NEW YORK -- As the World Series celebration shifted from the field to the clubhouse early Thursday morning, Hank Steinbrenner, a member of the ownership family, suddenly realized that he hadn't seen Yankees general manager Brian Cashman make a postgame appearance.
"I don't know," Steinbrenner said. "He must be up there on the computers, thinking about next year already."
Not quite. Cashman was later found near the dugout of the champion Yankees, discussing the formula for a World Series title. And so much of it could be traced back to Cashman's own dealings this winter, from the unexpected flight to woo CC Sabathia in northern California to the surprise signing of first baseman Mark Teixeira.
Operating with baseball's largest payroll, Cashman has always -- and will always -- endure more criticism than most. Working under one of baseball's most impatient ownership regimes, he is constantly fighting for his baseball life. But Cashman proved once again in 2009 that his way of business works.
The Yankees are World Series champions, and that's vindication enough.
"There will be a new mission now," Cashman said. "At least for a while, we'll be able to celebrate this."
It seemingly came in one quick strike this offseason when Cashman signed Sabathia, Teixeira and A.J. Burnett to free-agent deals, totaling a combined $423.5 million. But the Yankees did more than simply outspend every other team. They whisked Sabathia away from California thanks to a visit from Cashman during the Winter Meetings, for example, and they inked Teixeira after appearing all but out of that free-agent race.
Those two, along with Burnett, played critical roles in this World Series championship. And a fair bit of the credit must go to Cashman.
Like his players, Cashman made certain to dish some of that recognition back to his predecessors -- especially to those who constructed the so-called core of Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte last decade.
"That traces back to decision-making," Cashman said, "whether it's finding an Andy Pettitte late in the Draft, finding Mariano Rivera in Panama when there was nobody coming out of Panama, Jorge Posada being converted from a second baseman to a catcher -- and Derek Jeter was a no-brainer that year."
Yet Cashman, a quiet figure, has nonetheless played a role in all of it, rising from his role as an intern in the organization to his current post as general manager. He has survived threats on his job and the demands of ownership. He has survived the scrutiny of poor free-agent signings, from Carl Pavano to Jaret Wright to Kei Igawa. And he has, in spite of all those things, become the third-longest tenured general manager in the game.
Every now and again, he makes his presence felt. Concern rippled through the Turner Field visiting clubhouse early one June afternoon in Atlanta, for example, when Cashman dropped in on a closed-door meeting between manager Joe Girardi and right fielder Nick Swisher. Later that day, Cashman explained that he parachuted into Atlanta to jump-start the Yankees, who at the time were tied with the Blue Jays for second place.
Girardi was ejected from that game and the Yankees won it, along with their next six games. Over the span of the ensuing three months, they won 103 games and then another 11 in the postseason, earning the best record in the Major Leagues -- along with status as World Series favorites.
They did not disappoint. And standing on the field, amidst the chaos of a winner, Cashman knew that much of this was his doing. The Steinbrenner family provided the money and the free reign, and Cashman -- constantly on the phone, constantly on the computer -- made the correct decisions with it.
"Right now, we're the best," Cashman said, before descending into the clubhouse. "And we're proud of that."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.