Former Yankees player, manager and general manager Gene Michael dies at 79

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The New York Daily News reports that former Yankees player, manager and general manager Gene Michael has died of a heart attack at the age of 79.

Michael was signed by the Pirates and played for them as a rookie in 1966 and then played the 1967 season with the Dodgers after being traded for Maury Wills. That offseason the Yankees purchased his contract and he played for them for seven seasons before finishing his career with the Tigers in 1975. For his career he was a .229/.288/.284 hitter. His nickname, “Stick,” came from his tall, slender build, not his offensive prowess, obviously. Mostly a shortstop, Michael was kept around for his glove.

Following his playing career he became a Yankees coach and minor league manager before taking over as the major league skipper in 1981. He’d be relieved of his duties in the middle of that pennant winning season and then rehired 15 games into the 1982 season, replacing Bob Lemon, the man who had replaced him the season before. Michael would then be removed again after 86 games in favor of Clyde King. In both 1981 and 1982 he’d have a higher winning percentage than either of his predecessors or successors. Of course, during the height of George Steinbrenner’s managerial carousel winning and losing was often secondary, as The Boss didn’t take well to people who didn’t cow to him. Michael would manager the Cubs in 1986 and 1987 before returning to the Yankees in 1990. Over the next four years he’d have his greatest success and build both his and the Yankees’ legacy.

George Steinbrenner hired Michael as the team’s general manager in early 1990. On July 30, 1990, Steinbrenner was banned permanently from day-to-day management of the Yankees by MLB Commissioner Fay Vincent for paying a gambler named Howie Spira $40,000 to dig up dirt on Dave Winfield. While that was bad for Steinbrenner it was great for the Yankees, as Michael now had a free hand to run the front office. The work he did during Steinbrenner’s suspension — and during Steinbrenner’s slightly more hands-off, post-suspension years — built the Yankees modern dynasty.

Michael drafted or signed the “Core Four” of Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada. He also traded Roberto Kelly for Paul O’Neill. Steinbrenner fired Michael in 1995, but the groundwork for five World Championships between 1996 and 2009 had been laid. In 1996 Michael was hired as a vice-president of scouting and would serve in other front office capacities for the Yankees for the rest of his life.

The story of the New York Yankees of the past 40 years usually begins with Steinbrenner. But if it wasn’t for Gene Michael, there’s a good chance that the story would be much shorter. Rest in peace, Stick Michael: the man who built the Jeter-Era New York Yankees.