Gene Michael, who built Yankees into World Series champs in the '90s, dies at 79

Gene Michael, the slick-fielding shortstop nicknamed Stick who went on to manage the New York Yankees and then as an executive built a powerhouse that won four World Series in five years, died Thursday. He was 79.

Michael had a heart attack and died at his home in Oldsmar, Fla., said his wife, Joette.

At 6-foot-2 and about 180 pounds in his playing days, Michael hit just .229 with 15 home runs in 10 big league seasons, seven with the Yankees from 1968-74 in one of the worst eras in team history. He was known for pulling off the hidden ball trick, which he was said to have done five times.

He made a far bigger impact during two terms as manager, two as general manager and then as a special advisor relied on by Brian Cashman, the team's GM since 1998. He also managed the Chicago Cubs for two seasons.

A Yankees lifer, Michael maintained durability during George Steinbrenner's decades of tumult. During his second term as general manager, Michael put together the core of a roster that won World Series titles in 1996 and from 1998-2000.

"He was able to project so well what players would become, and he did it through sitting and watching with his eyes." Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He just had a great feel for the game."

After watching the Yankees fall short in the 1980s with high-priced free agents, Michael preached patience with youth and nurtured Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams and other prospects. He installed an organization philosophy of patience at the plate to run up pitch counts.

"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.

Michael gave Buck Showalter his first major league managing job. Showalter, now Baltimore's manager, called Michael "blatantly honest" and the "best baseball guy that I ever saw."

Showalter also said Michael "never missed on an infielder."

"Jeter had made like 40-some errors, but he tells me this guy is going to be an All-Star shortstop. He said he's got a little footwork issue," Showalter recalled. "How do you project those things and stand by them?"

Michael also acquired key veterans who contributed to the 1996 title, including Paul O'Neill, Jimmy Key, Wade Boggs and David Cone. He promoted a young staffer to assistant general manager. Brian Cashman went on to become general manager for two decades.

He quit as general manager after the 1995 season and became a key adviser.

"Stick was a pillar of this organization for decades," Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner said in a statement. "He knew the game of baseball like few others did, and was always willing and excited to talk about it with anyone in earshot. His contributions to the Yankees over the years have been immeasurable."

Spending much of the year in Florida, where he often played golf, Michael served as vice president of major league scouting from 1996-2002. He then became vice president and advisor until 2006, when his title was changed to vice president and senior advisor.

The Yankees will wear black armbands on their jerseys for the rest of this season.

In addition to his wife, Michael is survived by sons Mark and Matthew and daughters Sandra and Haley.

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UPDATES:

12:10 p.m.: This article was updated with additional information.

This article was originally published at 10:35 a.m.

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