For Yankees, an Apprentice Has Become a Survivor
Published: March 19, 2011
TAMPA, Fla. — The book on Brian Cashman was that he was a small but scrappy second baseman, excellent speed, active bat, good glove, average arm and stubborn as a Steinbrenner in his approach to the game.
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As a four-year starter and leadoff hitter at Catholic University in Washington in the mid-to-late 1980s, Cashman was known for refusing to look down the third-base line at his coach for fear of seeing the take sign.
“I had trouble with secondary pitches,” he said. “If the first pitch of the game was a fastball, I would jump on it and hammer it, opposite of the approach I have as a general manager. I like guys with high on-base percentages.”
Ask Cashman a question, almost any question, and invariably the answer rambles around to what’s best for the Yankees.
One of these years, this admitted workaholic promises to change the subject, take the exotic vacation that somehow eluded him through college and beyond. He will go to Europe, a continent he has yet to set foot on. He will finally make time to explore his religious and ancestral roots.
“My name is Brian McGuire Cashman, Irish Roman Catholic, but I have never been to the Vatican and I have not been to County Cork,” he said, in his peppy monotone and with what sounded like a 50-50 mix of personal regret and professional pride.
Wherever Cashman has traveled abroad — China, Japan, Latin America — his sight was set on the business of summers in the South Bronx. At 43 but in his 25th year of working for the Yankees, he acknowledged that he probably needs to get out more.
“Let’s do it over here — I could use some sun,” he said to a recent interview request, choosing a shadeless corner of the team’s spring training complex. Committed as he is to the Yankees’ cause, the blue-eyed, fair-skinned Cashman has apparently not given up on a state of being — tanned and rested — that has proved more challenging than his unlikely rise from Yankees summer intern to general manager to quarter-century organizational fixture.
Thirteen years, six pennants and four World Series titles after Bob Watson resigned in February 1998 and recommended his 30-year-old assistant as his replacement, Cashman is baseball’s third-longest-tenured G.M., the Little Intern That Could. What a long, strange road he has walked, never quite certain of which direction he was going.
“If you asked me now, it would be the same answer as 10 years ago — I still don’t know what’s next for me,” he said, squinting at the bright Florida sky. “I’ve always been a here-and-now guy, but I didn’t aspire to do this and I still don’t know if this is my lifetime career.”
‘Don’t Be Comfortable’
Here and now, Cashman and his wife, Mary, have two children, Grace, 12, and Teddy, 8, and a home in Darien, Conn. For Cashman, who has been employed full time by the Yankees since 1992, the baseball life has been rewarding but consuming. In the final year of his latest contract, his attitudinal approach was probably the healthiest for a position that before Cashman had all the security of a bowling pin on a busy day at the alley.
So unsure was he that the general manager’s job was the right one for him, or he for it, that Cashman worked the 1998 season on a handshake agreement with George Steinbrenner, the principal owner. Visited by conviction after the Yankees recorded the final four of their 125 victories in the World Series, Cashman asked for and received a contract.
Still, he treated his Yankee Stadium office like a hotel room, and that has not changed.
“I don’t have anything personal up on my walls,” he said. “Don’t be comfortable here; it was almost like it was built inside of me.”
Could it be that perspective was shaped more by the workplace environment, booby-trapped as it was for managers and general managers during his early years with the franchise?
In the summer of 1987, then 19 turning 20, Cashman watched Steinbrenner’s G.M., Woody Woodward, suffer to the extent that his office nickname was the Pharmacist, because of all the stress medication he stockpiled to deal with the Boss.
Woodward left after one season, leaving Cashman to wonder who would want such a job. Not he; by then, he was a history major considering law school.
As an intern, he helped out in the minor league scouting department by day, making a few extra dollars working stadium security at night. He got the position through a friend of Steinbrenner’s who worked at a Florida racetrack that was affiliated with the Kentucky standardbred farm managed by Cashman’s father, John.