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Yankees long-time executive Gene “Stick” Michael passes away at 79

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Goodbye to a legend

Detroit Tigers v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Over the years, the Yankees have lost many of its most important ex-players and personnel to the ravages of time. Few losses can feel so great as the loss of Gene “Stick” Michael, who passed away today at the age of 79. Michael was a player, a scout, a coach, a manager, and an executive, but he will be most remembered as the architect of one of the greatest dynasties in the history of baseball.

Gene Michael had an unremarkable playing career. From 1966 to 1975, he bounced around the majors. He spent a year with the Pittsburgh Pirates and another with the Los Angeles Dodgers before making his way to New York. He was a shortstop with the Yankees from 1968 to 1974 before finishing up his career in 1975 with the Detroit Tigers.

He served as a a scout for the Yankees in the late ‘70s and was manager during the 1981 and 1982 seasons. Michael left to manage the Cubs from 1986 to 1987 before returning to the organization for good.

As the team’s general manager during the early ‘90s, he presided over a forgotten, yet largely important time in the organization’s existence. During this time, the major league team is remembered for providing some of the worst seasons in franchise history, but at the same time, Michael was looking to the future.

Under his tenure, the Yankees drafted Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, and Andy Pettitte, signed Mariano Rivera out of Panama, and presided over Bernie Williams’ development into a major league player. He also put together the trade that would bring Paul O’Neill to the Bronx.

It’s important to remember that he was able to do all of this because George Steinbrenner had been banned from baseball at the time. As we all know, the Yankee owner had a reputation as being a meddler in the affairs of baseball operations. With George out of the picture, Stick found the freedom to go younger and stay away from trading prospects like they had in the 1980s.

People like to credit Steinbrenner for helping the Yankees get back to their winning ways and establishing some of the greatest seasons in team history, but it was Gene Michael who built the foundation that allowed that success to come between 1996-2001, and beyond. George returned to baseball in 1993, and after a strike-shortened year in 1994, Gene was fired in 1995.

Despite this, he would stay within the organization as the vice president of scouting before moving into a senior advisor role in his later years. Gene “Stick” Michael, like Don Zimmer, was a baseball lifer. He may not have spent all that time on the field, but he was an eternal member of the Yankees front office.

It’s honestly an injustice that the Yankees organization has never honored him for everything he did for them over the years. That needs to change. Whatever it ends up being—whether they retire the no. 17, which he wore during his playing career, give him a plaque in Monument Park, or erect a statue in dedication to him—I hope they can find a way to ensure that the man, and his legacy, can live on for generations to come.