Michael Burke, 70; Spy, Ex-N.Y. Yankees President

From Times Wire Services

Michael Burke, a spy whose exploits were memorialized on film and who also was a former president of the New York Yankees and Madison Square Garden, died Thursday of cancer in Ireland, where he had lived for the last six years. He was 70.

In New York, Burke’s daughter, Patricia, said her father had been ill for only two months. “It’s terrible because he was very healthy,” she said. “He never did any of the things you aren’t supposed to do, didn’t smoke or drink or gamble.”

Burke, whose trademark was a shock of styled white hair, rose to sports prominence in 1964 when CBS bought the Yankees and named him vice president for development. He was named president in 1966 and ran the baseball franchise for nearly a decade until CBS sold it to George Steinbrenner in January, 1973. Burke was fired four months later.


Burke’s last job was at Madison Square Garden, where he served as president and also was in charge of the National Basketball Assn.’s New York Knicks and the National Hockey League’s New York Rangers. He presided over faltering teams and was criticized for failing to bring championships to New York.

He retired in December, 1981, and at age 64 moved to Dublin, land of his forebears.

He also wrote his autobiography there, “Outrageous Good Fortune,” published in 1984.

Burke showed early promise as an athlete, playing baseball in prep school in Hartford, Conn., and football at the University of Pennsylvania.

He joined the Navy during World War II and won the Navy Cross and the Silver Star for a spy mission.

Disguised as peasants, Burke and two others went ashore near Sicily in 1943 with orders to persuade an anti-Fascist admiral to surrender and to assist in the escape of an anti-Nazi Italian admiral.


His exploits drew the attention of Hollywood, which cast Gary Cooper as Burke in the spy film, “Cloak and Dagger.”

Burke spent time in Hollywood writing scripts. Later in Italy, he produced what he described as “a couple of terrible Italian movies.” He worked for a short time as special adviser to the high commissioner for Germany.

Burke became manager of the Ringling Brothers-Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1953 and held the position for three years before joining CBS as European network programs director.