September 20 is an interesting anniversary day for the New York Yankees franchise. The game notes for the Wednesday, September 19 game against Boston noted that September 20 is the anniversary of two Monument Park inductions. Both of these were after tragic deaths in the New York Yankees organization. The first was on September 20, 1980, honoring the late Thurman Munson. Remember, while the #15 retired on the spot after his death, the plaque still took over a year. The second one, which got some notoriety on Wednesday afternoon, was the one dedicated to the late George Michael Steinbrenner III. The Yankees won that afternoon in an 8-6 win to the Rays. Now, with it being September 20 (as written), Monument Park needs to get Gene “Stick” Michael in the organization.
Gene Michael did not have his entire career in pinstripes, but for his years of service, he might as well have. The Pittsburgh Pirates signed Michael as a shortstop in 1959. He toiled through the minors for seven years before making his MLB debut on July 15, 1966. Despite finally making his MLB debut, he was traded to the Dodgers in 1967 before the Yankees bought his contract in 1968. He spent the next seven seasons in pinstripes (1968-1974) as the starting shortstop. A master of the hidden ball trick, Michael was a master deceiver. However, the Yankees released him in 1975 and he joined the Detroit Tigers. Known to be a glove-first player, Michael retired after 1976 with a .229 / .288 / .284 hitter.
However, Gene Michael’s most productive years were not in a uniform, but as an executive with a suit. Right after the Boston Red Sox released him in 1976, Michael signed on as a coach for the Yankees. In 1977, he served as the manager of the Syracuse Chiefs. In 1980, he got a promotion to general manager under George Steinbrenner. Michael returned to the onfield operations in 1981, becoming manager. The 1981 season would be considered tenuous in the relationship between Steinbrenner and Michael. Michael dared Steinbrenner to fire him, which the firey Steinbrenner obliged. Despite this, the Yankees kept Michael in the organization in 1983, serving as a front office executive. He returned to coaching in 1984 with the Yankees until the Cubs took his services in manager for the 1986 and 1987 seasons.
The third stint in the Yankees front office is the one that gave Michael his proudest moments as a Yankee executive. In 1990, Michael became general manager for the second time in his career. This time, with George Steinbrenner suspended from baseball, Michael took command of rebuilding a franchise that fell on hard times. In that time, the Yankees drafted and signed players such as Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, Brien Taylor, Wade Boggs, Paul O’Neill and so on. He rebuilt the franchise and kept George Steinbrenner from interfering with the baseball operations. Despite that, Michael was sent packing again in the 1995 season for fallouts from the 1994 MLB strike.
Gene Michael came back again in 1996 as a vice president of scouting and vigorously worked hard to keep the Yankees’ top young kids in the organization. The most famous story is the fight over Derek Jeter and the Yankees having a deal for Felix Fermin which would involve trading Mariano Rivera. Michael defended Jeter’s abilities and kept George from making the deal. Everyone should be thankful for that. From 1996 on, the Yankees kept Michael in the organization, eventually becoming a vice president and senior advisor. He also was in charge of Old Timers Day management.
When he passed of a heart attack on September 7, 2017, it hurt the entire organization. Everyone who worked in baseball operations on the field knew Gene Michael. Michael had lots of knowledge and was a big name advisor for Brian Cashman and Bob Watson. Buck Showalter, who Michael tabbed to be manager in 1992, even cried driving to Camden Yards. The Yankees would not be anywhere close to where they are today with Gene Michael.
Monument Park is filled with names he helped bring in, and now, on September 20, 2018, it is time to get Gene Michael his proper place in Monument Park alongside the legends.
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