Yankees bid farewell to the legendary Gene ‘Stick’ Michael

NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 29: Derek Jeter
NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 29: Derek Jeter /

Gene ‘Stick’ Michael was one of, if not the most integral parts of those championship Yankees teams of the late 90s and early 2000s.

On Thursday at his home in Oldsmar, Florida, Gene Michael passed away from a sudden heart attack. The 79-year-old baseball lifer had literally been through it all as a member of the Yankees organization.

After seven seasons as a defensive infielder for the Bombers, Michael was handpicked by the one and only George Steinbrenner in 1976 to join the Yanks as a scout.

Part of one of the worst statistical eras of all-time for the organization, one that is earmarked by a rash of firings and re-hirings, “Stick” wasn’t immune from the Boss’ sometimes irrational ways. From 1981-82, Michael acted as Yankees manager in two different instances before being moved upstairs to become the club’s general manager.

After a short stint with the Cubs that lasted from 1986-87, Michael once again returned to the Bronx in 1990 to put his indelible mark on baseball history.

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During his uber-successful tenure, which lasted from 1990-95, before a contract dispute led to another firing, Michael not only traded for David Cone, Paul O’Neill and Tino Martinez, but hit it out of the park with draft picks Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, Derek Jeter — and of course, International free agent signing Mariano Rivera.

Michael was able to implement a change in organizational philosophy following Steinbrenner’s 3-year ban for hiring a confessed gambler to dig up dirt on outfielder Dave Winfield, whom Steinbrenner had been publicly feuding with at the time.

Instead of trading away highly touted prospects, Michael put stock in the farm system, developing players like Bernie Williams, who would go on to help guide the club to four World Series titles in six seasons.

Of course, once Steinbrenner was back in the fold, much of what Michael accomplished went underappreciated. But it’s the players directly affected by Michael’s forward thinking that will forever remember a man who continuously put the team before himself.

As published by ESPN.com:

"“Gene Michael was not only largely responsible for the success of the Yankees organization, but also for my development as a player,” Jeter said in a statement. “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.”"

No matter whether “Stick” was acting as vice president of major league scouting for the Yankees from 1996 to 2002, or as a senior advisor until his untimely death, Michael was a consummate professional that never received the accolades he rightfully deserved. Perhaps sometime soon, he’ll finally get that long-awaited plaque in Monument Park.

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For the remainder of the 2017 season, the Yankees will wear black armbands on their jerseys in remembrance of the man they affectionately called “Stick.”