NEW YORK -- Emotion filled the voice of a sentimental leprechaun -- John Francis Cashen, by name -- as he came to the microphone. The city of New York was honoring one of its favored adopted sons, a man who resuscitated the New York Mets. Family, friends and associates were present, making for a glorious occasion.
Jerry Hoffberger, who had hired Cashen to help run the Baltimore Raceway harness track in 1960 and ultimately named him general manager of the Baltimore Orioles, was on the dais. The chairman of the Mets' board of directors, Nelson Doubleday, great-nephew of the man who invented the grandest of all games, looked toward Hoffberger and said:
"I want to thank you, Jerry, for that telephone call in late 1979. We were looking for a man to run the baseball team. You told me the best man for the job was in New York working in the commissioner's office. We were fortunate. There is no more composite general manager and gentleman than Frank Cashen."
Hoffberger was later to meet with Fred Wilpon, president of the Mets, and gave him the same evaluation. So, after 12 years, Cashen is winding down a successful stay with the team but will remain until the end of 1992 in his present capacity as chief executive officer and then serve as a consultant.
"I told both Nelson and Fred the best thing they could do for themselves, the team and Frank was to leave him alone," recalled Hoffberger. "You don't need to look over Frank's shoulder to have him give you his best. With the Orioles, when I owned them, I never had an office at Memorial Stadium because I wanted the door to lead to Frank, not to me. He was in control and I was never disappointed."
No doubt, Cashen respected the trust. It paid off in championship seasons in both Baltimore and New York. Then Doubleday, in his leadoff remarks, went back to talking
about Frank the individual. It was again the Cashen so many of us know: "Frank is in baseball but he's a nut on golf, Ireland, Irish whiskey, Irish songs and Irish pubs. Just every day, because of his warmth, is St. Paddy's Day with Frank."
Roland Hemond, the Orioles' general manager, was in attendance at the luncheon ceremony put on by the New York City Sports Commission at Lincoln Center.
"A tremendous quality of Frank's is his heart. It's a big one. He shows consideration for everyone. You don't necessarily have to be in the limelight. And he would never compromise integrity," commented Hemond.
Cashen, after hearing so many tributes, replied, "Had I known I was going to have to listen to all these eulogies, I probably should have done the only decent thing and died."
This was an attempt at frivolity. He ended on a serious note, saying if he was fortunate enough to someday go up to a higher league, he would only inquire, "Lord, oh Lord, why have you been so good to me?"
He pointed to his wife and remembered his late brother, Neal, had introduced him to a willowy blonde on the beach at Ocean City. Ultimately, Jean Altman became Mrs. Frank Cashen, who he described as the love of his life, confidant and best friend for the last 42 years.
"Marrying Jean was the smartest move I ever made," Cashen said.
Two of their seven children, Greg and Blaise, were there to see and hear New York extol him.
Sy Berger, executive of the Topps Co., unveiled a portrait of Cashen, which is already on baseball gum cards and distributed worldwide. "New York owes you a great deal," he said.
In talking about his association with the Mets, Frank emphasized gratitude to Doubleday and Wilbon for the confidence they demonstrated in his ability. First they paid $21 million for the franchise and then invested in him the authority to plot the course and make decisions.
A graduate of Mount St. Joseph High School, Loyola College and the University of Maryland School of Law, plus serving as a sportswriter for the Baltimore News-Post, provided Cashen a valuable foundation.
"The fact he was a newspaperman, had a law degree and knew how to organize offered a background that would be hard to beat," added Hoffberger. "It was perfect."