Frank Cashen arrived in Flushing with an impressive resume; two World Series rings, a drawer full of bowties and patience.
Throughout Spring Training and most of April 1980 Cashen watched Joe Torre’s team sputter. There were no trades, nor firings. Not a single transaction. The Mets front office was quiet.
“When is the man going to make a move?” Mets catcher John Stearns boldly asked the media. “He’s had 90 days and nothing has happened.”
The new Mets GM didn’t break a sweat. He didn’t blink. Cashen’s first player transaction didn’t come until June, it was barely a twitch. He acquired Claudell Washington from the White Sox for a minor league pitcher. That same week Cashen used his No. 1 draft pick to select a tall, skinny kid out of Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles. His name: Darryl Strawberry.
Cashen made minor trades, signed free agents and put together a patchwork teams during 1981 and 1982. “I was looking for cosmetic things to try to make the Mets look decent until I could rebuild them,” Cashen told Peter Golenbeck in Amazin’.
Like Cashen, current Mets GM Sandy Alderson has a philosophical track record that is tied to player development. Alderson sold himself to the Mets on this foundation: There’s no quick fix when it comes to building long-term success.
“I’ve always had a preference for holding on to our own talent and seeing how far it can go,” said Alderson. “If it succeeds and realizes its full potential, we benefit. If it doesn’t, I think we’ve still made the right decision in terms of our fan base.”
One thing is for certain, there will be no repeat of the multi-year, multi-million dollar press conference player introductions Mets fans have come accustomed too.
“I think we’re going to be busy, but that’s first and maybe ultimately only to assess the market,” Alderson said. “We don’t really know what’s out there. We need to be actively engaged in finding out what’s available to us, who has interest in some of our players … we’re going to be out there fishing.”
Alderson, a military man, is brilliant at working the media to his advantage. He won’t tip his hand. He won’t point directly at a player. He won’t offer specific details on any single issue. In fact, he has the uncanny ability to speak in riddles – and get away with it in front of a room full of New York media.
“One of the reasons that fans like baseball is because it provides a certain consistency and continuity in their lives that maybe doesn’t exist otherwise. It’s important to recognize that. But, at the same time, I think fans enjoy change.”
Fans like “consistency and continuity,” but “fans enjoy change.”
He’s not being evasive, but deceptive. Alderson is intentionally non-committal. He teaches marketing. He know the value of working the media. Alderson has a gift. It’s the art of the pick-off play from the GM’s seat.
Sun Tzu’s The Art of War states deception provides a competitive advantage. It forces your competition to second-guess your next move. The unknown poses a psychological threat to the competition.
In public Alderson would offer this translation: “I don’t think we’re going to go out actively trying to move anybody. But, at the same time, let’s see what’s out there. So, to that extent, I don’t think anybody is untouchable.”
Three decades and five general managers removed from the Cashen era, Sandy Alderson arrived in Flushing with an impressive resume (including two World Series rings) and patience.
All that’s missing are the bowties … and the next Darryl Strawberry.