TAMPA — Brian Cashman was leaning against the wall of the very room where, 27 years ago, he attended a meeting in March that changed the course of Yankees history. George Steinbrenner had called the summit into Joe Torre’s office to protest a plan to make struggling rookie Derek Jeter the starting shortstop.
Steinbrenner had one of his lieutenants, Clyde King, in the room to announce that Jeter wasn’t ready for the party, and documented a potential deal with Seattle for handyman Felix Firmin in exchange for Mariano Rivera or teammate Bob Wakeman. King failed to present his case in a racy contradiction highlighted by longtime CEO Gene Michael’s reminder to the president that he had already agreed to give Jeter until the middle of summer before making any judgment.
“It just felt like a stressful situation,” Cashman recalled Sunday, reminiscing as he tapped his fingers on the wall of the meeting site. “You had a very unhappy owner who defied our game plan. We had to stand strong and fight back, and the rest is history.”
History of Jeter, who led the 1996 Yankees to their first of five World Series titles before becoming a near-consensus Hall of Famer.
Join Rivera, who will become the only unanimous Hall of Famer.
and the history of GM Cashman’s 28-year-old assistant, who earned enough of Steinbrenner’s respect for his views—and his courage in articulating them—to take over the top job in 25 years last month, at age 30. Cashman told the president he was willing to replace the departing Bob Watson, and asked for a one-year handshake deal.
It is fitting that Cashman is now beginning his second quarter-century in the business with one of those meetings that could be a franchise-maker. Anthony Volpe vs. Oswald Peraza for a short-term varsity job has a feel for one of those old-school New York feuds — Sims vs. Hostetler, anyone? — and that contest will be the main event when Yankee decision makers gather in the next couple of days to begin making a series of tough calls.
The only person scheduled in the room who was also present for the last short-handed debate is the longest-serving GM in Yankees history, Cashman, who wants people to express their true feelings in Volpe-Peraza, the bullpen, left field and center field.
Cashman told The Post: “We’ve already started the process by emailing people for feedback so that no one is biased by someone stronger, higher-level and well-respected giving their opinion.” [in the meeting] Which may affect the opinion of another person. … I’ve gathered all of those and then we’ll talk as a group.”
This is a smart move by a guy who made enough of them to one day land him in the Hall of Fame. Cashman won five episodes, four as GM, and placed 21 of 25 teams in the postseason, a biopic of an executive who faced relentless criticism over a 13-season championship “drought” and a growing season.
Cashman said he figured out how to deal with the heat of social media. He said, “I don’t look at him.” “It took a lot of time and discipline [to stop looking at it], so I don’t now. It has become very toxic.”
GM acknowledges it deserves some criticism, as in the case of the disastrous Frankie Montas deal. “You can’t sugarcoat it—the Montas business didn’t work,” he said. “We didn’t get a healthy pitcher, and that’s ultimately my responsibility.”
But for every misstep Cashman made, he was faced with several decisions that have kept the Yankees in the playoffs nearly every year. In pursuit of Aaron Judge’s nerve-wracking season, Cashman was the one who forced Hal Steinbrenner into ever more involvement in free agency, a key part of the Yankees’ successful strategy.
“I knew Judge would be hired by our fellow peers,” Cashman said. “I didn’t want to make a strategic mistake if he went somewhere else and had him say, ‘I never spoke to our owner.'” So I told Hal, “We have to cover all our bases here.” You will have to be very involved in this and have direct conversations with the player.”
The judge will have plenty of chances to win all of that during his nine-year term. At age 55, Cashman wasn’t prepared to say such a drought-breaking title would come close to retirement or to consider becoming the fifth GM ever inducted into Cooperstown.
“It’s all about the present now,” Cashman said. “Those past episodes will not help me win a new ring. What will help me win a new ring are the people I work with and the players we have now.”
Two of those players, Peraza and Volpe, are vying for one high-profile job. Cashman maintained that the suspended shortstop ruling may not be permanent, but then again, Jeter barely won the job as a starter and kept it for two decades.
Either way, as the meetings begin, it’s good for the New York Yankees to have Brian Cashman back in the room.
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