His given name was John Francis Cashen, but he preferred his middle nickname, and he began his signature with J. Frank. In a sense, Cashen had three different names, but if there was any identity crisis about him, it had nothing to do with his ability. He wore a number of hats professionally, and they all seemed to fit as comfortably as the trademark bow tie that was part of his daily wardrobe.
As it turned out, Cashen left his biggest imprint in baseball, but that was the last stop of his remarkable career -- even though it was hardly his chosen field of expertise. An award-winning sportswriter, Cashen managed to go through law school at night, balancing class schedules with those of the various sports he covered -- all while helping his remarkable wife, Jean, raise their seven children.
All of this, and so much more, came front and center June 30, when news spread that Cashen had passed away, with congestive heart failure the cause of death at age 88. He had suffered a stroke a few years ago that restricted him physically, but he was alert as ever mentally, which, for those who knew him, was saying a lot.
Along with John Steadman, Cashen helped break me in as a copy boy and later as a reporter. It was his 1959 departure to join Jerry Hoffberger and the National Brewing Company that opened up a spot for me to join the staff of The News Post and Sunday American. He never stopped being a friend and mentor, a relationship I have cherished for more than half of a century. If memory serves correctly, that was the year when Cashen took and passed the bar exam on his first try, not an everyday accomplishment, from what I'm told.
Cashen's legal background came into play in his subsequent endeavors with Hoffberger and the brewery -- but he hardly expected it would be most useful in baseball. In fact, when he left the paper to join Hoffberger, the Orioles' front office was the last place Cashen expected to end up, because, truth be told, he wasn't initially fond of the game and often chided me about my sometimes too-obvious passion for baseball.
Originally charged with running two racetracks, which Hoffberger and the brewery owned, Cashen eventually settled in as advertising director for the National Brewing Company. When Hoffberger assumed majority interest in the Orioles in late 1965, he turned to Cashen to overlook the operation. Initially, it was intended to be a one-year assignment, which seemed fine at the time with Cashen, still savoring more interest in the beer business than the baseball business.
But sometimes, strange things happen to people who get pulled into the baseball circle. The Orioles won their first World Series championship that first year, 1966, under the Hoffberger-Cashen regime. It was the year Frank Robinson showed up, and even though the deal was in place at the time of the takeover, it still was the first decision made under the new management.
It wasn't hard to extend a year after the triumph of 1966, but as Cashen settled in to a job he wouldn't have thought possible two years earlier, the Orioles slumped badly. Two years became three; the following year brought a managerial change from Hank Bauer to Earl Weaver, and soon, the Orioles were on the threshold of a magical run.
Baseball is a business that inspires more shoptalk than just about any profession this side of the medical field, and Cashen fit in -- he was hooked. With the brewery now in the rearview mirror, Cashen used extraordinary management skills; delegated authority to his skilled department heads; and then, most importantly, trusted their judgment.
He stayed in charge of the Orioles' front office for 10 years, even assuming general manager duties when Harry Dalton left to join the California Angels after the 1971 season. The one-year assignment lasted a decade, when Cashen's career took another change of direction -- from the baseball business back to the beer business. It's safe to say he was even less enthused about this move than he was about the one that brought him into baseball in the first place.
When the National Brewing Company was in the process of being acquired by the Carling Brewing Company, Hoffberger needed Cashen to oversee a transition once again. As a loyal employee, Cashen left the Orioles, bringing in Hank Peters as his replacement. During subsequent years, we often laughed about the fact that Cashen's entrance and exit with the Orioles were similar. He went kicking and screaming, both coming and going.
There was some speculation that Cashen's separation from the Orioles splintered his relationship with Hoffberger, but there weren't any outward signs. Once the merger had been completed, there was little doubt that Cashen's days in the beer business were finished. It didn't take long for him to show up in the office of commissioner Bowie Kuhn, a valued and trusted adviser and more than a casual observer, as the sale of the Orioles, long ago rumored during his own tenure, was completed. Edward Bennett Williams bought the team from Hoffberger.
Cashen probably had some angst about that move, having tried to put together an ownership group himself, but he quickly moved ahead. He jumped at the opportunity to take over the New York Mets. It was a team that had given him one of his most agonizing experiences, beating the Orioles during the 1969 World Series. At the time, the Mets were a mess as an organization, and it was in this role that Cashen's management style, especially his ability to delegate, shone brightest.
He had another 10-year run with the Mets, some good, some bad and some spectacular. He solidified his position as a front-office executive. And even he had to admit he did the improbable. He fell in love with baseball, warts and all.
Along the way, Cashen left his own unique legacy -- a natural combination of journalism, beer and baseball.
Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com.