As such, Casey was a founder of Labels Are For Jars, an anti-hunger organization based in Lawrence, Massachusetts .40

That same summer, Casey was invited to Upper St. Clair for the retirement of his high school jersey, number 22. The ceremony lasted more than 90 minutes was attended by more than 400—significantly more than the 30–100 people expected.41

Casey batted .312 and led NL first baseman with a .998 fielding percentage, but the Reds endured a fifth straight losing season in 2005. On December 8—to the surprise and chagrin of Casey, his teammates, and the community—he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates for pitcher David Williams. In response, Casey said, “That stinks. I want to play for the Cincinnati Reds. I don’t want to go anywhere else. I love Cincinnati and the team and the fans and the charitable work I do there.”42 The Casey family released a statement reading, “For these eight seasons we were home … A piece of my heart will always be in Cincinnati.”43

Reds outfielder Austin Kearns said, “[Casey] was a leader in the clubhouse and out on the field. It’s always a risk when you trade a guy like that.”44

Kathy List, the executive director of Big Brother/Big Sisters of Greater Cincinnati called his trade “a loss for the Reds and a loss for the community.”45

Casey hit .296 in 59 games with the Pirates in 2006. But he was traded again on July 31, to the Detroit Tigers for right-handed pitcher Brian Rogers. Casey was “thrilled with the move” because his father-in-law was from Detroit. Furthermore, Casey went from the last-place Pirates to the first-place Tigers, a potential World Series contender. Casey batted .245 in 53 games with Detroit.

The Tigers won the AL wild-card spot by going 95-67, and Casey played spectacularly under the bright lights of his first postseason. In 10 postseason games, he batted .432 (16-for-37) with nine RBIs. His .529 (9-for-17) batting average in the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals was “the highest hit by a Detroit player in Series history.”46 Casey’s clutch-time heroics fell short, however, as the Tigers were defeated four games to one.

That offseason Detroit signed Casey to a one-year contract.47 In 2007 Casey hit .296 with a .353 OBP in 143 games. He was also voted the friendliest player in baseball by his peers in a Sports Illustrated poll. Of 464 MLB players surveyed, Casey won 46% of the total vote—dominating the rest of the field. Jim Thome and Mike Sweeney tied for second, each garnering only 7% of the vote.48

Casey became a free agent and signed with the Red Sox for 2008. His former Reds teammate Aaron Boone loved the signing, comparing Casey with Forrest Gump and saying, “He’s just really good at life.”49 Casey maintained his high level of play by hitting .322 for Boston and was awarded the 2008 Red Sox Good Guy Award in what proved to be his final season.

After an injury-plagued campaign in which he took only 199 at-bats, “The Mayor” decided to hang them up at age 34.

Casey then joined MLB Network as an analyst and expert in 2009. In a statement he explained, “This is a way to stay in the game and to shift to my number one priority—spending more time with my family (sons Andrew and Jacob, followed by daughters Carli and Jillian).”50

For more than two years, Sean and Mandi’s charitable foundation, Casey’s Clubhouse, worked to build a baseball complex for children who had special needs. The plan came to fruition in May 2012 as Casey helped to open the Pirates Charities Miracle League Field of the South Hills. The final facility included “dugouts, restrooms, and a flat surface that eliminates barriers for wheelchair-bound and visually impaired players—plus a playground that the entire community can enjoy.”51

In November 2011 it was announced that Casey would be inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame as part of the class of 2012, alongside Reds greats Dan Driessen and John Reilly.52 The ceremony took place at Great American Ball Park on June 23, with 41,750 fans on hand. Former Reds, such as Boone and Dmitri Young, came to support Casey. In his induction speech Casey called his time in Cincinnati, “Eight of the greatest years of my life. I feel like home.”53

In December 2013 after a charity dinner for David Ortiz, Casey experienced a cramp in his left calf. Initially, it was dismissed as a minor ailment. In January 2014 however, Casey was afflicted with a blood clot that split and entered both lungs, putting his life in jeopardy. He miraculously survived the experience.54

As of 2022 Casey remains a leading analyst on MLB Network programming, including the Emmy Award-winning MLB Tonight.55

Last revised: July 6, 2022

 

Acknowledgments

This biography was reviewed by Malcolm Allen and Will Christensen and factc-hecked by Ray Danner.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources accessed in Sean Casey’s file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library in Cooperstown, New York, and those shown in the Notes, the author consulted baseball-reference.com and retrosheet.org.

 

Notes

1 Cincinnati Enquirer, November 29, 2011.

2 Paul Meyer, “Casey as good off the field as he is on it,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 8, 2005.

3 Chuck Finder, “The Reds’ hot swinger,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 18, 1999.

4 Finder, “The Reds’ hot swinger.”

5 Dave Clark, “Sean Casey: Grant ‘Buck’ Jackson was ‘like a second father to me’ growing up in Pittsburgh,” Cincinnati Enquirer, February 3, 2021.

6 Eleanor Bailey, “MLB hiatus, pandemic afford Casey a time for reflection,” Observer Reporter, https://observer-reporter.com/sports/mlb-hiatus-pandemic-afford-casey-a-time-for-reflection/article_c9e21d68-99fc-11ea-a93a-d761882497d9.html, accessed May 12, 2022.

7 Finder, “The Reds’ hot swinger.”

8 “Richmond Athletics Hall of Fame: Sean Casey,” https://richmondspiders.com/honors/richmond-athletics-hall-of-fame/sean-casey/31, accessed May 12, 2022.

9 Meyer, “Casey as good off the field as he is on it.”

10 “Richmond Athletics Hall of Fame: Sean Casey.”

11 “Richmond Athletics Hall of Fame: Sean Casey.”

12 Sean Casey, 1997 Best Akron Aeros baseball card.

13 Jim Bray, “His Swing’s the thing: Hitting is never far from the mind of Sean Casey,” The Ottawa Citizen, June 7, 1998.

14 Paul White, “A life Spent Switching Hats—Fast,” Cincinnati Enquirer, 2003.

15 Steve Rosenbloom, “Sean Casey; Our Guy Talks with the Reds First Baseman Who’s Known for Talking,” Chicago Tribune, September 16, 2004.

16 Joe Kay, “Reds’ Casey hurt by errant throw,” Associated Press, April 3, 1998.

17 Bray, “His Swing’s the thing: Hitting is never far from the mind of Sean Casey.”

18 Tom Archdeacon, “Casey finally feels like part of the group,” Dayton Daily News, April 6, 1999.

19 Kay, “Reds’ Casey hurt by errant throw.”

20 Rod Beaton, “Casey’s pals,” USA Today, April 8, 1998.

21 “USC’s Casey back in action after eye injury,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 8, 1998.

22 Finder, “The Reds’ hot swinger.”

23 Scott MacGregor, “Casey takes the world by the hands,” Cincinnati Enquirer, July 11, 1999.

24 Cincinnati Enquirer, June 26, 2012.

25 Associated Press, “Casey wins award,” Atlanta Journal Constitution, November 14, 1999.

26 Meyer, “Casey as good off the field as he is on it.”

27 Meyer, “Casey as good off the field as he is on it.”

28 “Casey wins arbitration case,” USA Today, February 9, 2001.

29 Paul Meyer, “HR ball’s bounty too mighty for Casey,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 12, 2001.

30 Associated Press, Fox Sports, January 9, 2002.

31 Post Wire Reports, February 23, 2002.

32 Tony Jackson, “Dunn and Casey Suspended,” Cincy Post, June 21, 2003.

33 Jackson, “Dunn and Casey Suspended.”

34 Meyer, “Casey as good off the field as he is on it.”

35 Hal McCoy, “Casey takes no credit for good deed,” Dayton Daily News, August 2003.

36 Meyer, “Casey as good off the field as he is on it.”

37 White, “A life Spent Switching Hats—Fast.”

38 “Richmond Athletics Hall of Fame: Sean Casey.”

39 Dayton Daily News, October 30, 2004.

40 Gordon Edes, “Reds star steps in with local priest to fight hunger in Lawrence,” Boston Globe, June 13, 2005.

41 Meyer, “Casey as good off the field as he is on it.”

42 “Pirates, Reds agree on trade for first baseman Casey,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 7, 2005.

43 Dayton Daily News, December 2005.

44 Meyer, “Casey as good off the field as he is on it.”

45 Meyer, “Casey as good off the field as he is on it.”

46 Gordon Edes, “Casey to be at the bat,” Boston Globe, February 2, 2008.

47 “Tigers sign 1B Sean Casey to one-year contract,” ESPN, November 16, 2006.

48 Sports Illustrated, May 16, 2007, https://web.archive.org/web/20070518181041/http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2007/baseball/mlb/05/16/0521poll/index.html.

49 Edes, “Casey to be at the bat.”

50 Hal McCoy, “Casey calls it a career—on the field,” Dayton Daily News, January 27, 2009.

51 Jim Lachimia, “Casey’s Clubhouse, Bucs open Miracle Field,” MLB.com, May 29, 2012.

52 Cincinnati Enquirer, November 29, 2011.

53 Cincinnati Enquirer, June 26, 2012.

54 Ron Cook, “How Sean Casey Cheated Death,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, February 22, 2015.

55 Barry Bloom, “Casey joins the MLB Network team,” MLB.com, 2009.

Full Name

Sean Thomas Casey

Born

July 2, 1974 at Willingboro, NJ (USA)

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