Frank Cashen, a one-time Baltimore sportswriter-turned-baseball man who presided over championship Oriole teams in the ’60s and ’70s and then, as general manager of the Mets, was the architect of their 1986 world championship team with a series of inspired trades for Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, Ron Darling and Bobby Ojeda, among others, died Monday at Memorial Hospital in Easton, M d., after a short illness . He was 88.
A squat, roundish man with his signature bow-tie and flow of white hair framing a puffy, Irish face, Cashen was the first and most important hire made by Nelson Doubleday after he and Wilpon bought the Mets in 1980 for $21.1 million. Cashen, who was working for commissioner Bowie Kuhn at the time, had been recommended to Doubleday by Baltimore Orioles owner Jerry Hoffberger, for whom he’d worked, first as publicity director for Hoffberger’s two Baltimore race tracks, then as head of advertising for his National Brewing Co. and finally as executive VP of his baseball team. At the time, the Mets were at their lowest point since their early expansion years, coming off three straight last-place, 95-plus loss seasons in which the club had been badly mismanaged by the heirs of team owner/founder Joan Payson. Their 788,905 attendance in 1979 was – and remains today – a record low for the franchise.
Cashen, who’d taken the job reluctantly – “I was really happy working at the brewery and I thought I was kind of done with sports” — quickly understood the yeoman task of rebuilding the Mets and told Doubleday and Wilpon he was going to need four years and the leeway to do things his way. His first move was to overhaul the scouting and player development system, bringing in Lou Gorman, his scouting director with the Orioles, and Joe McIlvaine, one of his top scouts in Baltimore, to head up the Mets operations. Under their stewardship, the Mets drafted and developed Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, Lenny Dykstra, Wally Backman, Kevin Mitchell and relievers Roger McDowell and Rick Aguilera, all of whom became key players on the ’86 championship club.
The Mets of the 80's would not have been the Mets of the 80's without Frank Cashen's genius - he focused on building the farm system in an era when many teams looked to free agency.
Met's Co-Owner Nelson Doubleday put this into persepctive in 1986:
“The reason the Mets are a success is Frank Cashen — no ifs, ands or buts,” Nelson Doubleday, then the team’s co-owner, told Bruce Weber of The New York Times Magazine in 1986.
Keith Hernandez put more perspective on Cashen's genius in 2004:
In November 2004, most of the Mets’ 1986 team was on hand to honor their manager and general manager at a charity function in New York. “I guess I owe everything to Frank,” Keith Hernandez said at the time. “He put together the deal that got me here. He’s a guy who achieved greatness in baseball without ever picking up a bat.”
Bobby Ojeda and Ron Darling have even more perspective:
“Frank was not only brilliant with statistical analysis, but he was brilliant in what he read in people, compiling a team of different personalities that fit, different personalities who had one goal in mind — winners,” said Ojeda, who came aboard just in time for the 1986 championship season. “He didn’t acquire players who were happy to go 3 for 4 and lose.”Cashen’s knack for acquiring talent was uncanny. He was unafraid to trade the popular Lee Mazzilli for Darling and Walt Terrell. When he heard that Whitey Herzog, the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, was unhappy with Hernandez, he dealt Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey for the best all-around position player the Mets have ever had. Gooden was promoted to the Mets straight out of Class A, a bold move that immediately paid off.“Many folks can conjure up a reason not to make a trade — the money, the size of the deal, protecting the minor league system — but Frank always found a reason to make the deal,” Darling said. “Underneath that conservative look, there was a lot of poker player in him.”
RIP, Mr. Cashen.