By Steve Svetovich
Gene “Stick” Michael served as a player, coach, scout, manager, front office executive, advisor and general manager during his long career with the New York Yankees.
He helped build the Yankees dynasty that lasted from the mid 90s to 2009.
He was responsible for the Yankees drafting of the core four: Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte.
And Stick showed patience as he kept George Steinbrenner from trading Bernie Williams, also drafted by the Yankees and a major part of the dynasty.
Stick was a people person and made many trips from his Florida home to PNC Field to scout and analyze the Scranton Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. Stick worked for the Yankees front office in that capacity.
One of the many friends he made over the years was Dunmore’s Paul Nardozzi. Nardozzi, formerly a Dunmore councilman, is a Democrat running on the Republican ticket this November as he seeks to regain his council seat.
Nardozzi has about a 10-year history with Stick Michael. He spent time with him at PNC Field this past August 3, about a month before the Stick suddenly died of a heart attack in Florida this past September 7.
The passing of Stick Michael leaves a tremendous void in the Yankees organization.
Michael came up with the Pirates where he played his rookie season in 1966. He was traded to the Dodgers with Bob Bailey for Maury Wills in 1967.
The Stick, who had a slender frame, was traded to the Yankees in 1968. He played for the Yankees from 1968 through 1974. Only a .229 career hitter, he was a slick fielder, master of the hidden ball trick and spent most of those years as the Yankees starting shortstop.
He retired as a player during the 1976 season after the Boston Red Sox released him in May without even playing him in a game.
The Stick joined the Yankees organization as a coach, scout and became the team’s Triple-A manager in 1979. He was promoted to general manager of the Yankees in 1980 before taking over as manager of the club for part of the 1980 season and 1981.
A few spats with Steinbrenner led to him being fired after the 1981 season.
He managed the Chicago Cubs in 1986 and 1987. Michael had a 206-200 career record as a manager.
Michael then rejoined the Yankees organization as a coach before being named general manager in 1990 and holding that position through 1995. He drafted Jeter and built up a team that won four World Series in five years and again in 2009. He made the trade bringing Paul O’Neill to the Yankees in a swap for Roberto Kelly. O’Neill. known as “the Warrior” to Steinbrenner, became a major part of four title teams. However, the Stick was let go as general manager after the 1995 season, one year before the first of the five titles.
Still, Steinbrenner re-hired Michael in 1996 and kept him in the organization in various front office, advisory and lead scouting positions. The Stick, popular with the fans, was still working for the Yankees at the time of his death at 79.
Nardozzi met the Stick in 2008 when Dunmore’s Jimmy Brozetti introduced them.
“Jimmy was close to him and introduced me to Stick at PNC Field. He was very friendly and knowledgeable about baseball. He talked a lot of baseball.
“I remember when he played in the 60s and 70s. He was one of my favorite Yankees. I remember sitting in my dad’s car and listening to Yankee games on the radio back then. Stick was the shortstop and his name was often mentioned.”
Nardozzi had subsequent more encounters with Michael at PNC Field, would sit with him in the club area and would sometimes dine with him at Chick’s Diner.
“I eventually got to know him a lot better. He loved Chick’s Diner. He went there often and liked to order the breakfast food. I had the pleasure of joining him at Chick’s on several occasions. The funny thing about it is that no one knew who he was there. And we didn’t want to blow his cover.”
Nardozzi had another connection to Michael. His fiancé, Teresa McLaine, Dunmore, is the niece of the late Al Widmar, a former big leaguer who was pitching coach for the A’s, Brewers and Phillies. Well, Widmar and Michael were friends.
“Gene talked a lot about Widmar. They were very good friends.”
Eventually, Teresa came to meet the Stick. “Teresa would gawk at the Stick’s 2009 World Series ring. Then the Stick would say, ‘Teresa, you can take it off and wear it.'”
Nardozzi and his fiancé spent time with Michael at the club at PNC Field last August 3. “He looked healthy,” Nardozzi said. “He always looked healthy, even at 79. He looked to be in good shape. He was a stickler for details and scouted every pitch. We were sitting with him.
“Stick liked to talk about the prospects who he called. ‘the kids.’ He told me to especially watch out for three he was very high on. Those three are Billy McKinney, Jake Cave and Clint Frazier. He said they would all be up soon. Frazier is up right now.
“At one point, McKinney smacked a home run. Stick looked at me and said, “See, I told you. ‘”
Nardozzi said Michael usually drove a white Escolade to PNC Field, but recently purchased a black one.
Nardozzi is one of many who feel the Yankees should honor Stick Michael with a monument at Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park. “He did everything for the organization. He was a player, coach, scout, manager and general manager. He drafted Jeter and was responsible for the core four. He loved the core four. He went berserk when there was talk of trading Bernie Williams. He even stopped Steinbrenner from trading Jeter at one point. He took his job seriously and started the Yankees mini dynasty. Of course there should be a monument for him.”
The Yankees are currently wearing black arm bands in tribute to the passing of Stick
“He was a true Yankee,” Nardozzi said. “He was really a Yankees legend for all that he did.”