National Catholic Register

Inperson

Yankee GM’s Winning Way

Life of faith keeps him on course

BY Brian Cashman

July 4-10, 1999 Issue | Posted 7/4/99 at 2:00 PM

 

In 1998, at age 30, he became the s e c o n d -youngest general manager in major league baseball history. Despite the incredible daily pressures, the New York Yankees general manager thrived because of his faith, and the values instilled in him by his parents and others. He spoke recently with Register correspondent Jim Malerba.

Malerba: Who were the greatest influences in your life regarding your spiritual and moral formation?

Cashman: Without question, my mother and father. I was one of five children, and for as long as I can remember, my parents led by example. They didn't sit us down and explain that we had to do this, or we couldn't do that. Their faith, the way they led their lives every day, showed us the right path to being decent, productive people. They wanted the best for all of us, in terms of having us grow up with a sense of doing good for others. None of us ever forgot the valuable moral, spiritual and ethical lessons they taught, again by example.

Were there any other positive role models for you as a young man?

Bob Natoli, the baseball coach at Catholic University of America, was definitely one. He always said, “Don't ever let yourself be cheated.” In other words, we were to do our best every time, whether we were on the field, in the classroom, on the job or with our families. I never forgot those words; in fact, I carry them with me every day of my life and use them to encourage others. Actually, I have Catholic University's athletic director, Bob Talbot, to thank for helping me meet Bob Natoli. I was all set to go to Tulane University, but he prevailed upon me numerous times to go to CUA. I finally decided to do so, and my college years were a tremendous experience. I loved the D.C. area and made a lot of friends. And, of course, I got to play for a baseball coach deeply committed to excellence. He gave it everything he had at all times, never anything less. So, you can say he was a great role model. In fact, all my coaches, in high school and college, were positive role models.

You also set some hitting records at Catholic University.

I was fortunate to set the record for most hits in a season for the school, 52, while playing second base. That record was broken a year or two ago, but it stood for 10 years. I'm glad, though, at the time I didn't know I was breaking a school hitting record. Otherwise, I might have fallen apart at the plate!

How did you come to work for the Yankees at such a young age?

When I was in college, I learned George Steinbrenner, owner of the Yankees, offered summer internships at the stadium. My first was in 1986, in the Minor League and Scouting Department. The internships became a yearly thing. After graduating from college, I was hired by the Yankees as an assistant in Baseball Operations. I kept getting promoted, and in 1992, I was named assistant general manager. I became general manager in 1998. I like to say you will only be as successful as people want you to be. And I'd certainly be the first to say that those for whom I worked for were wonderful people, who wanted to see me get ahead.

Can you cite an individual who was a catalyst to your successful rise?

Absolutely. Gene Michael, who is a former general manager of the Yankees, was like a mentor to me. He taught me to be honest at all times with the media and others, and to deal with people in a professional and empathetic manner. So, when people give me credit for being so open, I in turn give the credit to Gene for his sound advice and for teaching me the value of treating others in the way I want to be treated.

You interact a lot with the players. Do they ever come to you for advice?

They know I am willing and ready to listen at all times, and they are not afraid to come to my office, for any number of reasons. I like to think I'm a good listener, something I learned while at Catholic University. Just recently, one player sat down with me about a situation that was, let's just say, not very positive. All our players wrestle with personal issues that fans and others don't know about. He sees me as a friend, and he knows he can open up to me. At the end of our conversation, he let me know that he and the other players on the team appreciate what I try to do for them. That meant a lot to me. I always give other people, player or not, a straight, honest answer. It might not always be what they want to hear, but it's the truthful one.

How do you balance your job responsibilities with off-work time?

It's tough. The fact is, I don't have much non-work time. And that can be stressful, because my family is very important to me. I'm not alone in this; there are many, many other people whose jobs require long hours. This year, though, I celebrated Father's Day for the first time. My first child, Grace Eva, is now 8 months old. I want to be with her and my wife, Mary, as much as possible, because I want to be able to help Grace as she grows up. If it comes to the point where my job and family life conflict, I'll have a serious decision to make.

Is attending Mass a problem during the season, given all the time demands?

I always have time for Mass. Every Sunday, there is a Mass in the stadium's auxiliary clubhouse. That's the one I attend, when the team is home. Otherwise, Mary, Grace and I attend Mass at St. John's Church in Darien, Conn. We also have one for the players right after batting practice on Sunday, which was started at their request. I did not institute it, but I supported it wholeheartedly. The spiritual component to our team is just as vital as the athletic ability each player has.

Do things get better, time-wise, in the off-season?

Not at all, because during the off-season, you're negotiating new or extended contracts for the players, looking at and competing for free agents, and assembling the club in other ways for the next season. Added to that is the fact that the media are eyeing you every day. During the season there are other pressures, but between November and February you're going full tilt, as well.

Perhaps this is an unfair question, but how do you maintain your sanity through all of the pressures you face?

I am blessed with my faith, but also with a loving wife who is very supportive and understanding, and, as I said, great people with the Yankees. All help make a very difficult job much easier. There's no back-stabbing on the team staff. We care about each other, and that in itself is a big plus. And, I don't separate my Catholic faith from my professional life. It's always there.

Well, there are some fine rewards, such as the 1998 season. You must have been thrilled, knowing you helped put together the world champions of baseball.

To be perfectly honest, I really haven't stopped to smell the roses. I'm excited about the Yankees' record-setting season, but I haven't reflected on it. Let me tell you that even before we won the World Series last year, I was already thinking of how we were going to resign [outfielder] Bernie Williams, [pitcher] David Cone, [infielder] Scott Brosius and others. The question I asked myself was, how are we going to keep this winning way going? It's great to win the series, but then you have to be immediately concerned about next year.

Do you feel baseball players are positive role models for young people?

I think they are tremendous role models. They do so much for so many. I consider baseball players the most unselfish people I know, because they appreciate where they are and they appreciate the fans who support them. They realize they have to be role models on and off the field. The Yankee players, as a group and as individuals, are the types of people, by their actions in baseball and in life, for young people to look up to because of the way they handle themselves.

You are not too many years removed from college. If you were to address college students, what would you say regarding their chances for success?

What I would tell them is that with hard work and dedication, anything can happen. The sky's the limit, if you really want it. I always gave 110% in the classroom and on the field. I still do, whether it's with my family or on the job, or in interacting with others. You have to keep your hopes up and never become discouraged, because — as my parents said — good things will happen. I also would tell college students one other thing, that if you fail to prepare, you are preparing to fail.