For much of Michael’s time with the Yankees, George Steinbrenner ran a revolving door that sent players, coaches, managers and front-office personnel spinning in and out of Yankee Stadium. Michael was fired a couple of times, then hired back.
As a player he anchored the infield for seven seasons for the Yankees in the late 1960s and early ’70s, when baseball’s most storied franchise went into decline. Nicknamed Stick for his slender frame — 6 feet 2 inches tall and 180 pounds or so — he was a light hitter but quick, smooth and deft defensively.
After Michael’s playing career ended, in 1976, Steinbrenner, whose syndicate had taken over ownership from CBS three years earlier, earmarked him for a future in the Yankee organization, having viewed him as a smart and hard-nosed player.
Michael had two stints as the Yankee manager and another as general manager in the early 1980s, then managed the Chicago Cubs later in the decade.
He served as the Yankee general manager again from late in the 1990 season through 1995. In that second go-round, he assembled the core of the teams that won a World Series championship in 1996 and consecutive titles from 1998 to 2000. Joe Torre, who managed those teams, was hired in large part on Michael’s recommendation.
Michael also was a Yankee coach, oversaw scouting, and in his later years was a senior adviser in the front office.
As general manager, Michael looked for young players who showed promise, a departure from Steinbrenner’s penchant for spending heavily on free agents and at times trading away budding talent.
He gained unusual autonomy for a top Yankee official after Steinbrenner was ordered by Commissioner Fay Vincent to resign as the team’s general partner and relinquish control of on-field baseball decisions on July 30, 1990 — his penalties for paying a confessed gambler for damaging information about the Yankee outfielder Dave Winfield, with whom Steinbrenner had been feuding.
Through the draft, trades, free-agent signings and retention of the most promising Yankee minor leaguers, Michael created the path putting Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Paul O’Neill, Bernie Williams, Tino Martinez, David Cone and Joe Girardi in pinstripes for many or all of those four Yankee championship teams.
Michael’s first stint as a Yankee manager came in 1981, when he reluctantly stepped down as general manager at Steinbrenner’s behest after one season in that post.
He succeeded Dick Howser, whom Steinbrenner fired after the 1980 Yankees, winners of 103 games in the regular season, were swept by the Kansas City Royals in the American League Championship Series.
Michael reflected on his playing days when he replaced Howser.
“I realized I couldn’t hit very well — I was never very strong in my upper body; today’s players work out more — and I started to learn the game,” he told The New York Times. “Toward the end, I guess I would say I came to love baseball, or at least to know it better. I started to think about managing.”
Eugene Richard Michael was born on June 2, 1938, in Kent, Ohio. He played baseball and was also an outstanding basketball player at Kent State University, then signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates’ organization in 1957.
His survivors include his wife, Joette, two sons, two daughters and several grandchildren.
Michael made his major league debut with the Pirates in 1966 before being traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers sold him to the Yankees after the 1967 season.