Brian Cashman was 19 years old when he took his first job with the Yankees, the organization he rejoined for three years and roughly $5.5 million yesterday. That was in 1986, and three years later he started a full-time career that will now take him past his 40th birthday.
In all those years, Cashman said yesterday, he could not remember the Yankees' ever holding the first organizational meeting of the winter in New York. It was always in Tampa, Fla., home to the principal owner George Steinbrenner and his many advisers. Not anymore.
It may be a symbolic gesture, but what it symbolizes means everything to Cashman. Though it is not spelled out in his contract, Cashman said that he received an understanding that he, and only he, would sit atop the chain of command in the Yankees' fractured baseball operations department.
"I'm the general manager, and everybody within the baseball operations department reports to me," he said. "That's not how it has operated recently."
Cashman said that Steinbrenner and the rest of the Yankees' upper management - including the general partner Steve Swindal, the president Randy Levine and the chief operating officer Lonn Trost - supported him.
The in-fighting below him made last season miserable, Cashman said.
"There's been some splintering off that's caused a lot of animosity and taken our focus away from our opponents and created opponents among ourselves," he said. "That, obviously, was not a good thing."
Cashman was referring to Steinbrenner's lieutenants in Tampa, whose suggestions often led to roster moves that undermined Cashman's authority. Privately, Cashman longed for the chance to have as much autonomy as his peers, which is why he nearly left the only organization he has known.
"It took as long as it did for a reason," said Cashman, whose current contract would have expired Monday. "My preference was to stay, but I was prepared to go if I had to."
Cashman had other reasons to stay; his family is happy living in Connecticut, close to his wife's relatives. The Yankees pay him very well, but other teams, he said, could have offered comparable money.
Cashman could have sought another job and probably gotten one. But he said the Yankees now seemed committed to working cohesively. That was the message he heard in negotiations with Swindal, who is Steinbrenner's son-in-law and has been named as his successor.
"I think there should be more phone calls and more face-to-face meetings, and the guys from Tampa can come to New York and vice versa," Swindal said in a telephone interview. "Certainly there should be better communication; there's no excuse with modern communications as we have it today. That's where we've fallen short, and I blame all of us for that."
In a statement released through the Yankees, Steinbrenner said: "I am very happy that Brian will continue as general manager. Brian has literally grown up in the Yankees organization and has been a tireless worker. He is very knowledgeable about the game and the business of baseball and is extremely loyal. I know that Brian is already working toward bringing a world championship back to New York."
That business will start in earnest with the organizational meeting, which is expected to take place within the next 10 days and will include Manager Joe Torre. Cashman said the Yankees' first priority would be center field, which could mean a trade for Torii Hunter of Minnesota or Juan Pierre of Florida.
Cashman also said the Yankees wanted to pare their $203 million payroll, pointing to the success this season with the rookies Robinson Cano and Chien-Ming Wang.
"We need to bring the payroll down," he said. "You don't need to have a high name everywhere."
Some of the names on the Yankees' roster were players Cashman acquired. Others are on the team because of decisions Cashman did not endorse. He preferred Vladimir Guerrero to Gary Sheffield, for example, and Miguel Cairo to Tony Womack.
With a clearer chain of command, the Yankees would theoretically have a team with parts that fit better. In recent years, the Yankees have sometimes seemed to be a jumble, with several players better suited to be designated hitters.
"I'm not sure how you can translate that," Swindal said. "But in the end, if you don't talk in one clear voice, there's a lot of finger-pointing, and that's not helpful. If you're operating more efficiently, that should translate into better decisions."
Cashman said he told Steinbrenner and Swindal that Gene Michael, a vice president and special adviser who has fallen out of favor with Steinbrenner, should be back in the inner circle, which would give Cashman another ally in the New York office.
Cashman did not say which people in Tampa had overstepped their job descriptions to create the in-house turf war. But three of Steinbrenner's vice presidents under the baseball operations umbrella - Billy Connors, Bill Emslie and Damon Oppenheimer - have wielded authority that has sometimes seemed at odds with Cashman.
Connors's specialty is pitching, Emslie works in professional scouting and Oppenheimer in amateur scouting. Technically, they all report to Cashman, and he said that from now on, everybody would stay in his own sphere.
"It's just as simple as that," Cashman said. "Any time that individual has to take their time away from those endeavors - if they're working on potential trade ideas or things of that nature, or thinking about the coaches, whatever the ideas may be - that's how we're going to simplify it. It fits rather well together, and that's clearly what we all want."
The chain of command will be defined, Cashman said several times, and he will waste less time "dousing fires" between Torre and the Tampa staff, among other feuds.
But it is still Steinbrenner's team, Cashman said, and everybody knows who has the final say on all matters.
"The Boss is the managing general partner, and he's going to guide the ship accordingly," Swindal said. "But we certainly want to improve the process as well."