Maybe I’m wrong, but whenever I hear about a Major League team inducting former players into their own club Hall of Fame, it doesn’t seem tinged with too much controversy. It seems like everyone is pretty happy about it and that there isn’t endless debate about who should be in or not, unlike that other Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
On the recent day that the Cincinnati Reds invited Sean Casey and Dan Driessen into that team’s Hall of Fame, joining such luminaries as Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, Joe Morgan, Jim O’Toole, Gary Nolan, and Tom Browning, the only real question was whether or not Driessen would be able to get a word in edgewise during the ceremony. If Casey is a 78 rpm record, then Driessen is the closest thing to a silent movie since Rudolf Valentino retired.
Both were worthy Reds. Driessen was more closely identified with the Reds since he spent the majority of his 15-year career with Cincinnati and was a member of The Big Red Machine championship clubs of the 1970s. Casey was a notable regular between 1998and 2005, but also played a bit here and there for four other teams wrapped around his Cincinnati days. Still, he was at his best the longest in Cincy.
Driessen, 61, was a first baseman who hit .267 lifetime with 153 homers and 763 RBIs. He played on the 1975 and 1976 title teams.
“It was a lifetime dream to make it to the major leagues, but I had no idea that I would get to this point where I was considered a Reds Hall of Famer,” Driessen said. “Eight of the greatest years of my life were here in Cincinnati and I got to play with some great teammates. I just loved being here in Cincinnati. My two sons were born in Cincinnati.”
It was no mystery for Driessen picking out his favorite or best game in a Reds uniform. In a game played October 19, 1976, Driessen, who in that year’s World Series against the Yankees in Yankee Stadium became the National League’s first designated hitter, swatted two singles and a home run as the Reds won 6-2. That was Game 3 and the Reds were on their way to wrapping up the championship. The Reds won it all in four straight.
Driessen and Casey sat on a stage in a theatre-like room at Great American Ball Park. Arrayed behind them in chairs were living members of the Reds Hall of Fame, all wearing red jackets. The jackets are like the green jackets at the Masters golf tournament.
“I grew up a little bit shy,” Driessen said. “But it’s special to be uphere with these guys. It’s not always the guys who are talking the most (who do the job). Some of us are laying in the grass and waiting in airports.”
Driessen was even soft-spoken with a microphone. Casey can be heard across a ballpark without one. Any opposing player who paused at first base after a walk, a hit or an error, got to know Casey. There may have been a game going on, but the occasion was not serious enough to make Casey stop talking. Casey was a lifetime .302 hitter and a three-time All-Star. As friendly a guy as he was, not everyone from the opposition wanted to get to know him better as hard as he tried.
“You know what?” Casey said. “A couple of guys did take exception. They just didn’t want to talk to me.”
When he was a rookie, Casey was happy just to be meeting guys face-to-face that he collected in baseball cards. Casey was blabbering away after future Hall of Famer and all-time base stealer Rickey Henderson arrived at first base. He looked at Casey and said, “Shut up.” Then he took off to steal second base.
“Rickey Henderson, I don’t think he liked me that first time talking,” Casey said. Other first basemen, like Mark Grace, indulged him. “I always thought that the first baseman talked. I don’t know if it’s the position, or what but you always had good conversations over there. It suited me perfectly.”
Once Driessen — one of the shyer first basemen–surrendered the microphone he pretty much never got it back. Casey may have been wearing street clothes, but it was just like being back on first base again.
Topics: All-Star, Baseball Cards, Big Red Machines, Cincinnati Reds, Cooperstown, Dan Driessen, Gary Nolan, Great American Ball Park, Hall Of Fame, Jim O'Toole, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, Major League, Mark Grace.Masters Golf Tournament, New York Yankees, Rickey Henderson, Rudolf Valentino, Sean Casey, Silent Movies, Tom Browning, Tony Perez, World Series, Yankee Stadium