BERGEN COUNTY, NEW JERSEY- The word “dynasty” is synonymous with the late ’90s, and ’00s New York Yankees. Rightfully so; they captured the World Series trophy in: 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2009. Furthermore, one does not need to be a Yankees fan to identify the most successful teammates in all of sports, “the Core Four”: Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, and Jorge Posada. All of this, and more, were Gene “Stick” Michael’s doing.
As the strong-willed architect of these teams, Michael quietly enjoyed success of the Yankees’ golden years. He had one of the greatest baseball minds ever and, as a result, he had served for the Yankees, as: a shortstop, a manager, a general manager, and a top scout. At 79 years of age, he passed away suddenly on September 7, 2017 at his home in Florida. Just last summer, I asked Michael if he had any hard feelings about being relieved of his general managing duties before his chess-like personnel moves came to fruition. Humbly, he replied: “I really didn’t assemble it. The scouts signed these guys. I think I helped keep the right players. I think we got a little lucky in the trades we made. We didn’t trade the ones that were really going to be a part of this ball club.”
In retrospect, who Michael did not trade cemented his place in Yankee history. Jeff Nelson, a 4x World Series champion during the Dynasty Years agreed. “Exactly. I remember, when I was coming [to the Yankees] from the Mariners, I know that the Mariners were asking for Andy Pettitte, they were asking for Mariano Rivera. You know, I know at one time, [the Yankees] wanted to try to ship out Jorge Posada and [Michael said] ‘absolutely not’. I think [minor leaguer] Rivera was one of those unknown commodities back then…. [So] you’re right. The guys that he didn’t trade were very instrumental… I don’t know where the Yankees would be if Rivera wasn’t here”.
To honor Michael, the 2017 Yankees will wear black armbads on their jerseys for the remainder of the season. The Yankees, who enjoy honoring their own, need much more than a black armband for a man that dedicated his professional life to them. Jeter, Pettitte, Rivera, and Posada all have their jersey numbers retired for eternity alongside baseball legends Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, and Yogi Berra in the illustrious Monument Park. Why is there not one, single mention of the brains behind that operation: Michael? Yesterday, Rivera told me “Gene was a friend of mine. He was a good person. He was a guy that invested a lot of time in putting the Yankees where the Yankees were. We lost a good one. We lost a person that cared about the game, cared about the New York Yankees and he was special to us.”
Does 5x World Series champion and Core Four member Rivera think Michael deserves recognition in Monument Park? “Who am I to decide that? If it was me, I’d put him all over…. Again, he was a guy that did a tremendous job”. I would say that is a ‘yes’. Nelson agrees: “Well, it’s a shame it [would have] to happen when he passed away… I think he deserves it, especially the construction… of some of the Yankee teams back in the mid 90s, what he’s done as a manager, a GM, and very instrumental in some of the history that the Yankees have now, so: absolutely.”
Jim Leyritz, a 2x World Series champion catcher during the Dynasty Years tried to make sense of it all. “It was a shock, first of all, the passing…. We were just with him, we honored him in the suite that night [two weeks ago]…. I think, unfortunately, he did pass earlier than everybody expected. I think the Yankees were having it in mind for the future…to have Gene Michael day because he had done everything…. in the organization from player to general manager…. I think they would’ve eventually honored him, but like I said, the passing was a complete shocker for everybody.”
Maybe Michael’s untimely death had something to do with it, but, he was 79 years old after all. It begs the question: why hadn’t a plan to honor the backbone of the modern-day Yankees been implemented and executed yet? Sadly, the Yankees, a team with the most jersey numbers retired in professional sports, dropped the ball on this.
Leyritz and Nelson Recount stories with Michael
Leyritz: “Gene was the general manager when I first got called up and he was the reason why young players got a second chance. Back then, the Yankees wouldn’t use young players. When Steinbrenner got suspended, Gene stepped in and said ‘okay Leyritz, you’re the first one. Get up here, lets see what you can do. If you do well, that’ll open the door for everyone else’. I got off to a good start. Kevin Maas came up, he did well. Bernie Williams a couple years, and it really started building the Yankees. And truly, Gene Michael and Buck Showalter were the reason why we won in ’96 cause they started that foundation.”
Nelson: “I’ll miss him during Old Timer’s Day because he was the one that made all the lineups and [pitching rotations]. He was instrumental in me coming over here and for the trade with Tino Martinez in Seattle. It was always fun listening to him and Lou Pinella talk about how they acquired both Tino and I. So, you’re going to miss that. It was a real shock to hear the news that he passed away, but just seeing him in Old Timers’ Day, seeing him around the Stadium, and just knowing what he did as a manager [and as] a GM here, how he constructed this organization and really had a lot to do with the mid 90’s and why the Yankees won and who he drafted and who he brought up. This guy was one of the smartest baseball minds in all of baseball.
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