Sean Casey, the affable Reds Firstbaseman from 1998 to 2005, spoke with Red Reporter earlier this week about the Reds and what he’s been up to since retiring after the 2008 season. While "the Mayor" has remained visible with fans as an analyst with the MLB Network, his major passion since retirement has been with his charity, Casey’s Clubhouse, an organization which builds baseball fields for special needs children. Check out their website and this recent article on MLB.com for more information and to find out how to help. You can also follow Casey’s Clubhouse on Facebook.
Ken: How did you get involved with the MLBN and how do you like it so far?
Sean Casey: I was playing with the Red Sox in 2008 when we played the Rays [in the ALCS]. Harold Reynolds was working for TBS for the playoffs. MLBN hadn’t been launched yet; it was going to launch in January 2009. I knew I was going to retire at the end of the year. I had enjoyed every second, but I felt it was time to move on. Around the batting cages before I think game 4, I asked Harold how had the transition been from playing to being in the booth. He said it’d been great and that he loves talking baseball for a living. I told him I was thinking about retiring, and he said I should think about joining the MLBN with him and suggested I talk to Tony Petitti [President of MLBN]. In the next couple of days, Tony called me and brought me in for an audition. My head was spinning – I had just talked to Harold and had no idea I’d get an interview or audition this fast. So I went up there in December and they offered me a contract. It was really easy to say yes. It’s been a great transition from the field to being an analyst, and it’s been a great lifestyle too. You still feel like you’re part of a team and you’re still in baseball. It’s been good on all levels to be part of MLBN, it’s been even better than I expected.
Ken: What’s your schedule like during the season with MLBN?
SC: I go up there during the season about every other week and stay three or four days that week. I’ll work 6-8 days a month and pick my own schedule. I worked the World Series this year in Texas. It’s just been a lot of fun. They’ve been great to me.
Ken: Why did you choose to retire after 2008? Was it injuries, or did it just feel like it was time?
SC: I just felt that way. Both of my boys were in school. My family was joining me less and less during the year, this was the first year that they hadn’t really joined me that much. I loved playing in Boston, every second of it. But I weighed the pros and cons off coming off the bench, or being at home more and with my family and kids. It was more mental than physical. Physically, I felt like I could’ve played another couple years. Mentally, it was "do I want to do the grind of coming off the bench? Do I want to have those summers with my family?"
Ken: How is it to be reunited with Larkin on MLBN?
SC: I love it! It’s like we never missed a beat. Larkin’s one of my great friends. We just went down and golfed at Augusta. We kept our friendship going and it’s been great working with him again because we didn’t get to see each other a lot before.
Ken: Have you talked to Larkin since the Hall of Fame results were announced last week?
SC: We texted. I joked around and told him only 38% of the people didn’t vote for him. I think next year is his year. There’s not a ton of other guys next year. This year was Blyleven and Alomar, next year there isn’t anybody definitely going in. It could be just him.
Ken: As an analyst, what do you try to bring to the table with MLBN?
SC: I think I bring a lot of energy. Hopefully I bring a player’s perspective and help the fans realize that this fast-paced sport and the best game in the world. I try to get in the mind of the hitter because the mental side is so big. Whenever I look at a situation, I try to let the fans know what the hitter is thinking. Maybe this guy is being too anxious, or too relaxed. I think I bring a "done there, done that" perspective and can help the fans know what the player is thinking. Especially when it comes to being in the trenches and what the grind of the season is like.
Ken: Do you have any plans to try to manage or join a front office some day?
SC: Actually I just signed on to do 15 games for the Reds this year as a color guy. [ed.: Yay!] I’ll get a chance to get in the booth and see how that goes. I think I’ll be doing the games from April 5 through April 7, and later some games in Pittsburgh and in Cincinnati. We’re still figuring that out. I don’t have any plans of getting back in the field. Will I someday? Maybe, but I can’t see it happening any time soon.
Ken: You grew up in Pittsburgh. Were you a big Pirates fan, and who were some of your favorites growing up?
SC: I was a huge Pirates fan. My favorite guys were Andy Van Slyke, Bobby Bonilla, Jay Bell, Mike LaValliere, Doug Drabek, Chico Lind. They had some great teams.
Ken: What are your memories of the Pirates-Reds 1990 NLCS?
SC: I hated the Reds because of that! Carmelo Martinez’s catch was unbelievable, awful. [laughter] But I love Cincinnati like I love Pittsburgh. That’s why I’m looking forward to doing some games and getting back there, seeing some of the guys and seeing the fans.
Ken: In addition to the MLB Network, I know you devote a lot of time to some special causes. Casey’s Clubhouse builds baseball fields for special needs kids. How did you get started with this?
SC: When I was in college during my senior year, after I was drafted, I volunteered at a school for kids with cerebral palsy. The kids were awesome. It was a real eye opening experience for me as far as not putting a label on these kids and learning what they can do. I got more out of it than I could ever give them. Then later I got involved with the Miracle League. Brian Crotty, a buddy from Cincinnati, opened a Miracle League field near Dayton [in Springboro] about a year or two ago. I saw the joy in the kids and their families and buddies. I thought I'd love to do one of these later when I'm done playing and have some time. Now we're trying to build one here in the South Hills in Pittsburgh and it's been great so far. We've had a bunch of companies step up with some nice donations. There's also a lot of grassroots help and individuals helping out.
Ken: When you joined the Reds Sox, you became involved with a Boston based group called Labels Are For Jars.
SC: This group runs a meal center to help feed the needy in Lawrence, Mass. I’ve known Paul O' Brien, a priest up there, for a long time and we got to talking about how we could help. We were able to build a meal center to serve hot meals so nobody goes hungry. Labels Are For Jars sells T-shirts with labels on them (like "prisoner" or "jock") and puts them in jars which are used to collect money for the meal center. It’s been unbelievable.
Ken: Let’s talk about the 2010 season. The Reds went from 78 to 91 wins – was that a major surprise to you?
SC: It wasn’t a major surprise. I got to see the team in Spring Training and saw what kind of players they had. The big thing for me was the pitching. Mike Leake came right out and gave them a nice boost, Bronson [Arroyo] kept doing what he’s doing, and Johnny Cueto really went to another level for most of this year, kind of became an ace for the staff. The bullpen was good. Aroldis [Chapman] really showed people what he can do. Joey Votto really separated himself as one of the elite players in the game. He came up with huge hits night in and night out, and became a leader. Jay Bruce started to emerge as the guy everyone thought he was when they drafted him. He’s underrated defensively. He’s got a cannon and can flat out "go get it." But he can hit, he’s got that big power and presence in the lineup. They had a great mix of the veterans and the young players. It reminds me a lot of the ’99 team, a great combination.
Ken: How important was Scott Rolen’s impact on the team, as both a player and a leader?
SC: Guys used to ask me when I played who I would pay to see play. I would always say Scott Rolen. He is one of the best players in his generation and plays the game right and hard-nosed. He’s not so much a "rah rah" guy as a lead by example guy. When you see a guy who puts in the time and the effort like he does, how can you not take your game to another level when you’re a young guy like a Joey Votto or Jay Bruce or Ryan Hanigan? Rolen has been a Gold Glover and All-Star many times. How do you not try to follow his lead?
Ken: How did Joey Votto make the big leap in 2010 to become one of the best players in the game?
SC: Joey Votto’s had a couple of great years, but he really went to another level of confidence this year. You can’t teach experience. At some point he realized that not only does he belong, but that he's one of the best in the game. He’s competitive. He doesn’t care if you’re a hard throwing lefty or righty. Whatever you got, he’s gonna hit. A big key for him is that he waits on the ball so well, which shows in how many opposite field homeruns he had this season, which I think led the majors. The guy is a professional and will grind you out and eventually beat you.
Ken: With the Reds signing Jay Bruce to a long-term deal, do you think they can do the same with Votto?
SC: He’ll be getting big money. I don’t know if he wants to wait it out [to test free agency]. But the Reds can feel safe if they do sign him because he’s got an incredible work ethic.
Ken: You played when the team was owned by Carl Lindner. Can you see any changes in the organization since Bob Castellini took over?
SC: Yeah, I was traded a few weeks after the team was sold [to Castellini]. He's brought in terrific baseball guys who've won before. They're really willing to go for it now when it comes to the draft and signing deals, and there's more financial flexibility with the team. I'll tell you, we sure could have used some of this pitching on those teams [I was on].
Ken: How would you describe Dusty Baker? What does he bring to the team? There were concerns when he was hired about his ability to manage younger players.
SC: I love Baker. I love his personality, his energy. He’s played the game and understands the failure of the game and how to keep guys positive. He’s great for that team, for the young and veteran guys.
Ken: What do you think are the most important things a manager should do?
SC: You’ve got to be a great communicator. You have to bring some energy. And you need to have great pitching. [laughter]
Ken: This winter, we saw the Brewers add Zack Greinke and the Cardinals get Lance Berkman. The Reds have been quieter. How do you think the Central will shake out this year?
SC: I think Cincinnati will make another run at it, no doubt about it. The team that was baffling to me was St. Louis. That trio of starters [Carpenter, Wainwright, and Garcia] was so good, it shows how much their offense struggled after Pujols. You have to think they’ll be tough again, but Cincinnati will have a lot of confidence because they know they can win the division. I think the Brewers definitely stepped up by getting Marcum and Greinke. Those guys with Gallardo and Wolf make a good rotation. But I like the Reds in the Central again.
Ken: With the Reds signing Edgar Renteria, who do you think the Reds’ starting shortstop?
SC: I think it’s tough to sign a guy like Renteria and not start him. I love Paul Janish though. He’s got a great glove over there and started to hit the ball better. Renteria brings a lot of intangibles and he can flat out play. He also played with Rolen in St. Louis and can complement him well.
Ken: The other potential question mark going into this year is Leftfield. Do you see Jonny Gomes holding onto the starting job, or do you think we might see a platoon? [Note: this interview occurred before it was announced that the Reds had signed Fred Lewis.]
SC: I like Johnny Gomes out there. He showed people that if he gets a lot of at bats he’ll put up some numbers. He came up with some big hits and drove in about 90 runs. I think you put Gomes back out there in Leftfield.
Ken: What did you think of Travis Wood’s 2010 season?
SC: He’s a good lefty, a great competitor. He did a good job last year and I think he’ll do a great job again this year. Plus it’s nice to have that lefty in the rotation.
Ken: Speaking of lefties, how about Aroldis Chapman. Would you keep him as a reliever or get him back to starting?
SC: I’d keep him in the bullpen and make him your future closer. I think he’s a max effort guy. I think it’s better to not let him worry about the walks or working on the other pitches.
Thanks again to Sean for taking the time to talk to us!