Under duress, Brian Cashman embraces a fascinating public approach. He fills the role once occupied by George Steinbrenner and berates himself for a job performance measured only by the depressing news on the scoreboard.
He says that his Yankees “suck right now.” He says that his product “stinks to high heavens.”
Have you ever met another general manager who would say those words in a confessional booth, never mind during an impromptu media session in the nation’s most volatile market?
Entering Wednesday night’s matchup against Shohei Ohtani, a one-sport Bo Jackson, Cashman was under intense fire from … Cashman. Sure, the fan base has made a cottage industry out of calling for his head, shredding his construction of a $201 million, fourth-place team that so often plays the game with no creative spirit or athletic grace. Relative to expectation, the Yankees can do almost nothing right on or off the field.
Sitting Aaron Judge against the sport’s defining freak, Ohtani, 48 hours after Aaron Boone declared it was already season-on-the-brink time? Really?
Boone would take the hit on that one, and Cashman would continue to provide him cover, to say they remained joined at the hip. “I did it when Joe Girardi and Joe Torre were the managers,” the GM told The Post. “If you want to say when Torre was under siege and people said he needed to go, or Girardi, you can turn the clock back and I’ve done that. I’m not afraid to if it’s warranted.
“I feel like we hire well, we’ve got good coaches, and these are the same players we’ve played well with, this personnel. The easier thing to do is create sacrificial lambs to appease the masses. The harder thing is to push back on that narrative and recognize our sport is very difficult, and things don’t play out as you plan many times. Now, you’ve got to speak the truth. We are what we are, and you have to own it.”
Cashman has never been afraid to speak his truth with the cameras and recorders rolling, which is one reason why he has survived in New York for nearly a quarter century. The Mets have had eight different men hold their GM title in the same period, some more accountable than others. Over time, as his skin and scar tissue thickened, Cashman endured by absorbing media and fan punches with greater ease, pivoting to his right or left when necessary.
Steinbrenner taught him how to fight way back when. The two engaged in countless profane, high-decibel shouting matches that always ended, somehow, with Cashman keeping his job. He learned how to roll with the Boss, and how to accept the facts of life inside the ultimate media market. A couple of years ago, after the GM stayed quiet at the trade deadline, this newspaper dressed him up as a zombie beside the headline, “The Walking Deadline.” Cashman appreciated the back-page humor. As one columnist wrote, “You can kill Cashman. You just can’t kill him off.”
Listen, he deserves to get killed these days. His team is stiff, bloated, one-dimensional, you name it. Of course, given the annual mission statement, Cashman also deserves to catch hell for going 11 seasons (and counting) without winning the World Series.
But even if these Yanks miss the playoffs, the man won’t deserve to be fired. Cashman has never presided over a losing season (you need at least a couple of those to get canned). He is only two years removed from his seventh season of at least 100 victories, and from his 11th trip to the ALCS. And yeah, the four World Series rings he earned as GM should still count for something.
So should his accessibility and accountability in an age when sports executives cower behind their desks even during prosperous times.
“You’re not going to trick anybody in New York,” Cashman said. “If you’re going poorly, I don’t know how you sugarcoat it. It’s easier to just face that, and make sure people know you’re trying to do everything in your power to deal with it, and not duck it. I just don’t know how you do this job and not have accountability as part of the job at the same time. … You have to be direct with your customers, the fans, in good times and in bad times.”
Cashman set the long-term tone in his introductory press conference in February 1998, when he conceded that identifying talent wasn’t a personal strength — again, not something many new GMs would say in a Steinbrenner presser. All these years later, Cashman remains a truth-teller, even when his team sucks.
Just in case you didn’t know: That’s how you keep one of the biggest jobs in sports for 24 seasons.