Listening to Brian Cashman is rarely a particularly informative experience, still less a consoling one. Rarely does one talk so much and say so little. Indeed, at the task of a Chief Executive to inspire confidence in the organization he leads and his stewardship of it, the Yankees' GM has never excelled. Perhaps, the old Steinbrenner gag rule compels him to mince words. Perhaps, he fears candor and elaboration will jeopardize future transactions. Perhaps, he just lacks the glibness the 30-second sound byte requires.
Whatever the reason, Yankees fans, by now, have learned not to expect tedium from his semiannual press conferences and obliqueness from the sporadic interviews he grants on talk radio. I wonder whether Cashman realizes that the opacity encourages the very distortion of his record about which he now complains. Because he chooses to veil the front-office's inner workings in secrecy and darkness, fans construe what the few select columnists and reporters with access to the inner sanctum reveal as the gospel truth.
So while Brian Cashman has held the title of GM for over ten years now, we're really no closer now than when the Yankees promoted him to a definitive evaluation of his performance. Did he advocate the Mussina signing? What about Carl Pavano, Jared Wright, and John Lieber? Did he engineer the trades for Javier Vasquez and Kevin Brown? What about the decision that precipitated them, i.e., forfeiting the exclusive negotiating period with Andy Pettitte that led him in 2003 to sign with the Astros? Was Cashman the same guy dissuaded by Pettitte's injured elbow in 2003 but not four years later when he chose to re-sign him instead of acquiring Johan Santana?
Between 1998 and 2005, when he held the GM position in name alone, the Front-Office's decisions occurred behind an impenetrable curtain of faction and unaccountability.
THE MONSTER AT THE END OF THIS CONTRACT
Still, the veil of ignorance persists largely because Brian, since assuming the title's full powers, has chosen not to lift it. Actually, he and Girardi, together, have intensified the organization's penchant for secrecy. Only now Cashman bridles at its consequence. For ever since the Yankees announced the GM's return earlier this week, Cashman has used the occasion of his press conference and the talk radio tour that follows to vent. The press, he complains, has distorted his record. So does Brian take the occasion to enlighten them by acknowledging which egregious over the last decade he did not render but the press nonetheless has unfairly attributed to him? No, of course not.
Actually, the indignation Cashman has affected and the defiance he has expressed, given how the Yankees fared this season, has caused me to wince more than once at its flagrant temerity. Joe Torre loses in the ALDS three years in a row and he incurs the organization's wrath, threats of dismissal one year, a salary cut the next. For some reason, the Yankees want their manager to apologize for not winning a World Series since 2000 and to agree to performance incentives to spur him to do better.
And the man who served as GM during the identical period? Well not only is he rewarded, not only is he not the least bit contrite, he is outright defiant. Evidently, he think he has performed brilliantly. What chutzpah!
Appearing on Max Kellerman's program on October 2, 2008, Cashman lambasted the media for not "getting their story straight." He didn't traipse into the organization in 1998 and inherit the championship core Gene Michael and Bob Watson assembled, he admonishes. No, says Cashman, people forget he was the Assistant GM under Bob Watson and the Assistant Farm director before that.
Too bad, Brian doesn't seem to understand where this logic takes him. Because if he deserves credit for the farm system's great successes in drafting and cultivating the dynastic foundation that won four World Series in six years, then so too, he deserves blame for the woefully deficient system that in the eight following years failed to produce a single commensurate talent. One accounting follows from the other. You are either responsible for Jeter, Posada, Pettitte, Bernie, Mo AND Dave Parish, John Ford Griffin, Danny Walling, Jon Poterson and C.J Henry or for NEITHER. Which is it?
Still, listening to Brian insinuate besides that he was instrumental in the Yankees' trade of Roberto Kelly for Paul O'Neil recalled to mind Tom Harkin's famous retort about Bush I: that is, "President G.H.W. Bush was born on 3rd base and thinks he hit a triple."
Likewise was Brian Cashman responsible. When the physical strain of working for George sent Gene Michael and Bob Watson around the bases one time too many, they retired to the bench and the Yankees sent Brian Cashman in to pinch-run. Sure he ended up standing on 3rd base, but it ain't because he hit a triple.
I'd grant him far more credibility if he acknowledged his mistakes besides. After all, when was the last time the Yankees GM allowed that about a major decision concerning the Yankees' future, he erred? (Confessing this off-season in Theo Epstein's presence that perhaps he didn't get enough talent in return for Mike Lowell ten years ago hardly qualifies.) More importantly, does Cashman admits to the errors privately? His recent display of unapologetic arrogance would suggest not. Actually, his farcical defense of Carl Pavano this year-- and implicitly thereby his signing of him-- begs the question whether Cashman ever believes he's wrong.
One would think that the season after the Yankees missed the playoff for the first time in fifteen seasons -- even if injuries largely explain why-- and with the organization nonetheless planning to raise ticket prices to new unprecedented heights, that their foremost public official would try to assuage his angry and exasperated fan base. One would think the Yankees' fate this season would counsel remorse, some solace or assurance from the GM it's an aberration, a contrite mea culpa perhaps. Cashman however is totally unrepentant. You'd think he just won the World Series rather than a contract extension.
Most infuriating still, with every passing day, the Yankees' prospect for signing CC Sabathia seems to dim. With every passing day, the Rays and Red Sox, increasingly show the signs of having dynastic pitching staffs. With every passing day, the Yankees' outlook for 2009 appears no more promising than their 2008. With every passing day, it looks more and more like the front-office squandered a once in a decade opportunity last off-season to acquire an ace in his prime and without surrendering their premiere prospect, Joba Chamberlain, to do so.
And yet, Cashman expresses no regrets, he issues no apologies, he instead insists, still, that in forsaking Santana, he made the right decision. Why? Because in 2012, when Mariano and Posada have retired and Jeter and A-Rod have devolved into average hitters, Phil Hughes, might, just might, be a 1 or a 2 starter. And if so, by then, will it matter? Will it matter if the Yankees' lineup produces as many runs as the 2008 Blue Jays.
The only thing missing from Cashman's public protests is the MISSION ACCOMPLISHED banner hanging in the background, under which it would be fitting for him to deliver all his press conferences.
Then at least he'd have finished the picture his little fit of pique intimates. Then, the parallels with the Bush family would be complete.
Cashman and Dubya each would have arrived on 3rd base and tried to steal 2nd.