Whether it be as a player, coach, manager, general manager, scout, or special advisor, Gene Michael has served the New York Yankees in one capacity or another for the better part of the past four decades. After a playing career during which he depended more on his brain than on his somewhat limited natural ability, Michael continued to use his intelligence and knowledge of the game to establish himself as one of the most respected talent evaluators in baseball.
Born in Kent, Ohio on June 2, 1938, Eugene Richard Michael attended Kent State University, where he starred in baseball and basketball. Although coveted by several NBA teams, Michael chose to play baseball instead, signing with the Pittsburgh Pirates as an amateur free agent in 1959. The 6'2", 185-pound shortstop, who acquired the nickname "Stick" for his tall and slender physique, had a difficult time making it to the major leagues because of his light hitting. After seven long years in the Pittsburgh farm system, Michael finally made his major league debut with the Pirates on July 15, 1966. He saw extremely limited playing time the remainder of the year, appearing in only 30 games and batting just .152 in 33 total plate appearances. The Pirates traded Michael and former "bonus baby" Bob Bailey to the Dodgers for Maury Wills at the end of the year, and the 28-year-old shortstop spent the entire 1967 campaign with Los Angeles, batting only .202 in a part-time role. Believing Michael had no future with the team, the Dodgers sold him to the Yankees at season's end.
Given an opportunity in New York to win the starting shortstop job in 1968, Michael failed to impress, batting just .198 in 116 at-bats. After struggling during the season's first month, Michael was removed from the starting lineup in favor of Tom Tresh, who remained the starter the rest of the year. However, when Tresh got off to a slow start the following year, Michael received another opportunity – one he made the most of. Inserted into the starting lineup approximately one month into the season, Michael ended up hitting a career-high .272 and doing a fine job in the field.
Michael's batting average fell off to a more typical .214 in 1970, though, prompting the Yankees to begin their search for the light-hitting shortstop's replacement. Michael spent the next four seasons warding off challenges from Frank Baker, Hal Lanier, Jerry Kenney, and Fred Stanley, doing so mostly on the strength of his smooth fielding and alert play. In particular, he became noted for pulling off the hidden-ball-trick, something he did five times during his career. While he was neither extremely fast on the bases nor particularly spectacular in the field, Michael did everything with a certain graceful elegance. Whether running the bases or fielding his position, everything he did appeared effortless. Although Michael never won a Gold Glove for his work at shortstop, he was among the American League's better fielders at the position throughout much of his Yankee career.
Michael finally lost his starting job to Jim Mason in 1974 and ended up going to Detroit the following year, finishing up his playing career as a back-up for the Tigers under former Yankee manager Ralph Houk.
Michael later returned to the Yankee organization, first as a minor league manager, then as a coach, then as General Manager, and finally as manager. However, he eventually got caught up in the revolving door of Yankee managers under owner George Steinbrenner. After Dick Howser led the team to 103 victories in 1980, Michael replaced him as skipper at the end of the season. Michael himself was then replaced by Bob Lemon on September 6, 1981, only to be rehired as manager just 14 games into the following season. After being fired again by Steinbrenner in August of 1982, Michael left the organization he had been with for most of the past 15 seasons to join the Chicago Cubs, for whom he managed one year before being fired by Cubs GM Dallas Green.
Michael returned to the Yankee organization again in 1990 as general manager and subsequently helped rebuild the team after a series of ill-advised moves had left it the laughing stock of the American League. Over the next several seasons, he made many sagacious moves, including signing Wade Boggs to a free agent contract and trading for Paul O'Neill and David Cone. More importantly, he helped convince George Steinbrenner to rebuild the team from within. Rather than following the team's earlier policy of trading away top minor league talent for aging veterans, the Yankees subsequently held on to young prospects such as Bernie Williams, Andy Pettite, Derek Jeter, and Mariano Rivera, leading to their next period of dominance. Michael deserves as much credit for the team's success during the late 1990s as anyone else. Although Steinbrenner eventually replaced him as GM with Bob Watson at the end of the 1995 season, Michael's influence on the team can still be seen, both in the work he did as GM and the fine job he is doing today as top scout and talent evaluator.
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