Frank Cashen died a couple of weeks back. Cashen was a baseball executive and one who, according to baseball legend Keith Hernandez, “achieved greatness in baseball without ever picking up a bat.”
I didn't know much about Frank Cashen when he took over as the General Manager of the Mets, but what I knew made me hopeful. He had been instrumental in making the Baltimore Orioles one of the best run franchises in the Major Leagues. Given that at the time – 1980 – the Mets were one of the worst run clubs in baseball this was about as hopeful a sign we Met fans could have hoped for.
And Cashen delivered. He actually saved the Mets, who were heading towards irrelevance, disaster and, possibly, out of New York when he took over.
To my young, impatient self, it seemed to take a long time, but in reality it was only four years – four years for Cashen to transform the boringly terrible, laughingstock Mets into a premier team. A year later, 1985, the Mets were one of the two best teams in baseball, falling just short in the season-long battle with the Cardinals.
Then came 1986. The Mets didn't just win. They dominated. They won 108 games in the regular season then won two nerve-jangling series – first against Houston then the World Series against the Red Sox – to claim their rightful place as champions.
That Mets team was a swaggering, arrogant bunch that the rest of the baseball world hated, but Met fans loved. We still do – and that goes for the team's architect, Frank Cashen.
At the time Cashen joined the Mets I didn't know a lot about him and I didn't care. In that internet-less world of the 1980s I couldn't go to Wikipedia to learn where Cashen was born and raised, who his wife was or his parents were or where he went to college. Other than the fact that he wore bow ties, I knew nothing personal about the man and I really didn't care. Winning was all I cared about.
Yet, when the Mets defeated Houston to get to the World Series that magical year I remember feeling just that little bit extra when I read that the first phone call Cashen got was from a cousin of his in Ireland.
The woman was calling from Templederry in Co. Tipperary, which is where Cashen's father was from, and she woke him up to pass on her congratulations. And that was it. She wasn't even looking for World Series tickets, which is what Cashen was expecting from a distant cousin calling out of the blue in the hours after the Mets' spot in the World Series was nailed down.
That little Irish angle stayed in my head all through the years and when I read that he had died I decided I wanted to know more about Frank Cashen's Irish American story.
Cashen's parents were both from Ireland. Although I could find very little on his mother Bridget, his father, Cornelius, was working as a farm servant in 1911 in Templederry and living with his widower father, a brother and two sisters. Less than two years later Cornelius (or Con) was gone, having sailed to New York on RMS Majestic and traveled on to Baltimore to his aunt.
Cornelius Cashen was in his mid 20s when he arrived in America as an 'unskilled' laborer. He found work with Fleishmann's Yeast as a floor scrubber, but rose through the ranks to coal man, to boiler man, to chief engineer.
He encouraged his son to grab the opportunities that America offered and Frank did. He wanted to be a writer and got his first newspaper job at 15, but still managed to finish high school and college before he was 21.
Frank Cashen worked as a reporter, got a law degree, moved into horse racing and from there jumped to a brewery before he got his job with the Orioles. Cashen described his professional life saying, “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.”
Well, it may have been his good fortune, but it was also our good fortune. Without Cashen it's likely the Mets would never have become the team they were in the 1980s. In fact, who knows? They may have left for Miami or Phoenix or wherever.
Mets fans owe a big thank you to Cashen and all of us should raise our glasses and toast the son of a Tipperary man who made the Mets great.