CINCINNATI -- Sean Casey could probably cruise around Greater Cincinnati well into his later years and never pay for a meal again. After all, he was and will always be "The Mayor" to the Reds fans he forged a tight bond with. Even three years removed from being traded away, people in Cincinnati continually held out hope Casey would somehow return to play first base for the Reds again at Great American Ball Park. Casey, who spent eight years with the Reds from 1998-2005, officially put the kibosh on those hopes on Tuesday when he retired from the Major Leagues after 12 seasons at the young age of 34. He accepted a role to be an on-air talent for the new MLB Network.
"Being part of that community was a big thing for me," Casey said of Cincinnati. "Being there for eight years, I almost felt like I lived there and also part of the community. I played there and it was just a great thing. I have so many great memories. "Just the way the fans treated me there, I really felt special in that city with the relationship I had with the fans." Among those on-field memories was his first Opening Day with the Reds in 1998 and appearing in three All-Star Games. The 1999 season was also a big positive, except for the disappointing finish. The Reds wound up tied with the Mets for the Wild Card spot and lost a one-game playoff at Cinergy Field. "It still kind of bugs me to this day that we had a two-game lead with three to play and we couldn't pull that off," said Casey, who was acquired from the Indians in a trade for pitcher Dave Burba on March 30, 1998. "It drives me crazy." At MLB Network, Casey will be working alongside former pitcher Al Leiter, who threw the two-hit shutout that did in the Reds on that frigid October night. Another former Reds star, Barry Larkin, also works for the network. Voted the "friendliest player in baseball" in a Sports Illustrated players poll in 2007 and a two-time Joe Nuxhall Good Guy Award winner by writers in Cincinnati, Casey had off-the-field endeavors that helped the community. He worked with Nuxhall's character education program and also with Lighthouse Youth Services. Casey was called "The Mayor" because of his outgoing personality. There was rarely an autograph he didn't sign or a conversation he didn't engage in. Inside the clubhouse, he was known for always being accessible to fellow players and media. "I was raised and my dad always said, 'Treat people how you want to be treated,'" Casey said. "That was the big thing for me throughout my life, not just baseball. It means a lot to me if I'm looked at as a good guy or nice guy in the game and I was also a pretty good player. It's a pretty combination that I'm proud of. I'm proud of the way I was with teammates as much as I was from what I did on the field." Between the lines, Casey walks away with some sound career numbers. He owns a lifetime .302 average with 130 home runs and 735 RBIs for the Indians, Reds, Pirates, Tigers and Red Sox. His final season was spent as a role player in Boston, where he batted .322 in 69 games. On Dec. 8, 2005, the Reds and former general manager Dan O'Brien made the unpopular decision to trade Casey and his $8.5 million salary to the Pirates for lefty starter Dave Williams. The backlash at the time was strong and only intensified after Williams was moved by Cincinnati in May of the 2006 season after not working out. Fans regularly e-mailed, blogged or took to local airwaves to lobby for a Casey return since the day of the trade. But the final memory both player and fans will have of him at Great American Ball Park will be in a Red Sox uniform when the Reds hosted Boston last June. "My time in Cincinnati -- I still feel like it's home," Casey said. "Eight years there, especially coming back this year with Boston and when I got that first at-bat and got the ovation. That was a moment for me. Getting traded and not being able to say goodbye to those fans was a weird time for me." Did Casey, who looked at some limited offers from around the league to still play during the offseason, want to come back to the Reds as much as the fans wanted him to? "Yeah, I would have loved to play in Cincinnati again, but not to back up or at the expense of Joey Votto not playing," Casey said. "At this stage, he's the better player." Casey ultimately cited the desire to be with his family, including his three children, as the reason for moving from the game into television. "Our ratings in Cincinnati will be a lot higher," joked Tony Petitti, president and CEO of MLB Network of Casey's hiring. A native of the Pittsburgh suburbs, Casey managed to become entrenched with Cincinnati in a way only a handful of players have. In retirement, he wanted to keep those roots growing. "I hope to get back in a relationship with the Reds and be with them in some capacity," Casey said. "I have nothing but fond memories of Cincinnati and that organization."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.