Thursday, December 09, 1999

Casey needs Reds, and vice versa




BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Sean Casey is safe at home. He returns from his honeymoon still wed to the Cincinnati Reds, and increasingly doubtful of a divorce. Do I hear an Amen?

        By signing free agent John Olerud Tuesday, the Seattle Mariners were able to revise their holiday shopping list. If they are to trade Ken Griffey Jr., they no longer will be looking to fill a need at first base.

        The Mighty Casey, consequently, can rest easy. So can the rest of us.

GRIFFEY UPDATE
  GM Jim Bowden resumed trade discussions with the Seattle Mariners about Ken Griffey Jr. but reported “no progress in discussions.”
  Bowden said he had arranged to continue talks with Mariners officials in Anaheim, Calif., site of baseball's winter meetings, which begin Friday.
        In his zeal to land Griffey — the player Most Likely To Sell Tickets at Cinergy Field — Reds General Manager Jim Bowden has sometimes vacillated on the contents of the package he is prepared to ship to Seattle.

        One day, Casey is absolutely untouchable. Another day, somewhat less so. It is a general manager's prerogative to change his mind, but Bowden's convictions are in constant flux. Sometimes, he appears resolved to stay the course, to build his team for a new ballpark in 2003. At other times, Bowden wavers. He toys with the idea of tearing apart his 96-win team for a player one year from free agency.

        Bowden may yet make a dangerous decision on the Griffey front. He might give up too much pitching on the uncertain premise he can sign Junior to a long-term deal.

        He might wake up one morning and decide that his obsession must be gratified regardless of cost. In a weak moment, he might consider dangling the golden glove of second baseman Pokey Reese. After a dozen abortive attempts. Bowden might finally be moved to make Mariners' GM Pat Gillick the one offer he won't refuse.

        But no matter what else occurs at this week's winter meetings in Anaheim, there is this much consolation in Cincinnati: Seattle's deal with Olerud makes trading for Casey a moot point. Reds fans can continue to follow the Great Griffey Watch without fear that their team's most appealing player may be in play.

        Despite his periodic trade demands and declining power, Barry Larkin remains the symbol, star and leader of the Reds. Ken Griffey Jr. would surely energize the franchise like no other player in the game.

        Yet no Red since Pete Rose has comprised such a happy blend of ability, attitude, production and personality as Sean Casey. If he weren't busy playing first base, Casey would probably devote his days to locating lost dogs and steering little old ladies across the street.

        Casey is what Richie Cunningham would have been had the Fonz taught him how to hit a fastball. He is an aggressively nice guy who happened to hit .332 last season. He is the first guy you call if you need a two-out hit, a character witness or a kitten fetched from a tree.

        If the Reds ever trade this guy, for anyone, they will rue the day for decades. Pokey Reese is probably the only other Reds' player who should be considered off-limits in the Griffey negotiations.

        “If they resurrected Babe Ruth and guaranteed he would give the Reds the same year he gave the Yankees in 1927, and Reese and Casey had to be in the deal, Ruth would have to play someplace else,” said Marty Brennaman, the Reds radio savant.

Love the big lug
        Baseball is not always the most fan-friendly business. Ballplayers often regard the paying customers with roughly the same esteem they reserve for leeches or, worse, sportswriters. Sean Casey, however, never met a man he didn't like, and is equally solicitous of total strangers. Barring injury, the big lug ought to become what Tony Gwynn is in San Diego — the face of his franchise for 15 years.

        “Sean is a stand-up guy,” said Cal Levy, the Reds marketing director. “The fans react to his enthusiasm, and he was still showing his enthusiasm through the times of his slump as a team player. Plus, he looks like Opie Taylor.”

        Sentiment is no longer a big factor in Cincinnati trade talks. Marge Schott has moved on, leaving the Reds to a more professional and cold-blooded culture.

        That said, it takes no particular business sense to see the value in keeping Sean Casey. When you get a guy this good, you hold on.

Tim Sullivan welcomes your email at tsullivan@enquirer.com.