Retired Nashville Police Chief Joe Casey is a beloved public servant, but did you know he was also a talented amateur and professional baseball player?
Became Police Chief in 1973
Joe Casey joined Nashville’s police force on November 5, 1951, and for the next 38 years was with the department. He served all ranks of the police before becoming chief in 1973, a position he held for 16 years until 1989.
A strong influence known for taking law enforcement seriously, at his retirement celebration on August 31, 1989, he let his heart tell how he cared for those around him.
“I’ve got mixed emotions about this,” he told Tennessean staff writer Cynthia Floyd. “I’m walking away from 38 years of my life.”
“About 90% of this department, I’ve either promoted or hired. You get close to people. They’re like your family.”
He has served as President of the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police seven different times and is a former President of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. The West Precinct building at 5500 Charlotte Pike is named the Chief Joe D. Casey Building in his honor.
Amateur and High School Baseball Phenom
Those who knew him before his career in law enforcement know what a great athlete he was. Not only did he play in amateur leagues for CMI under Tom Page, he also attended North High School where he lettered in six sports and was named to the All-City Baseball team in 1945 and 1946, the only unanimous choice.
His pitching record for those two years was 23 wins and 1 loss with five no-hitters. Most of his wins were shutouts, and his one loss was to Hume-Fogg by a 1-0 score.
During one of his no-hitters against Father Ryan, he won 4-0 by retiring 20 consecutive batters. After the game, the late Edgar Allen wrote in the Nashville Banner that it was the most dominating pitching performance he had ever witnessed.
“Big Joe Casey was THE reason for the victory, North’s fourth of the spring. The lanky 19-year-old, fastballing righthander hurled perhaps the best game in Interscholastic history as he set the Irish down without a hit and was within ONE STRIKE OF NASHVILLE’S FIRST PERFECT GAME FOR A PREP HURLER.”
“Using a side-arm fastball with dazzling speed, Casey fanned 17 of the 22 batters to face him, retiring 20 consecutive Panthers until Richard Kirk walked with two out in the seventh. At that, he had the count two strikes, one ball on the Ryan centerfielder before allowing him to reach first on four balls.
I recently sat down with him at his home in Donelson and asked him what he remembers about that game. Our dad, Virgil Nipper, came in from second base to catch as regular catcher Buck Pardue had to leave the game after splitting his index and middle fingers from one of Casey’s pitches.
I knew the background from dad, but the man who once stood 6’4” and 187 pounds during his playing days, and although a little bent over and a little slower, is still a towering figure, has a specific memory from that day.
He said he thought he should have had a perfect game.
“The count was 3-2 on the 21st batter, and I threw a strike. I don’t know why the umpire called it a ball, but he did. It was the only batter to reach base on me because I struck the next one out.”
Had Five-Year Minor League Career
Signed to a professional contract after high school, he played for Clarksville (1946) and Owensboro (1947) in the Kitty League, Hartford in the Eastern League (1948-49), Denver in the Western League (1949-50) where his spring training teammates included Warren Spahn and Lew Burdette.
He hurt his arm in Austin, Texas during an exhibition game with the University of Texas.
“Spahn was to have started and pitched the first three innings, Burdette was to pitch the next three, and I was supposed to come in to pitch the last three. Burdette told the manager he was not ready, so I went in to begin the fourth and pitched the rest of the way.”
“I hurt my arm, and do you know what they did to make it better? They sent me off to have my adenoids and appendix removed. Can you believe that?”
“I told Jewell that I would give baseball five years, and it was time to come home.”
At home, he played for the Nashville Vols, a professional basketball team in the Southern Basketball Association, and picked up on his baseball career in local leagues.
Played and Coached in Local Leagues
In 1951, Casey pitched for DuPont, which captured the City League championship, and at the end of the season, the company sent the team to New York. One of the side trips was to the Polo Grounds where the team attended the playoff game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants on October 3, 1951.
“When Bobby Thomson hit that home run to win the game to send the Giants to the World Series, the ball landed just a few rows in front of us in left field. I wonder whatever happened to that ball.”
It was that year Casey joined the police department. He was a turnkey at the jail for two weeks before being assigned to the patrol division. He became a detective in 1962, earning a promotion to sergeant and then inspector. Sixteen months later, he became a major in the patrol division. When Chief Hugh Mott resigned in 1973, Casey was named chief.
1951 was also the year the Police team became a charter member of Nashville’s Babe Ruth League. After managing Johnny Beazley’s Falstaff City League team for four years while also pitching, he managed the amateur youth Police team from the mid-1950s until 1962.
In 1959, he coached the Babe Ruth All Star team to the World Tournament in Stockton, California the first Nashville amateur baseball team to compete for a national championship.
Along with his professional duties with Metro Nashville, he was a basketball official for 23 years at the junior high, high school, and college level, and was inducted into the TSSAA Hall of Fame in the Officials category in 2008.
Named to Old Timers Hall of Fame in 2009
Born on July 31, 1926, he is of Irish descent and is an active member of Parkway Baptist Church. When he was named as the Old Timers Nashville Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame recipient for 2009, dad gave his introduction.
“This year’s Hall of Fame inductee is Joe Casey. I deem this a special treat for me to introduce him to you: I’ve known Joe for 71 years. As boys, we played stickball in the middle of 14th Ave. Joe could throw so hard we could not hit him with a broomstick; sometimes we used the entire broom and still had a hard time hitting the ball.”
My brother Jim and I have heard stories about dad’s great teammate. They grew up across the street from each other, and with eight brothers and sisters, the supper table was already cleared when dad would come after practice.
“There were times when I wouldn’t have had a hot meal for supper if it hadn’t been for Mrs. Casey,” dad used to say.
When dad died in 2016, Chief Casey called me and said he would not mind if I called him “Uncle Joe”, since he was boyhood pals with dad and had heard all the stories about me and my brother and my family, just like we had heard about him.
It has been “Uncle Joe” ever since. I am proud to be a member of his family that way, for he is a great public servant, athlete, valued teammate and coach to many, and upstanding citizen. He is well-deserving of all accolades.
Note: Portions of this biography were first published on the Nashville Old Timers Baseball Association’s website: Old Timers Board Members
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