Obituary: Frank Cashen / Executive who turned Mets and Orioles into champions

Died June 30, 2014

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Frank Cashen, the sportswriter turned baseball executive who built pennant-winning teams with the Baltimore Orioles and then transformed the New York Mets from perennial losers to the World Series champions of 1986, died June 30. He was 88. The Mets announced his death on its website.

In nearly a quarter-century as a baseball administrator, Mr. Cashen made shrewd trades, but he focused on building farm systems, even with the arrival in the mid-1970s of bidding wars for high-priced free agents. It was something of an old-fashioned strategy that fit perfectly with Mr. Cashen’s collection of bow ties from a bygone era in men’s fashion.

He joined the Mets in 1980, after they had finished last in the National League East for three straight seasons, and built a 1986 championship ball club featuring Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, Mookie Wilson, Lenny Dykstra, Jesse Orosco, Wally Backman and Roger McDowell from the Mets’ farm system, together with Gary Carter, Keith Hernandez, Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez, Bobby Ojeda, Ray Knight and Howard Johnson, all obtained in trades.

Mr. Cashen hired Davey Johnson, his second baseman when he ran the Orioles, as the Mets’ manager in 1984, and Mr. Johnson led a 1986 team that won 108 games in the regular season, capturing the National League East title by 21½ games. Drawing more than 2.7 million fans to Shea Stadium and eclipsing the Yankees in the New York baseball spotlight, the ’86 Mets, a cocky if not arrogant crew, went on to defeat the Boston Red Sox in a seven-game World Series remembered chiefly for the disastrous error by Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner in Game 6.

John Francis Cashen was born in Baltimore. He graduated from Loyola University in Baltimore, where he played second base on the school baseball team. He spent 17 years with The Baltimore News-American, the last 15 as a sportswriter and columnist, and obtained a degree from the University of Maryland Law School, attending classes at night.

In 1959, Jerrold Hoffberger, a Baltimore businessman, hired Mr. Cashen as director of publicity at his Baltimore Raceway, and Mr. Cashen later became director of advertising for Hoffberger’s National Brewing Co. Hoffberger named him the Orioles’ executive vice president late in 1965 after he bought controlling interest in the team.

Mr. Cashen worked with the late Harry Dalton, the director of player personnel, to build the Orioles into a dominant franchise. The Orioles, who won four pennants and two World Series championships in Mr. Cashen’s first six years with them, were led by Brooks Robinson, Boog Powell and Jim Palmer — all from the Baltimore farm system — and Frank Robinson, obtained in a trade with the Cincinnati Reds. They won another two division championships under Mr. Cashen after Mr. Dalton’s departure to become the Angels’ general manager after the 1971 season.

Mr. Cashen left the Orioles in November 1975 and returned to Hoffberger’s brewery as a senior executive, then was named administrator of baseball in 1979. Soon after Nelson Doubleday and Fred Wilpon bought the Mets, they hired him as general manager of a floundering franchise on Hoffberger’s recommendation.

Mr. Cashen told the Mets’ owners that it would take four or five years to build a winner.

“I took over a huge mess,” he recalled in “The Bad Guys Won,” Jeff Pearlman’s 2004 book about the 1986 Mets. “Talent-wise, we had nothing. Fan support, there was nothing. In my estimation it was as ugly as you could get. Just terrible. We needed a complete overhaul of everything.”

The Mets finished last or next to last in their division from 1980 to 1983, but Mr. Cashen found brilliant prospects.

He chose Mr. Strawberry, the slugging outfielder, and Mr. Gooden, the pitcher with the overpowering fastball, in the amateur draft, and the Mets acquired George Foster from the Reds, Mr. Hernandez from the St. Louis Cardinals and Mr. Carter from the Montreal Expos.

In a bid to attract new, and younger, fans, Mr. Cashen hired an advertising agency that came up with the slogan “The Magic Is Back” and replaced the traditional organ music with rock and popular offerings. He brought in Tim McCarver, a keen analyst, to team in the broadcasting booth with Ralph Kiner, the former Pirates slugger who died in February.

But Mr. Cashen made a major misstep in January 1984 when he failed to protect Tom Seaver, the future Hall of Fame pitcher, in the free-agent draft, only to see him taken by the Chicago White Sox.

The Mets finished second in their division in 1984, and they were second again in 1985 before vaulting to the World Series championship.

Mr. Cashen made a sharp deal following the 1987 season when he obtained pitcher David Cone from the Kansas City Royals for Ed Hearn, a journeyman catcher, but the Mets would not win another pennant during his tenure. The closest they came was in 1988, when they were beaten by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the playoffs.

Mr. Cashen fired Mr. Johnson in May 1990, replacing him with former Mets shortstop Bud Harrelson, but the 1991 Mets had the team’s first losing record since 1983. He stepped down as general manager at season’s end in favor of Al Harazin, one of his key aides.

United States - North America - New York City - New York - AL East - American League - Maryland - Baltimore - Cincinnati Reds - National League - NL East - NL Central - New York Mets - Fred Wilpon - Frank Cashen - Darryl Strawberry - Lenny Dykstra - Gary Carter - Jeff Pearlman - Ralph Kiner - Baltimore Orioles


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