Warm and personal memories of Cashen endure
Former Mets beat writer, GM clashed but formed a relationship built on mutual respect
NEW YORK -- The night before Frank Cashen was appointed Mets general manager, I called him at the New York AC. I said I was writing a story for the Bergen Record that would report his hiring. The story would include his title -- the quite cumbersome one of general manager, senior vice president and chief operating officer -- and the terms of his contract, as well as the Mets' intention to introduce him the following day at "21." I was confident I had it all covered.
I asked Cashen to confirm the information, and, after a pause, he said, "I can't. It's not true."
I asked which component wasn't true or accurate. He said none of what I had said to him was factual.
We went back and forth for a while before I said, "Well, we're running the story, Frank. It'll include your denial. See you tomorrow at 1 o'clock at '21.'" He said 'Good night.'"
After the Mets announced the appointment of their new general manager, senior vice president and chief operating officer, one J. Frank Cashen, at "21" the next afternoon, I introduced myself to the man I would cover for most of the ensuing 15 years.
My greeting -- "What a surprise! Imagine meeting you here today at '21'" -- prompted something resembling a scowl. "How could you deny what I said to you last night?" I said "I had it cold."
With no trace of the personality I came to know and appreciate, Cashen said, "I didn't think you should know."
"But I already did," I said. "Pretty obvious, now, that I knew."
Such were the seeds that blossomed into a tug-of-war relationship between veteran baseball executive and beat reporter. Frank Cashen had worked in my business for 16 years. Here I was, covering his for about 16 hours. We didn't hit it off.
He didn't like it when the Newark Star-Ledger and Newsday, my second employer, accurately reported the Mets' signing of Craig Swan during Spring Training 1980. He wasn't upset with Dan Castellano, my colleague and all these years later, my good friend. But he resented my report on Swan's contract.
Cashen and I had other skirmishes, ones that were less troubling to him as time passed. But when the Mets brought back Tom Seaver in December 1982, Cashen was more than troubled by a report in Newsday that disclosed all the terms of Seaver's deal before the club could announce its agreement with "The Franchise." Jay Horwitz, the man Cashen had wisely hired to be the Mets' public relations director on April Fool's Day 1980, approached me at the news conference and said, "Frank wants to see you in his office when we're done."
I accommodated. Frank's first words were, "I can't run my business with leaks."
Mine were, "Yeah, so ... what do you expect me to do about it?"
And so it went. The man reporters came to identity as "Little Frank" -- only because Frank Howard was 6-foot-8 and a Mets coach-- seldom appreciated reporters, except for Castellano. Cashen had no problems with my friend. The last time I saw Frank, in a restaurant in Port St. Lucie, Fla., in March, he greeted me as he often did during the years following his retirement: "Hi, Marty. How's Danny?"
I responded: "He's doing OK ... and, Frank, so am I."
There were no scowls from either of us. He laughed, I laughed. He was with his wife Jean and three other couples. He and I talked for 30 minutes on one side of the table. He reaffirmed that I had been a primary pain in his patoot when I covered his team. I reveled in that, and he knew it.
Over the years, we had learned to appreciate each other -- I think. He answered my phone calls in retirement. But he had been routinely unsettled when I'd call him at home in the 1980s. Jean would answer the phone so pleasantly. Frank would grumble and stonewall. But somehow a degree of trust had formed.
The Mets were in Chicago and losing every game of a road trip in August 1991. Cashen was in his final weeks as GM. He asked me who would be a successful replacement to Buddy Harrelson as Mets manager. Of course, he had prefaced the question with his signature phrase: "Off the record." He wore out those words.
I said, "Joe Torre." He scowled. But by then, we certainly had forged a peaceful co-existence.
Perhaps I'll find out that increasingly positive view of Frank wasn't reciprocated when his book is published in September, if his relationships with reporters warrant mention in what ought to be an intriguing read. What if he's the one to reveal secrets after all these years? Hmmm...
If alcohol hadn't been on his list of no-no's that night in Port St. Lucie, I would have bought Frank a beer. I probably owed him a few. And we would have toasted Danny. Instead, we clinked our water glasses and saluted our mutual friend. "And you weren't so bad either," he said. "Darn you."
That night, J. Frank Cashen grudgingly acknowledged that my stories had been "by and large accurate."
"That's what irritated me so much," he said. We shook hands.
I'm going to visit Danny this week. He recently lost his mother. Then, on Monday, his friend Frank Cashen, a man he respected and enjoyed, died. Frank had called him seven or eight days before his death on Monday at age 88. Danny was delighted. He treasured his relationship with the man.
I liked and respected Frank, too. And when I get to Danny's, we'll clink our glasses of diet soda and toast "Little Frank." Darn right.
Marty Noble is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.