On Thursday morning, the Yankees were saddened to learn of the passing of Gene “Stick” Michael, who passed away at his home in Oldsmar, Florida, and was 79 years old.
Michael played for the Yankees in the 1960s, and later served as their manager and general manager.
Most importantly, Michael was the architect of the 1990s dynasty that produced five championships, as he drafted the Fab Five of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, and Bernie Williams.
Jeter, who served as Yankees captain from 2003 until he retired in 2014, said in a statement, “Gene Michael was not only largely responsible for the success of the Yankees organization, but also for my development as a player. He was always accessible and willing to share his personal knowledge as well as support. He will be greatly missed. My thoughts and prayers go out to his entire family.”
Williams, who played for the Yankees from 1991 to 2006, said in a statement, “Gene Michael always supported me when I was a young up-and-coming player and, despite some struggles along the way, always believed that I would become a significant part of the Yankees organization. I never forgot that, and today, we have lost one of the most treasured members of the Yankees family – but let’s celebrate his life and his legacy. As the architect of the team that would go on to win four World Series, Gene was as significant a part of our World Championship teams as anyone. I will miss him dearly and my thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends, and fans everywhere.”
Yankees Managing General Partner Hal Steinbrenner said, “Stick was a pillar of this organization for decades. He knew the game of baseball like few others did, and was always willing and excited to talk about it with anyone in earshot. His contributions to the Yankees over the years have been immeasurable. He loved baseball and this organization, and he will be profoundly missed. I extend my deepest sympathies to his wife, Joette, and his entire family.”
Yankees Senior Vice President and General Manager Brian Cashman said, “I am heartbroken by Stick’s passing. He was both a friend and mentor to me, and I relied upon his advice and guidance throughout my career. He did it all in this industry – player, coach, manager, general manager and scout – and his knowledge base was second to none. My condolences go out to his family, friends and all those he touched throughout his lifetime in the game. I will miss him.”
One of the biggest trades Michael made to shape that 1990s dynasty was when he acquired Paul O’Neill from Cincinnati for Roberto Kelly ahead of the 1993 season.
O’Neill sad of Michael on Twitter, “So sorry to hear about Gene Michael Thank you for giving me the best opportunity of my life: playing for the Yankees…you will be missed!!!”
David Cone, who pitched for the Yankees from 1995 to 2000, said on Twitter, “Crushed. We just lost a great man on and off the field. Touched so many lives. RIP Stick”
Originally signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1958, Michael spent seven and a half years in the minors before making his Major League debut with the Pirates on July 15, 1966. He was traded to the Dodgers that winter and spent one season with them before the Yankees purchased his contract in the winter of 1967. He was made the Yankees starting shortstop at the beginning of the 1968 season before settling into a reserve role. He had his best season for the Yankees in 1969, batting .272 (112-for-412) with two home runs, 31 RBI and a .341 on-base percentage. He played 789 games over seven seasons with the Yankees from 1968-74, batting .229 (561-for-2,405) with 12 home runs and 204 RBI during a pitching-dominant era of Major League history.
After being released by the Yankees in January 1975, he played his final season with Detroit. He finished his 10-year Major League playing career with a .229 (642-for-2,806) average, 15 home runs and 226 RBI over 973 games from 1966-75.
He signed with the Red Sox in the spring of 1976 but was released in May before ever making an appearance with the club. Days later, he rejoined the Yankees organization at the request of George Steinbrenner and spent the 1976 season on manager Billy Martin’s staff. He worked in the front office in 1977 and went back to the coaching staff in 1978. The Yankees appeared in the World Series in all three seasons, winning championships in the latter two seasons.
Michael managed the Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate – the Columbus Clippers – in 1979, leading them to the International League title despite having no prior managing experience. Michael was installed as the Yankees’ general manager prior to the 1980 season, and the team won 103 regular season games. In 1981, he was named manager, leading the Yankees to a 34-22 record in the first-half of the strike-shortened season before being replaced by Bob Lemon after beginning the second half with a 14-12 mark. He returned to manage the club for 86 games (44-42) during the middle of the 1982 season, before scouting and coaching from 1983-85. From 1986-87, he managed the Cubs for almost two full seasons, compiling a 114-124 record.
Stick returned to the Yankees and held various scouting and coaching roles from 1988-90 before being named general manager once again on August 20, 1990 – a role in which he would serve through October 1995. Under his watch, the club’s collective batting average and on-base percentage improved each year over his first four seasons, rising from worst (.241/.300 in 1990) to first (.290/.374 in 1994) in both categories in the AL over the stretch.
Since 1996, Michael devoted the majority of his time to Major League scouting and serving as an advisor to the Yankees Baseball Operations Department. He held the title of Yankees Senior Vice President and Special Advisor since the start of the 2006 season until his passing.
In his memory, Yankees players and coaches will wear black armbands on the left sleeves of their jerseys through the rest of this season.