Obituaries

Gene Michael, 79; helped to build powerhouse Yankees teams

Mr. Michael (center) played for the Yankees for 10 seasons and then became a manager and adviser for the team.
Ray Stubblebine/Associated Press/File 1984
Mr. Michael (center) played for the Yankees for 10 seasons and then became a manager and adviser for the team.

NEW YORK — Gene Michael, the slick-fielding shortstop nicknamed Stick who went on to manage the New York Yankees and then as an executive built a power that won four World Series in five years, died Thursday. He was 79.

Mr. Michael had a heart attack and died at his home in Oldsmar, Fla., his wife, Joette, said.

At 6 foot 2 inches and about 180 pounds in his playing days, Mr. Michael hit just .229 with 15 home runs in 10 big league seasons, seven with the Yankees from 1968-1974 in one of the worst eras in team history. He was known for pulling off the hidden ball trick, which he was said to have done five times.

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He had a far bigger effect during two terms as manager, two as general manager, and then as an adviser relied on by Brian Cashman, the team’s GM since 1998. He also managed the Chicago Cubs for two seasons.

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A Yankees lifer, Mr. Michael maintained durability during George Steinbrenner’s decades of tumult. During his second term as general manager, Mr. Michael put together the core of a roster that won World Series titles in 1996 and from 1998-2000.

‘‘He was able to project so well what players would become, and he did it through sitting and watching with his eyes.’’ Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. ‘‘He just had a great feel for the game.’’

After watching the Yankees fall short in the 1980s with high-priced free agents, Mr. Michael preached patience with youth and nurtured Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, and other prospects. He installed an organization philosophy of patience at the plate to run up pitch counts.

‘‘Gene Michael was not only largely responsible for the success of the Yankees organization, but also for my development as a player,’’ Jeter said in a statement.

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Mr. Michael gave Buck Showalter his first major league managing job. Showalter, now Baltimore’s manager, called Mr. Michael ‘‘blatantly honest’’ and the ‘‘best baseball guy that I ever saw.’’

Showalter also said Mr. Michael ‘‘never missed on an infielder.’’

‘‘Jeter had made like 40-some errors, but he tells me this guy is going to be an All-Star shortstop. He said he’s got a little footwork issue,’’ Showalter recalled. ‘‘How do you project those things and stand by them?’’

Mr. Michael also acquired key veterans who contributed to the 1996 title, including Paul O'Neill, Wade Boggs, and David Cone. He promoted a young staffer to assistant general manager. Cashman went on to become general manager for two decades.

‘‘He was both a friend and mentor to me,’’ Cashman said in a statement. ‘‘And I relied upon his advice and guidance throughout my career.’’

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Mr. Michael quit as general manager after the 1995 season and became a key adviser.

Although he was identified with the Yankees through most of his long career, Mr. Michael had signed with Pittsburgh before the 1959 season out of Kent State and made his big league debut in July 1966. He was traded after the season with third baseman Bob Bailey to the Dodgers for Maury Wills, a five-time All-Star shortstop. After one season in Los Angeles, he was purchased by the Yankees. He arrived for Mickey Mantle’s final season and pitched three shutout innings against the California Angels in a lopsided loss that ended an August doubleheader. He was released in 1975, the year before the Yankees made it back to the World Series led by Thurman Munson.

Although known for his slick fielding and light bat, Mr. Michael was a battler.

“If there was ever a team fight, the players always told me that they wanted Stick on their side,” Steinbrenner once said.

In one memorable brawl, in August 1973, Mr. Michael took on Carlton Fisk, the Boston Red Sox catcher who outweighed him by at least 20 pounds and had the added advantage of a chest protector.

The fight was touched off when Mr. Michael, at the plate, missed a squeeze bunt as Munson was barreling home from third base. Munson crashed into Fisk, and the benches emptied. Mr. Michael held his own in the skirmish, in which nobody was hurt.

Michael ended his playing days with the 1975 Detroit Tigers under Ralph Houk, his former manager with the Yankees. He signed with the Red Sox after that season, but they never put him in the lineup and released him in May 1976.

Mr. Michael served as an administrative assistant in the Yankees organization and as a manager of its Triple-A Columbus Clippers before becoming general manager in 1979.

When Dick Howser led the Yankees to the AL East title and a 103 wins in his first season as a manager but was forced out by Steinbrenner when the team was swept by Kansas City in the playoffs, Mr. Michael replaced Howser in 1981.

He led the team to a 34-22 record before players went on strike, but the Yankees started just 14-12 when they returned and Steinbrenner fired Mr. Michael and replaced him with Bob Lemon.

He returned to the dugout when Lemon was fired the following April 26. He led the Yankees to a 44-42 mark when he was replaced by Clyde King on Aug. 3.

Mr. Michael was the Yankees’ third-base coach from 1984-86, leaving in June 1986 to replace Jim Frey as the Chicago Cubs’ manager. They went 46-56 and were 68-68 in 1987 when he quit on Sept. 8.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Michael leaves two sons, Mark and Matthew, and two daughters, Sandra and Haley.

Material from The New York Times was used in this obituary.