Thursday, July 19, 2012

Casey at the Bat

The local AM sports station is trying its best to create a buzz about the possibility of Reds Hall of Famer Sean Casey lacing up the cleats and returning for an on-field encore while Joey Votto recovers from knee surgery.  Casey, who is 38 and retired two years ago, has been pretty adamant about the rumors being false but hasn't completely denied it.  I, for one, think there's no way he could get back in playing shape in time to help the team.  Votto will be back, hopefully, the first full week of August.  But it is an interesting idea and very reminiscent of 1940, when catcher Willard Hershberger shocked everyone by committing suicide.  The Reds, en route to their first World Championship in 21 years, had been relying on Hershberger after Ernie Lombardi went down with an injury.  Hershberger suffered from depression and blamed himself for two Reds losses to non-contending teams and took his life in a hotel room before a game.  Needing a catcher in an emergency situation--in the heart of a pennant chase--retired catcher and then current coach Jimmy Wilson volunteered to play.  Wilson enjoyed a solid career and kept himself in pretty decent shape but at age 40, clearly he would have difficulty with the daily routine of baseball's most physically challenging position.  But Wilson did it anyway and, lo and behold, did well.  Lombardi returned and finished most of the regular season but in the World Series, against the Tigers, the Schnoz injured his ankle and Wilson was pressed into service on the biggest stage of his life.  The result?   Jimmy hit .353 and had a key RBI in one of the games.  I guess old guys aren't necessarily useless after all.
Incidentally, Sean Casey was a part of one of the most bizarre Cincinnati Reds' Hall of Fame inductions recently.  Bizarre and certainly awkward.  Three first basemen were inducted:  Casey, 1970s Big Reds Machine player Dan Driessen, and 19th Century player John Reilly.  Reilly wasn't there for his induction because...well...he died 70-years ago and Casey was all over the local media in the days leading up to the induction being interviewed by anyone with a microphone or camera.  Casey's great, by the way, and has a certain charm and humility and freshness lacking in other players.  And then there was Driessen. 
There's an old saying that you never want to be the guy that follows "the guy."  Bob Braun had trouble taking over for Ruth Lyons, Steve Stewart couldn't quite keep Joe Nuxhall's fans happy and does anyone remember Al Schottelkotte's replacement, Pat Minarcin?  So when "the Big Doggie," Tony Perez, was unceremoniously traded by the Reds in 1977, Driessen, who had been Perez's understudy since 1973, suddenly found himself trying to fill some very big shoes.  Driessen went on to have a nice little career; anchoring first base, hitting home runs and stealing a lot of bases well into the 1980s, but to many, he only reminded fans that he was not "the Big Doggie."  So Driessen kept his distance from Cincinnati over the ensuing years.  And during the recent HOF induction I saw only one interview with him and he said he was honored but a little surprised.  He admitting never attending any Big Red Machine reunion events and, frankly, didn't give Cincinnati much thought over the years.  He appreciated the award but, clearly, given Casey's dominance in the media that week, it was awkward for Danny and his fans.  And Danny does have fans--I remember a childhood friend--also named Danny--who thought the world of Driessen.  But I can't stop thinking that somewhere Driessen is sitting in his office admiring his plaque and asking "what just happened?"  I get the feeling that the Reds have reached the point where they're starting to struggle a bit coming up with Hall of Famers.  Bill Plummer and Ed Armbruster may soon be getting a call.  Go Reds!  Joey, get well soon!  By the way, in 8th grade, I briefly played first base and feel, with a little bit of work, can probably get into "playing shape" if you need me.  Although, now that Jamie Moyer's gone, I'd be the oldest person in the league.