Over the course of his 12-year Major League Baseball career, Sean Casey made three All-Star teams, played in one World Series and, in one of his lesser moments, even managed to get thrown out at first from left field. Seems speed was never his primary attribute; a steady presence on the field and in the clubhouse was – making Casey one of the most popular players of his era, and earning him one of MLB's all-time nicknames, "The Mayor."
Since retiring from the game in 2009, Casey has worked as an in-studio analyst for the MLB Network, where his Mayoral duties have only continued: You can usually find him hanging with current players, patrolling the virtual infield at Studio 42 and doling out his own unique take on the game during his "Mayor's Office" segments. He's also a rather rabid music fan, a guy who swears that listening to AC/DC albums can improve your batting average and believes in the true power of the karaoke performance.
As we head toward Opening Day on April 6, Rolling Stone caught up with "The Mayor" on the campaign trail, to get his take on the 2015 MLB season, discuss the politics of the clubhouse playlist and break down the ingredients of the Sean Casey Burger.
Music is a constant in MLB clubhouses. Did your duties as Mayor ever involve managing the playlists?
I was usually the mediator, but every team has its own clubhouse chemistry. On the '99 Reds, Mike Cameron ran the jukebox, and we did a lot of DMX. We would listen to it every day; I can still rap along to DMX songs man! In 2004, we had guys like Adam Dunn, Jason LaRue, Austin Kearns – country guys – and after every win, we'd pass out beers to everybody and play [Toby Keith's] "Beer for My Horses," and we'd all sing along. It brought us together; Juan Castro texted me the other day "My brother, 'Whiskey for my men, beer for my horses!'"
Kent Mercker loved Rush, and every time we'd take off on a road trip, he'd play "Tom Sawyer," and do the whole Neil Peart thing; you know, standing up playing the drums. So whenever I hear that song, I just think of Kent and [Ken Griffey] Junior and Barry Larkin and Kearns and I having some drinks, taking off. That's one of the things I miss most about the game, to be honest – listening to music with the guys on the plane.
In 2005, you got to cover a Toby Keith song on Major League Baseball's Oh Say Can You Sing? album. Does that mean you're also a great karaoke singer?
I can hold my own, definitely. You gotta have a plan. For me, I try to go with songs I know; a little Toby, Tom Petty's "American Girl," Bob Seger, who I really came to appreciate while I was playing with the Tigers, has got so many awesome songs – "Against the Wind," "Old Time Rock & Roll." Pearl Jam's "Even Flow" or "Alive." Usually, you don't want to do deep cuts, but, hey, in the right environment they work too; maybe you've had a couple beers, and you're in the moment. It's like that with my golf game, too: Eight holes in, I'm a much better golfer.
You are also a member of the Irish-American Baseball Hall of Fame, which I was not aware even existed.
Oh yeah, it's at Foley's pub in New York City, and I was inducted by the owner, Shaun Clancy – a true Irishman. There's also a Sean Casey Burger on the menu, with bacon, egg and cheese on it. I get texts all the time about it; people asking, "Should I order it?" and I'm like "Yeah! The egg is what makes it!" Honestly, I've been an All-Star, played in a World Series – all these accomplishments – but I can't believe I got a burger named after me. It ranks right up there.
Is there one musical moment in your career that really sticks out to you?
It has to be meeting Ed [Vedder]. José Cardenal, Ed loved him and wanted to meet him. Jose was a coach for the Reds at that point, we were playing the Cubs, and – let me be honest – it was such a long year. Me and LaRue, were like the only guys who had stayed healthy, we're still in the starting lineup, but our team is 30 games out of first, and I'm just wondering if I could make it till the end of the season. So, we come into the locker room after our game, and Cardenal's just sitting there talking to Ed, and all of a sudden, I was so glad to be healthy! LaRue ends up going "Hey, Juan Castro's got a guitar, would you play something?" and Ed ends up doing an acoustic version of the Beatles' "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away," and it was just awesome. The best part, though, was that Jose had no idea who Ed was! He was like "He's a good rock & roll man."
You're obviously a big Pearl Jam fan –
Oh man. I came up to bat to "Even Flow" for like 8 years. There's something great about it – music takes you to a place of comfort and ease, both of which are essential when you're an MLB player. Whenever "Even Flow" would come on, it would always give you a feeling of "I'm back." Plus, it's like being a wrestler, having your own entrance music. And, honestly, my three passions in life are probably baseball, music and wrestling.
You have four children; do any of them share those interests?
My daughter can play all the Taylor Swift songs on guitar; it's really amazing. But she'll start and I'm like "I'm so proud of you. Now play me some Pearl Jam!'"
As we head towards Opening Day, which teams have impressed you?
Obviously, the Padres are going for it. They made so many offseason moves that, all of a sudden, they're in the conversation for making a run. A.J. Preller did a great job. Chicago, going out and getting Joe Maddon, a proven winner, and then going out and getting a guy like Jon Lester, you need a horse if you want to compete, and they've got one for sure. And then all these young guys, Rizzo, Soler; there's something going on there – I really think they've done a great job of changing the culture there. I saw that same thing with Detroit, in '06, when you bring in a guy like Jim Leyland, and he goes "Enough of this, we're not losing anymore." It's contagious.
On the flip side, which teams are you down on going into 2015?
The Yankees, man, they didn't really do much; you look at their rotation, and outside of CC Sabathia and Tanaka, they have some questions. They brought back Chase Headley, but I'm not sold on their lineup. The Royals didn't do much; they brought in Edinson Volquez. The Giants, they didn't do much either, but maybe they don't have to. Losing Hunter Pence will hurt them, but if you're going to get hurt, you might as well do it early. I think Baltimore, you can't overlook losing Nelson Cruz and especially Nick Markakis. I don't think you can overlook his leadership.
Which teams do you think could surprise people and make a run at the World Series?
I'm looking at the Pirates. They're great defensively, they have one of the best players in baseball in Andrew McCutchen and they've got a good rotation; they're the team that might have a chance to get to that level. I look at the Mets, with all their young pitchers, and who knows, maybe Grandy's swing comes back. And the Marlins, you look at them and say, "Hey, maybe Jeffrey Loria's serious."
When you took a job with MLB Network, did you ever think a studio-analyst gig would involve so much fielding?
No, but I love it [laughs]. We do the demos, fielding and hitting and stuff, and I love hitting because Billy Ripken's flipping me Wiffle Balls on a mini field and I'm just crushing them. It does wonders for your confidence.