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Frank Cashen’s Best Move

big-george

In case you missed the news, Frank Cashen—the legendary New York Mets general manager—died yesterday at age 88. The New York Times ran this wonderful obituary.

In the course of researching The Bad Guys Won, my book about the 1986 Mets, I sat down with Cashen and spoke for, oh, an hour or so. It was at the team’s Spring Training facility down in Port Saint Lucie, and Cashen wasn’t particularly well. I’m pretty certain he had recently suffered a stroke. His speech was a bit slurred. He didn’t look particularly healthy. His words and memories, however, soared, and I’ll forever remember the time together.

One thing that, to me, stands out about Cashen: When folks try and figure out the biggest trade of his 12 years with New York, they focus upon Keith Hernandez being lifted from the Cardinals for two pitchers, or Gary Carter coming via Montreal in exchange for Hubie Brooks and a bunch of mediocre youngsters. They’ll mention David Cone’s acquisition from Kansas City for Ed Hearn; maybe even Ron Darling and Walt Terrell being taken from Texas for an overrated Lee Mazzilli.

All those deals were important. No, monumental.

Yet the most groundbreaking swap—the one that truly changed the trajectory of a sad-sack franchise—took place on February 10, 1982, when Cincinnati Red slugger George Foster was sent to New York in exchange for Greg Harris, Jim Kern and Alex Trevino. Shortly thereafter, Foster and the Mets agreed to a five-year, $10.2 million deal—making the outfielder baseball’s first $2 million player.

Did Foster ultimately live up to the billing? Not even close. He hit 13 home runs in his first season, and never slugged more than 28 as a Met. By 1986, he was a clubhouse pariah; an unwanted presence who was released midway through a glorious season. Yet with his addition, Cashen was telling long-frustrated Metropolitan loyalists that the organization now meant business; that the Mets would be players in free agency and contenders for the playoffs. Before long, pieces began filling in around Big George. Young bucks. Free agents. The Mets became a force.

It all started with George.

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