CINCINNATI — They were both first basemen, they both played for the Cincinnati Reds and they both could bash a baseball with the best of them.
They both smile easily and enjoy talking baseball, but they’ll never be mistaken for clones.
Dan Driessen is one of those people who speaks only when spoken to — and then not for long — while if Sean Casey is asked for a drink of water he gives you Niagara Falls.
Both were inducted Saturday into the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame, along with a first baseman from the 1880’s, John Reilly.
Driessen, though, displayed some pleasant dry wit on induction day. He was the unfortunate guy who had to replace Tony Perez in 1977 when the ever-popular first-baseman was traded.
Asked if he felt pressure about taking an icon’s place, Driessen smiled and said, “Well, yeah.” After laughter subsided, Driessen added, “As everybody knew, he was a real popular fellow and he was my friend.”
Then he added, “At the end of spring training I had a little bit of a groin injury in 1977, so I got off to kind of a slow start and the people of Cincinnati let me know it.”
Driessen’s name is etched in baseball history, too, as the National League’s first designated hitter in the 1976 World Series. “And I got three hits that day and it was against the New York Yankees, man, and that was special.”
After the Reds won two games at home, the Series shifted to New York, where the DH was used for the first time, and Driessen’s three hits included a home run as the Reds won 6-2 en route to a four-game sweep.
About his shyness and silence, Driessen said, “It is not always the guys who are talking the most, some of us are laying in the grass waiting in ambush.”
It took the Reds Hall of Fame people three days to find Driessen because he was deer hunting. When he returned and his wife told him, “I was a little bit stunned.”
Driessen was a young, late arrival to The Big Red Machine Era and said, “These guys had a winning tradition. The younger guys picked up on the stuff the older guys were already doing to win ball game.”
Casey spent eight years with the Reds, hitting .305, after he was traded to Cincinnati by the Cleveland Indians less than 24 hours before Opening Day 1998.
“There was a guy named Jim Thome playing in Cleveland, so I knew my days were numbered there,” said Casey. “But I though, ‘Well, the Reds want me. And it’s a chance to play every day.’”
Casey, fondly known as The Mayor, was arguably the most popular player ever to wear a Reds uniform and said before the ceremony to a friend, “I’ve got to hold myself together, man, if I can. This is so special.”
But he was near tears as he talked of his days with the Reds.
“I wasn’t a five-tool guy, I was a blue-collar guy, a blue-collar worker,” he said. “I couldn’t run, I couldn’t throw, but I could hit. For me, this is my kind of city because it is a blue-collar town and I’m a blue-collar guy.
“Getting after it every day, grinding it out — that was my kind of game,” he added. “I always felt a connection here with my teammates, the fans and the city. I always had that connection.”
When Driessen’s shyness was pointed out, Casey was reminded of how he used to bend the ears of baserunners at first base until they nearly screamed, ‘No mas, no mas.”
Casey recalled his rookie year when Rickey Henderson reached first base. Before Henderson even toed the bag, Casey started in: “I was in the majors for just three weeks and so excited. I thought, ‘I’m going to talk to these guys because I might be out of here soon.’ I don’t know how long I’d be sticking around.
“So Henderson singled and gets to first base and I’m so excited, a wide-eyed 23-year-old,” said Casey. “So I tell him, ‘Hey, man, great job, great swing, I have your baseball card and you’re such a great guy and player.’”
Casey said Henderson just looked at him, “As if to say, ‘Just shut up. I’ve had enough of you. I don’t even know who you are.’ Then two seconds later, bam, he stole second base.’”
Then the man who was never at a loss for words walked to the podium on the field for his official inducation, and delivered his acceptance speech with tear-filled eyes and a cracking voice.