Wednesday, March 6, 2013 Updated: March 20, 5:58 PM ET
Scared? Brian Cashman sure isn't
By Ian O'Connor ESPNNewYork.com
This is a good time for the New York Yankees to be run by a man willing to jump from a plane at 13,600 feet. This is a good time to employ Brian Cashman, busted leg and all, a general manager who has survived 15 years after he was favored to last 15 months.
Mark Teixeira just joined his GM on the DL, along with Curtis Granderson and some guy who used to play third base. Injuries, age, the advanced descent of Alex Rodriguez and the departures of all those home run hitters (weren't those sluggers supposed to be the problem last year?) have hardened the perception that the 2013 Yankees might end up resembling the 2012 Red Sox.
It's a scary time for the Yankees, but if anyone can help them survive it, it's Brian Cashman.
But there was Cashman on the phone Wednesday, reporting no pain in the broken leg and dislocated ankle he suffered in the name of the Wounded Warrior Project, and reporting no serious discomfort with the state of his roster. On the day Teixeira was declared an eight-to-10-week goner with a bum wrist, Cashman was talking about the playoffs, and he wasn't doing so in an incredulous Jim Mora voice.
"I'm very confident in that," he said of the Yankees' ability to make the postseason for the 18th time in 19 years. "Look at our pitching staff, and we're running out Robinson Cano, running out Derek Jeter, running out Kevin Youkilis, eventually running out Tex and Granderson, a 40-homer center fielder. We're running out high-end players, so when we get our guys back healthy, we're going to be fine."
It was a fearless take from a fearless GM who picked the wrong time Monday to be afraid. Cashman planned on one crazy stunt for an awfully good cause, at least until a military man with Patton-like enthusiasm decided that anyone willing to rappel down a 22-story building more than once (Cashman's Christmastime tradition) would be up for a sky-diving sequel.
Only Cashman didn't really want a second plunge from the heavens. It's just hard to say no to the U.S. Army, he agreed, "especially with a group of people around."
The whole exercise was a metaphor for Cashman's career in the Bronx, a career he started as an intern and gofer and Yankee Stadium security guard who helped pull drunks out of the stands. On the February 1998 day he was hired to replace Bob Watson, hired as the second-youngest big league GM ever, the then-30-year-old Cashman did three things that showed he would never sweat the consequences of his actions.
He said he'd insisted George Steinbrenner give him only a one-year contract so he could prove himself.
He announced to the assembled news media that pending free agent Bernie Williams wasn't worth the money the center fielder and his super-agent, Scott Boras, were demanding.
He made this admission of his scouting and evaluating skills: "It's not a strength."
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From his horse stable in Lexington, Ky., that afternoon, Cashman's father, John, said the following: "Whitey Ford told me Brian has the perfect personality to deal with George. I happen to agree with him."
The first true test of Cashman's courage came at the trade deadline that first season, a dream season for the Yanks threatened by Steinbrenner's hometown team, the Cleveland Indians, the team that had knocked them from the playoffs the year before and a serious suitor for Seattle ace Randy Johnson. Steinbrenner wanted his rookie GM to acquire Johnson, but Cashman had heard from Seattle manager Lou Piniella that the Big Unit didn't like pitching in the big city.
Cashman passed despite Steinbrenner's you'd-better-be-right warnings, Johnson landed in Houston and the 114-win Yankees landed in the World Series, where they would sweep the Padres.
"With George," Cashman said on Wednesday, "I learned that you had to stand up for yourself and hold your ground. You may not always be right, but he needed you to help him with his decision-making. You couldn't let his personality scare you into hiding your real opinion because he was paying you to stand up and speak with conviction.
"I learned what to do and what not to do from every GM I worked under. Gene Michael taught me the power of 'no comment' and the importance of being honest with the press. I saw other people in this position lie to the press, and they never got away with it."
Cashman's candor -- much appreciated by the news media -- hasn't always made him so popular with players, colleagues and rival executives. Just as he wasn't afraid after the 2007 season to take Jeter to dinner to tell him his defense had to improve, Cashman wasn't afraid to say in 2011 that he had tried to head-fake Boston's Theo Epstein into paying Carl Crawford top dollar (the Red Sox would sign him for seven years, $142 million) by taking Crawford's agent to dinner.
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Cashman wasn't afraid to tell his bosses he didn't want Johnson in '98 (they listened) and didn't want him again in 2005 (they didn't listen). He wasn't afraid to tell his bosses they shouldn't give A-Rod a new deal after the third baseman opted out of his contract in 2007 (they didn't listen, unfortunately), and he wasn't afraid to advise against the 2011 signing of Rafael Soriano (they didn't listen, fortunately).
Cashman wasn't afraid to tell his shortstop and captain that he needed to forge a better working relationship with Rodriguez, and he wasn't afraid to play the (really) bad cop to team president Randy Levine's good cop in the ugly Jeter contract negotiations. Cashman wasn't afraid to say no to Boras on a Johnny Damon return this year and in 2010, when the agent shouted at him over the phone, and he wasn't afraid Wednesday to remind those who are counting the Yankees out that history says they probably shouldn't.
"The reason I've been allowed to hang around so long is we've put out 95-plus-win teams on a yearly basis," Cashman said. "But I also know that I'm not the reason why we're winning, that I work for a very powerful franchise with owners who are massively committed to winning. I don't try to take more credit than I deserve, where others have gotten caught up in that and maybe it cost them some longevity.
"I was taught under The Boss to never get too comfortable in this job, and I know storm clouds are forming right now. ... We've always been pretty good at finding ways to batten down the hatches."
Two days after his unfortunate landing, Cashman said he was feeling no pain in his battered leg. His team is said to be crashing around him, its roster too old and fragile to do anything but guarantee that a grim rebuilding period is waiting on deck.
It's a scary time for the New York Yankees, who are lucky to be run by a survivor who doesn't get scared by much.