COMMENTARY | At some point, New York Yankees fans should stop crediting only Gene Michael and Bob Watson for the team's successes since 1995 - the year the team made its first postseason appearance since losing the 1981 World Series - and give Brian Cashman some recognition as well.
During the 15 years that Cashman has been general manager, the Yankees have appeared in the postseason 14 times, won 6 American League pennants, and 4 World Series trophies. All three men deserve credit.
Since taking over in February 1998, Cashman has been criticized for a number of moves, including the signings of Carl Pavano, Javier Vazquez (twice), A.J. Burnett, Sidney Ponson (twice), and Kei Igawa. However, he's also been responsible for signing Robinson Cano, Mike Mussina, David Wells, Hideki Matsui, C.C. Sabathia, and Mark Teixeira. He's also rebuilt a Yankees farm system once known for players it developed for other teams (Fred McGriff, Willie McGee, Doug Drabek, Jay Buhner, etc.).
Cashman has dedicated more than half his life to the Yankees and deserves praise for the team's success, although Michael and Watson certainly deserve accolades.
Now 45, Cashman started as an intern with the organization in 1986, when he was 19. On February 2, 1998, at age 30, he inherited a team from Watson, who quit after being burned out from working under George Steinbrenner. It was Watson who recommended that the Yankees hire Cashman as his replacement.
Luckily for Cashman, Watson handed the diminutive New York native known for his puppy dog eyes and receding hairline a stocked team. Three years earlier, he had taken over the GM job from Michael, who would also serve as one of Cashman's key executives. The Yankees didn't produce many prospects under Watson's watch, but Cashman's mentor had a keen eye for trades, including swapping Sterling Hitchcock and Russ Davis for Tino Martinez and Jeff Nelson, and Kenny Rogers for Scott Brosius. He also acquired Cecil Fielder, Joe Giradi, Graeme Lloyd, and Charlie Hayes. In addition, he signed free agents David Wells and Mike Stanton, and hired his former manager with the Atlanta Braves, Joe Torre, to manage the Yankees in 1996.
Meanwhile, Michael's legacy also remains.
"Stick," a lean shortstop for many miserable Yankees squads in the late '60s and early '70s, took over the GM job for a miserable Yankees club in August 1990. It was a post he also held from 1980-1981. (He also appears on the list of managers hired and replaced twice by Steinbrenner, having led the team for portions of the 1981 and 1982 seasons.)
When Michael took over as GM, the Yankees were on their way to finishing last in what was then a seven-team American League East division. Five years later, the team won the American League wild card and, in the years to come, would be led by homegrown prospects like Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, and Jorge Posada.
Along with a seemingly endless supply of money, it didn't take Billy Beane to pull off the Yankees' string of postseason appearances, but Cashman has also been able to deal with the New York media, the Steinbrenner family, and the 2011 collective bargaining agreement that has the team on a mission to cut payroll.
Cashman has spent more than half his life working for the Yankees but almost left in 2005. That year, he was finally given total control over baseball operations, something that had previously been shared with staff in Tampa, where Steinbrenner reigned.
In a statement, Steinbrenner backed Cashman but didn't lose focus on the team's mission.
"I am very happy that Brian will continue as general manager. Brian has literally grown up in the Yankees organization and has been a tireless worker," Steinbrenner said. "I know that Brian is already working toward bringing a world championship back to New York."
In 2011, the Yankees extended Cashman's contract through 2016, and he he hasn't lost focus on his mission.
"I'm real proud of [my] accomplishments," Cashman said in a recent ESPN chat. "Proud of all of the division titles and world championships. I wish we had more world championships. … As long as I can assist in the winning situation here in New York, hopefully they can keep me for an extended ride."
Howard Z. Unger is a freelance journalist in Brooklyn, New York. For the past 15 years, he has written about sports, media, and popular culture. His work has appeared in The Village Voice, New York Post, and New York Times.