In Winning in Both Leagues J. Frank Cashen looks back over his twenty-five-year career in baseball. Best known as the general manager of the New York Mets during their remaking and rise to glory in the 1980s, Cashen fills the pages with lively stories from his baseball tenure during the last half of the twentieth century. His career included a stint with the Baltimore Orioles of the late ’60s and ’70s, working with manager Earl Weaver and the great teams of the early ’70s, including such players as Jim Palmer, Frank Robinson, and Brooks Robinson. Later, tapped by Mets owner Nelson Doubleday Jr. to bring the Mets to the pinnacle of Major League Baseball, Cashen, with the rise of superstars Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden, led the Mets to the thrilling come-from-behind victory over the Boston Red Sox leading to the World Series championship in 1986.
Winning in Both Leagues also chronicles the drafting of Billy Beane, who would later be the focus of the New York Times bestseller Moneyball. Cashen, who was a central figure in the fierce competition with New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, excelled at building winning ball clubs and remains one of only two general managers ever to win a World Series in both leagues.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Winning in Both Leagues
Reflections from Baseball's Front Office
By J. Frank Cashen
UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA PRESSCopyright © 2014 J. Frank Cashen
All rights reserved.
Most baseball fans remember 1986 not as the year the New York Mets won the World Series but rather the time Bill Buckner and the Boston Red Sox snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. For me, as the general manager, and for Mets fans, that sweet victory capped six years of rebuilding the club that became a memorable winner.
And while the Red Sox Nation faced a winter of discontent, and Bill Buckner a decade of abuse, New Yorkers rejoiced over the end of a rare drought in baseball championships. The Yankees had last done it in 1978 and the Mets' only world championship had occurred a whole generation earlier, in 1969.
The World Series win was a great moment for the team and the fans. For me, it was the pinnacle of my long and very fortunate career in baseball. But it almost didn't happen that way, as any baseball observer in 1986 may well remember. I know I will.
What happened in Game Six of that World Series on October 25, 1986, was historic, and worth describing again in some detail.
Down three games to two, the Mets headed from Boston to New York for Game Six. We were in a tough spot, having just lost Game Five at Fenway Park, with our ace, Dwight Gooden, on the mound. We faced elimination from our championship dreams. Friday was an off day, the traditional travel day, and twenty-four hours more to worry and fret. It wasn't just the Saturday game, but we also needed the one after that for the title. The Mets were going to have to win the next two on their home field at Shea Stadium.
A young Roger Clemens was on the mound for Boston, facing the Mets' Bob Ojeda. The Sox held a 2–0 lead in the bottom of the fifth, when we struck back with two to tie. Boston then scored and led 3–2 in the seventh. But the Mets tied it, 3–3, on Gary Carter's sacrifice fly in the bottom of the eighth. The score remained tied through the ninth, forcing the game into extra innings. Boston scored two in the top of the tenth to lead 5–3. Things looked bleak for the home team.
From my box in the press section, I could see the excitement growing in the Red Sox dugout. My friend Lou Gorman, the general manager of the Red Sox, had escorted Boston owner Mrs. Tom Yawkey down next to the Red Sox dugout to be ready to enter the locker room to celebrate with her new world champions. Mrs. Yawkey, of course, was the gracious lady who owned the Red Sox after her husband, the legendary Tom Yawkey, passed away. Knowing how Lou would have the champagne iced for the festivities, I must admit the thought crossed my mind that as long as we weren't going to win the big prize, I was glad Gorman and his Red Sox would. He and I had been associates too long, too many times, to think otherwise.
As that final inning started, I went to Mets owner Nelson Doubleday's box and suggested that we go down to the Red Sox locker room, after they had clinched it, to congratulate Mrs. Yawkey, Lou Gorman, and the rest on winning the World Series.
"You don't have to stay long," I told him, "in fact, you shouldn't. There will be some pictures, but it's their celebration and we should get out in a hurry."
Doubleday said no and continued, "Frank, you handle it. You've done everything else to get us here and you can certainly express our congratulations." So Fred Wilpon, who at that time was club president, agreed to go with me. We stood in the back of the press box to watch what looked like the last half inning of the game. I had already instructed the elevator operator to hold the elevator for us because it would be in great demand once the game was over. What happened next will always be remembered by those who were either present, listening on the radio, or watching on TV.
Our first two batters, Wally Backman and Keith Hernandez, were quickly retired in the bottom of the tenth and the Red Sox were one out away from their first World Series Championship since 1918, ending the so-called Curse of the Bambino (punishment upon the Sox for the infamous sale of Babe Ruth to the hated Yankees). Down to our last out, the Mets rose from the dead when Gary Carter, Kevin Mitchell, and Ray Knight all singled to move the Mets within a run of the Sox. Both Carter and Knight got their hits when down to their last strikes. This brought center fielder Mookie Wilson to the plate. A wild pitch by Boston reliever Bob Stanley got Mitchell home to tie the contest as the Shea Stadium crowd turned delirious. Wilson, still at bat, then hit what was best described as a dribbler toward first base. Fleet-footed, Wilson took off like a rocket down the first base line. Playing just off first base, Bill Buckner, perhaps distracted by Mookie's blazing speed, let the ball go through his legs. As Wilson stepped safely on the first base bag, Knight romped home with the winning run and the Mets survived what looked to be a sure defeat. People who saw that game will remember it to their dying day.
When Wilson landed on first base, I was stunned. The crowd started to bellow, then broke into a full-throated roar that didn't stop. On the contrary, it seemed to grow in intensity, and the whole park was soon on its feet, screaming. I later realized that the considerable numbers of Boston fans still in the ballpark were crying in dismay, while the locals were in a high state of elation. Feeding the latter was the show on the field as Mets players thumped each other, jumped on top of each other, and generally behaved like an unruly bunch of juveniles. But after watching the scene on the playing field, I realized that the people in the sky boxes and the ones in the grandstand were not acting dissimilarly.
Coming off that Saturday night high was no small challenge either. The seventh and deciding game was scheduled for the next night. Those twenty-four hours to that seventh and deciding game had to be the longest day and night of my life. The day started unpromising to say the least: rainy, windy, gloomy. Would it clear in time for the game? That was the first question that came to mind when I staggered out of bed after the previous night's short session of drinking and celebrating that come-from-behind victory. No answer being relevant, it did call for an early return to the ballpark, where the worrying only gathered more intensity.
The hope for a game that night gradually faded as the weather showed no signs of letting up, and radio and television and a half-hundred newspaper people were clamoring for a decision. The commissioner finally called the game and put off the showdown until the following night. Another twenty-four hours to wait. The World Series had to be over that next day, or, to be exact, the next night.
No matter the outcome, it would mean the final bolt would be driven in my sixyear rebuilding job of moving the Mets from the worst organization in the big leagues to the very best. Actually, the club had been turned around two years earlier—in 1984, when the Mets finished with a 90-72 record, their first above .500 since 1976. But here we were in October 1986, still short of the world championship. What about a loss in the now-delayed seventh game? Such a loss would mean all those hopes and dreams would come up short. Still, I thought, it would have been an interesting and cherished journey, but lacking the gold at the end of the rainbow. Honestly, I was so focused on winning that I gave scant consideration to the prospect of losing.
And for the chief executive of the Mets, there were other game-related concerns at hand. Would the playing field be dried out for the Monday finale? The infield was covered with a tarp, but the rest of the field was totally exposed. There was a legion of ticket and hotel reservation problems prompted principally by the postponed game. The vast majority of the problems involved season ticket holders and other baseball teams. For customers of that stripe you always moved mountains. All of these problems seemed to run together and left their residue in my throat and stomach. Would these twenty-four hours, now forty-eight, ever end?
For the Boston press, it was another day to vilify Bill Buckner, which turned into weeks, which turned into months, and, yes, into years. Bill, who lived in New England, put up with it for as long as he could, but to protect his family he escaped Boston and relocated to Idaho, where the 1986 World Series was not as memorable an event. Years later, twenty-two to be exact, the Boston team invited him back and sought to make amends. Belatedly, he was cheered with a standing ovation at Fenway Park. It may have been forgiven but it never has been forgotten.
My own opinion is that the whole matter was blown grossly out of proportion. Fair-minded baseball people will tell you that Wilson was most likely going to beat the ball out for a base hit and it didn't make any difference what Buckner did. Bill Buckner was a good ballplayer (he compiled a lifetime batting average of .289 over twenty-one seasons in the Majors) and an all-around good guy. I said it then and I have never changed my mind.
Boston had its best pitcher, Bruce Hurst, on the mound for Game Seven. The Sox picked up three runs in the second inning off our starter, Ron Darling, and held onto that lead until the bottom of the sixth, when New York got three of its own. Hernandez drove in two and Knight, who was having a dream series, homered in the seventh to put the Mets up for keeps. Hernandez drove in another run and Darryl Strawberry cracked a home run for an 8–5 lead. Roger McDowell got the win, with help from closer Jesse Orosco—and the Mets were world champions. What a moment after our improbable recovery from near death on Saturday night! It was great to have helped produce a winner, and an unforgettable time to be a part of the national pastime.
Winning the World Series, I couldn't help but reflect on my years in baseball and how it all started, and what an unlikely journey it was.CHAPTER 2
Call from the Boss
It was the fall of 1965. I was sitting in my office at National Brewing when my intercom buzzed and a woman's voice I recognized asked, "Busy?" It was Jerry Hoffberger's secretary. Sometimes that's a loaded question, especially when it comes in the middle of the workday. Be careful how you answer it. "Not particularly, what's up?" was my reply. "The boss would like to see you," she said. The boss, of course, was Jerry Hoffberger, CEO of National Brewing Company, where I had happily toiled as advertising director for the past four years. "Coming," I answered and headed from my third-floor office to the first floor of the East Baltimore building, where the executive offices were located.
The Hoffberger family had been prominent in Baltimore for many years. After attending the University of Virginia and serving as a U.S. Army officer in World War II, Jerry Hoffberger was president of the National Brewing Company from 1946 to 1973. He was involved with the Baltimore Orioles from its Major League inception in 1954 as a part-owner and then majority owner from 1965 to 1979. He did similar stints with the Baltimore Colts, at that time the city's entry in the National Football League. A bigger-than-life figure, Jerry was a civic benefactor who gave major contributions to schools and hospitals and was a leader in the city's improving fortunes in the 1970s.
After the usual greetings, Jerry invited me to sit down, then inquired about my assistant, Bill Costello, a very bright young man whom I had hired away from Life magazine where he'd been a staff writer. Previously he had been a sportswriter at the Baltimore Evening Sun, but having moved away from journalism, he had taken a quick liking to the ad business. It was easy to respond with the usual complimentary remarks, though Hoffberger startled me with his next question: "Is he ready to take your job and run the advertising department?" "I believe so," I answered cautiously, "but why do you ask?"
All kinds of foolish things ran through my mind. "Where had I screwed up?" "Who had complained?" "Who the hell had the right to or the grounds to complain?" No answers came up on the spot, so I turned my full attention to what Jerry had to say. "I'm thinking about a new assignment for you, but first I want to make sure the advertising department is set." "Billy will do fine," I protested, "but what's this stuff about a new assignment?"
Hoffberger spoke dispassionately, sensing that I was a bit confused. First he said he appreciated the report I had submitted earlier on the Orioles and had given it a lot of thought. Then he added that he was convinced in his own mind that the Orioles organization did a poor job of marketing the ball club. It was an area that needed immediate attention. His voice became more positive as he went on to say he felt I could, working with chief executive officer and general manager Lee MacPhail, supply the needed ingredient. I was stunned and had no ready answer.
The report he referred to had come about many months earlier. In early 1965 Jerry was more than certain he was going to have control of the club the following year. In fact, he had discussed it with me. After cautioning me to keep the matter "under my hat," he asked a favor. Pointing out that he was probably a year away from making any changes in the club, he asked me to spend the pending 1965 season closely watching the team—particularly the personnel—and the office group as well.
The Orioles' principal owner at the time was Joe Iglehart, a local investor and leader of a group of Baltimore business leaders, mostly CEOs of their own companies. In addition to Hoffberger, that group also included Zan Kreiger of the Gunther Brewing Company. National Brewing had arranged to buy Iglehart's stock and thus become the dominant partner. Among Iglehart's investments was a sizable interest in the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), where he served as treasurer of the corporation. CBS had just bought the New York Yankees from Dan Topping and Del Webb, and Major League Baseball rules prevented any individual or corporation from having a simultaneous interest in two ball clubs. Iglehart, with some degree of reluctance, decided to sell his interest in the Orioles and retain his position with CBS.
(As an aside, it's interesting to note that, unable to produce positive results and hampered by mounting conflicts of interest over individual clubs' television contracts, CBS, which reportedly paid $14 million for the Yankees, put it up for sale a couple years later. George Steinbrenner and a band of limited partners purchased the Yankees for somewhere between $8 and $10 million, of which he reportedly put up only $168,000 of his own money, in what turned out to be one of the greatest sports purchases of all time.)
Having been a sportswriter for some fifteen years and handling the brewery's radio and television rights after that, the operations side of big league baseball was not exactly new to me. So, while still holding my job as director of advertising, I spent 1965 quietly scrutinizing the Baltimore Orioles organization. At the time Hoffberger made his proposal, I was very happy and comfortable in the advertising job, overseeing a $14 million budget. So I had some initial hesitancy. But I accepted the boss's challenge.
Although I didn't realize it at the time, subsequent events showed I was strangely suited for the challenges I would face. First, I knew the game, having played it from an early age. I played it (badly) in college, so badly, in fact, that one of the coaches later declared I was on the team only because they had an extra uniform. I was a second baseman with a weak arm and an even weaker bat. Even so, for six years after I graduated, I put together and played on a good fast-pitch softball team, the Esquires. I was a pitcher, of sorts, on a successful club.
Second, for a year before I joined the Orioles, I had been evaluating the performance of the playing part of that organization as well as that of its front office. By this time I also had graduated with a JD from the University of Maryland School of Law and had passed the Maryland state bar. This proved most valuable, not only in handling player contracts but in negotiating radio and TV pacts as well. I had had some experience with the latter, since, in my previous stint in advertising at the brewery, I had handled all of the sports media work. That law degree also was most helpful in solving professional baseball's labyrinth of rights and rules. Finally, my years as a sportswriter for the Baltimore News-Post had given me a good grasp of public and media relations, and as an advertising executive, I was comfortable with sizable budgets and their annual upward climbs.
With my unusual and eclectic range of experiences and love of baseball, I felt reasonably sure I could tackle Mr. Hoffberger's challenge.
Excerpted from Winning in Both Leagues by J. Frank Cashen. Copyright © 2014 J. Frank Cashen. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA PRESS.
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Table of Contents
ContentsList of Illustrations,
Foreword by Billy Beane,
1. Beating Boston,
2. Call from the Boss,
3. Baltimore Beginnings,
4. Shocking Developments,
5. Parting Gift,
6. Four Straight,
7. After the Sweep,
8. Earl of Baltimore,
9. Low Point to High Flyers,
10. Negotiating Contracts,
11. My First Passion,
12. From Studs to Suds,
13. Commish's Call,
14. Baseball Trails,
15. Casting My Fate,
16. Changing the Mets' Image,
17. Yellow Pad Parlance,
18. Trade Secrets,
19. Competing in the Apple,
20. Building a Winner,
21. Breaking .500,
22. Dominating Season,
23. Infamous Plane Trip,
24. Series Showdown,
25. Futures Trading,
26. Broadcasting Brilliance,
27. New Friends, New Places,
28. Traveling Tales,
29. Mets Changes,
30. New Choices,
31. Extra Innings,
About J. Frank Cashen,
About Billy Beane,