Doesn’t Stick Michael look strange in the uniform of another organization? I mean he has been such an integral part for so many quality Yankee teams that seeing him in a Cubs uniform is almost startling.
But isn’t that par for the proverbial course for Gene Michael? Has any Yankee figure in history been involved with so much success and received so little credit for it?
He is seen here when he managed the Cubs for the second half of 1986 and the first half of the 1987 season. Those were the dark years between the 1984 and 1989 Division Title where they went through managers like tissues.
Michael was tossed away.
Nothing about Michael’s career was headline grabbing. He played 10 seasons in the majors as a light hitting infielder. He came up with the Pirates, played one year with them on the big league level. He was dealt to the Dodgers in the Maury Wills trade and was in LA for one year. He finished his career with one season playing for Detroit.
In between those one year stints was 7 seasons as a member of the Yankees. He was the every day shortstop during the lean years between the retirement of Mickey Mantle and the opening of the remodeled stadium and the Bronx Zoo.
Typical of Michael’s career, he was there for the ground work and was gone when the rewards flowed in.
After his playing career ended in 1975, he rejoined the Yankee organization. In 1978, he was a member of the coaching staff as the Yankees won the World Series. In 1981, the Yankees named Michael manager after Dick Howser was fired. He had the Yankees in first place when the strike hit.
Because of the split season post season rules of 1981, the Yankees were automatically in the playoffs. Michael and company would face the second half winner in the Divisional Championship Series.
But this was the age of Steinbrenner and managers could be fired on a whim. Steinbrenner replaced Michael with Bob Lemon for the second half. They finished behind Milwaukee in the second half but would go on to beat the Brewers and the A’s to get into the World Series.
The Yankees blew a 2-0 lead in the Series and the Dodgers took the title. Michael’s best chance to manage a pennant winner went away at no fault of his own.
The next season after about a month of the season, Lemon was fired and Michael was put back into the managerial role. But this was the post Reggie Yankees and they did not contend.
Eventually he would go to the Cubs and manage those two 1/2 seasons. It would be his final chance at managerial glory.
Michael would return to the Yankees and make his everlasting imprint on baseball history. As Steinbrenner was suspended in the early 1990’s for his dealings with Howie Spira, Michael would be the GM. Without Steinbrenner trading away every young player in the organization on a whim, Michael was able to construct a farm system.
Bernie Williams was a late bloomer and would never have been able to develop in the old Steinbrenner led Yankee team. Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Jim Leyritz, Ramiro Mendoza, and Jorge Posada all gestated in the minor leagues. Sure the Yankees were bad and the number one overall pick of Brien Taylor turned into an all time bust.
But between the patient rebuilding of Stick Michael and the managing of Buck Showalter, the Yankees developed into a contender in 1993 and looked like the team to beat in 1994 when yet another strike occurred, interrupting a Gene Michael triumph.
Once again, Michael was fired after the strike. By the time the Yankees and their great core started piling up World Series titles, GMs Bob Watson and Brian Cashman were taking their bows. Michael had glorified advisor and VP titles but never got the credit he deserved.
When the Red Sox tried to sign Michael as a GM after the 2001 season, Steinbrenner would not give him permission to leave the company, breaking his chance at GM glory elsewhere.
It seems like Steinbrenner and Michael had a borderline abusive relationship. He did great work for the Boss but was constantly removed as he was going be showered with adulation.
To this day, there is no plaque for Michael in monument park. No offense to Tino Martinez and Jorge Posada and Roger Maris, all who deserve plaques out there. But Michael does as well.
He was the architect of the single most successful run for a post Free Agency baseball team. And no, it wasn’t all because of Steinbrenner signing big time free agents. It was in great part for the foundation that Stick Michael lay down.
Steinbrenner is dead. Sadly so is Stick. Let’s have him get his due, at least post humously.
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