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What was Yankees GM Brian Cashman like as a ballplayer?

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From ‘85 to ‘89, Cashman played second base on the baseball team at the Catholic University of America.

New York Yankees v Boston Red Sox Photo by Ronald C. Modra/Getty Images

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman used to play second base for the Cardinals. The Catholic University of America (CUA) Cardinals, that is — not the redbirds in St. Louis. He was pretty good, too.

During Cashman’s college years in the mid-to-late eighties, CUA’s athletic programs competed in Division III, but the Cardinals’ baseball team faced its share of Division I opponents each season. Cashman and his CUA teammates regularly faced the baseball teams at Georgetown and George Washington University, two Division I schools located nearby in DC.

Cashman held his own against them.

In fact, before CUA baseball coach Ross Natoli promised Cashman that he would be able to start as a freshman, the Yankees GM had plans to attend Tulane, where he felt he had a shot at making the baseball team as a walk-on.

The opportunity to be CUA’s starting second baseman as a freshman was too good to pass up. Two weeks before starting college, Cashman switched plans and enrolled at CUA. It was a decision he would never regret.

He also led the Cardinals in several offensive categories in each of his four years on the team. In 1988, Cashman set a university single-season record for hits, 52 in 38 games, that lasted 11 years. That Cashman was a talented college athlete is a cool factoid, but in learning about Cashman’s college baseball career, I became much more interested in finding out what Brian Cashman was like as a player and teammate. Fans know what Brian Cashman is like as general manager of a storied franchise. Who was he as a ballplayer?

Turns out, Cashman would have made a good Yankee. He has the very same qualities that he himself looks for in players.

Cashman was a standout player, “a savvy leadoff hitter,” according to Natoli. He described Cashman as a tenacious competitor who led by example.

Matt Seiler, Cashman’s double play partner in the infield at CUA, said Cashman was a good judge of character and wasn’t afraid of a challenge, according to S.L. Price’s 2015 profile in Sports Illustrated. He was stubborn. He never gave up. And doing the best job he could mattered to him. He always, always tried his hardest. That approach carries over to other parts of Cashman’s life, too. Cutting corners is not part of his makeup.

“It is important to have discipline because you never know who is watching you do what you do,” Cashman said in an interview in 2011. “I believe that if you have that approach, things will work out. It will be an uphill battle, but if you don’t daydream too much and focus on the present, that future will become more defined over time.”

One of Cashman’s job responsibilities is to appraise a player’s skill, but he’s also keenly aware of his strengths and weaknesses.

Hitting breaking balls was one of Cashman’s weaknesses while playing for CUA. Because he struggled to hit pitches with a lot of movement, he developed a penchant for swinging at the first pitch of an at-bat, when he had a greater chance of seeing a fastball. However, Natoli often instructed his players to take the first pitch of an at-bat. As a result, Cashman frequently chose not to glance down the third-base line at his coach because he didn’t want to see Natoli give him the take sign.

“I had trouble with secondary pitches,” Cashman explained to the New York Times in 2011. “If the first pitch of the game was a fastball, I would jump on it and hammer it, opposite of the approach I have as a general manager.”

But however serious Cashman the ballplayer was, he also is known around the Yankees organization as a prankster. Anecdotes of his shenanigans make me wonder if he’s ever duped Brett Gardner, another dogged, prank-loving ballplayer in the Yankees clubhouse. Both men are a testament to the fact that a person can have fun, while still striving for excellence.