Sunday, January 31, 2010

17 Days Until Spring Training: Gene Michael

Gene "Stick" Michael has spent virtually all of the past forty years in the Yankees organization, serving the club as a player, coach, manager, general manager, scout, director of scouting, and in his current role as a vice president and special advisor.

Born in Ohio, Michael attended Kent State University, where the baseball field was later named in his honor. He signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1959, but didn't make his Major League debut until age 28 in 1966. Traded to the Dodgers for Maury Wills after the season, Stick spent a year in LA before being purchased by the Yankees after the 1967 season. He spent the next seven years with the Yankees, serving as their starting shortstop from 1969 through 1973. He had a pretty good offensive season in 1969, but was otherwise regarded as a good glove no stick shortstop with a knack for pulling off the hidden ball trick.

Released prior to the 1975 season, Michael latched on with the Tigers for one more year. When he failed to make the Red Sox in 1976 he retired, and immediately rejoined the Yankees. He served on the Major League coaching staff in 1976 and 1978, managed the AAA Columbus Clippers to the International League Championship in 1979, and took over as Yankees General Manager for the 1980 season.

When manager Dick Howser departed the team after the 1980 season, Michael returned to the dugout, this time as the Yankee skipper. He had the Yankees on top of the AL East at 34-22 when the strike hit on June 12th. When play resumed on August 10th, the Yankees stuggled, going 14-12. Despite being guaranteed a post-season berth as the first half division champions, George Steinbrenner saw fit for a change, and replaced Michael with Bob Lemon on September 6th. It was Lemon who shepherded the Yankees through the first ever Division Series, and the ALCS, before falling to the Dodgers in the World Series.

Michael then replaced Lemon at the helm just 14 games into the 1982 season. After going 44-42, Michael was canned again, this time replaced by Clyde King. He returned to the coaching staff in 1984, and served there into the 1986 season. On June 14th he took over as manager of the Chicago Cubs, his first time out of the Yankees organization since early 1976. He lasted in that job until late 1987, going 114 and 124.

He returned to the Yankees the following year, serving on the 1988 and 1989 coaching staffs. He began 1990 in a scouting capacity, and then, in George Steinbrenner's final move before serving his suspension, was named General Manager on August 20th. It was in this position, which he held through the conclusion of the 1995 season, that Michael did his greatest work. As General Manager, Michael hired Buck Showalter as manager, oversaw the drafting of Derek Jeter, signed Mike Stanley, Wade Boggs, and Jimmy Key, traded for Paul O'Neill and David Cone, and managed to oversee the development and prevent the trading of homegrown talent like Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, and Jorge Posada.

Michael's stewardship during Steinbrenner's absence was the single biggest factor in turning the Yankees from the worst team in baseball - both on the field and in the front office - to a model franchise that enjoyed a dynastic run in the late nineties and early aughts. Though he stepped down as GM following the 1995 season, Stick has continued to serve the Yankees in an advisory role and remains one of the most trusted voices in the organization. He has spent nearly the entirety of his adult life in the employ of the Yankees, and the organization has benefited greatly from his service.

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