Former Orioles and Mets GM Led Champions
Inspired by his father's work ethic and thirst for opportunity, Frank Cashen, '45, guided the Baltimore Orioles and New York Mets to five World Series appearances
July 22, 2011
Whether the words from his father, Cornelius Cashen, flowed in Gaelic or in the brogue, young John Francis Cashen learned early that every opportunity—no matter how insignificant—was a chance for something bigger. Something better. This America—this God-kissed land of milk, honey, and opportunity—offered a chance to carve out a grand existence.
So if an opportunity did present itself, Cornelius taught Frank—leap. So Frank did. Some might say he never came down.
“I’ve just had an incredible amount of luck,” the 1945 Loyola graduate said from his home in Easton, Md. “I was a writer by choice, a lawyer by education, a horseman by heritage, a brewery worker by necessity, and a baseball executive by good fortune.”
As a general manager he guided a champion Baltimore Orioles team and resurrected a moribund New York Mets team, then crafted it into the most thrilling team in baseball. To this day, many baseball executives still consider the 85-year-old Cashen the finest front-office man of his generation.
Ask Cashen about his life, and he invites you into his past. And he speaks of his parents and of his time growing up in Baltimore in the 1920s and ’30s.
“I guess you can say everything has come from my mother and father,” said Cashen, who has been married to his wife, Jean, for 61 years. “Everything, I guess, was just sort of implanted in me from an early age.”
Path to the Diamond
Hard as he tried, Irish-born Cornelius Cashen couldn’t find work in County Tipperary in 1914. So he broke for America. And like the thoroughbreds he raced in his homeland, Cornelius bolted to the front at the Fleischmann Company—a yeast company booming around the turn of the century. Cornelius went from floor scrubber, to coal man, to boiler man, and eventually to chief engineer at the large Baltimore plant.
The Cashen blueprint in America was set: Work hard … then love just as well.
Frank hurtled into existence in the front room of the family’s Northeast Baltimore row house in 1925 and chased street cars to school. His father would come home from work at night, reach for his fiddle and delight his growing family with music, warmth, and vivid storytelling. Frank watched his Dad’s every move.
Then he leapt.
As a 15-year-old student at Mount Saint Joseph High School in Baltimore, Frank went into town seeking a job at the Baltimore News-American. He was put to work that day. After a short stint with menial work, he started to fight for reporting assignments. He was eventually put on the prep football beat, which he juggled between two other jobs and school work.
“All I ever really wanted to be was a writer,” said Cashen, a Greyhounds second baseman who flew through Mount Saint Joseph and Loyola in six years flat.
But baseball is merely a part of Cashen’s story. He’s a humble, easygoing man, but if his former colleagues were around today, they would laud his multidimensional job successes in the worlds of horses, beer, and newsrooms. Always, his grind-it-out work ethic and warmhearted flair for managing employees continued to thrust him forward.
At the News-American Cashen became an award-winning reporter. He also went on to earn a law degree at the University of Maryland and work in the racetrack business—as general manager of the old Baltimore Raceway and the Harford County Fair. Cashen moved into the brewing industry in the 1960s, working as advertising director for the National Brewery. After Jerry Hoffberger, CEO of the brewery, became the majority owner of the Orioles, he sent Cashen to run the team. That was in 1966. The thrill of sustaining a champion coursed through Cashen’s bloodstream.
He led four Orioles teams to World Series (1966, 1969, 1970, and 1971) and won championships in ’66 and ’70. Early on, he was wise enough to understand he had inherited a solid foundation, “so I just tried to stay out of the way.” But after a while, he gained a reputation for a deft touch in handling talent for developing players in the farm system, for trades, and for plucking raw talent in the amateur draft.
Under Cashen’s direction and watchful eye, future stars Eddie Murray, Dwight Gooden, and Darryl Strawberry were drafted as teenagers. With Cashen overseeing baseball operations in Baltimore, he helped lure Hall-of-Famer Frank Robinson to the Orioles in one of the most lopsided trades in baseball history. Fifteen years later, he inherited a Mets team with the worst attendance, farm system, and reputation in baseball and steered it into a World Series champion.
His most difficult decision was taking on the general manager position for the Mets. When former owner Nelson Doubleday lured him to his team in 1980, the team was woeful.
“The team had to be completely rebuilt from the ground up. The team was, really, almost a tragedy,” Cashen said. “But I missed the challenge of winning.”
After he assumed his role, New Yorkers watched as the Mets wiped the Yankees off the front pages of the New York tabloids in the mid-to-late 1980s.
“I learned early that as a G.M., you needed the courage of your own convictions. You listen to all your people because you trust them, you consider what they’re saying, you weigh it, and you have to evaluate the evaluator,” said Cashen, who retired in 1993 and spends part of the year living in Port St. Lucie, Fla., near the Mets spring training complex. “And at the very end, it’s you that has to make that decision.”
Hall of Famer
When the Mets beat the Red Sox in the World Series six years later, Cashen became an overnight legend in New York City. Last year he was inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame, along with Gooden, Strawberry, and former Orioles and Mets manager Davey Johnson, whom Cashen hired.
“I’ve been very lucky,” said Cashen, who gave each of his five World Series rings to his five sons.
Dad might say, though, that it wasn’t luck, but work that got it done.
Read on for extra insights into Frank Cashen.
How Frank Cashen transitioned to baseball:
Jerry Hoffberger asked one of his employees, Joe Lynch, to hire Cashen in 1961 to help run one of his harness racetracks. At the time, Cashen was open to leaving the newspaper business, so the timing seemed right. Hoffberger had known of Cashen from his 17-year run at the News-American and from a talk-format radio show Cashen hosted in the late `50s and early `60s.
When did he get a law degree?
Cashen earned his law degree from the University of Maryland School of Law around the time he switched from newspapers to his harness track career because he was interested in labor law, although he never did practice law. He did, however, rely heavily on his law background in dealing with player contacts as a baseball GM.
Who is his favorite player of all time?
“Bill Buckner, of course,” he says. Buckner’s error for the Red Sox in the 1986 World Series pushed the World Series to a seventh game where Cashen’s Mets won the Championship. Buckner’s error is considered to be among the greatest gaffes in the history of sports.
Why a GM needs to be a good scout:
“I always thought it was very important for the scouts to get into the players’ homes when trying to get to know the kid. If you were able to meet the players’ parents, you got a good idea if the player would be a good fit.”
Not just into record books:
He is an avid reader and has read The Old Man in the Sea four times.
Look it up:
To this day, whenever he comes across an unfamiliar word in a novel, he stops what he’s doing, reaches for a dictionary and writes the definition of the word down longhand in an old notepad.
Why he is known for his bow ties:
“When I was coming up working at the News-American, I learned that you couldn’t catch your tie in the presses. So I started with the bow tie and I just stuck with it.”