Gene Michael, whose two stints as the Yankees' general manager included the 1981 American League pennant and acquiring or keeping the homegrown players at the heart of the 1990s Yankees dynasty, died Thursday in Oldsmar, Fla.
Michael was 79.
Michael, who played his college ball at Kent State, carried the nickname "Stick" due to his listed 6-foot-2, 183-pound frame as a player. He had a 10-year big league career as a light-hitting shortstop, with seven of those 10 seasons coming with New York. After his playing days ended in the spring of 1976, he joined the Yankees front office, became GM prior to the 103-win 1980 season and spent parts of two seasons from 1981-82 managing the big league club as well. During that turbulent period under owner George Steinbrenner, Michael later scouted for the Yankees (1983-85) before becoming manager of the Cubs for 168 games from 1986-87.
Michael's greatest contributions to the Yankees on the field came in his second stint with the organization, which began in 1988 with various coaching and scouting roles. He became GM for a second time on Aug. 20, 1990, holding that spot through October 1995.
In that span of time, he oversaw the organization's rebuild from the American League's worst record in 1990. That included drafting and signing No. 1 overall pick Brien Taylor in 1991 but also No. 6 overall pick Derek Jeter in 1992. While Taylor flopped due to injuries—he's one of two No. 1 overall picks whose careers have ended to not reach the major leagues—that spring Michael greenlighted the draft-and-follow signings of Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada.
He held on to them and other young talent already in the organization, such as Bernie Williams and Mariano Rivera, building the heart of the 1996 World Series champions, the franchise's first title since 1978.
In an interview with the YES Network, Orioles manager Buck Showalter—who Michael hired for his first big league managerial job in 1992—called Michael the best evaluator of talent he'd ever seen.
“He was the best baseball man I ever saw,” Showalter said.
"I am heartbroken by Stick's passing," GM Brian Cashman said in a statement. "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."
Michael spent the rest of his time with the club since 1996 as an advisor in baseball operations and doing major league scouting, holding the title senior vice president and special advisor from 2006 until his death.
"Gene Michael was not only largely responsible for the success of the Yankees organization, but also for my development as a player," Jeter said. "He was always accessible and willing to share his personal knowledge as well as support. He will be greatly missed."
The Yankees will wear arm bands on their left sleeves for the remainder of the season to honor Michael.
"Stick was a pillar of this organization for decades," Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner said in a statement. "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."