Results tagged ‘ coach ’

December 30 – Happy Birthday Kevin Long

yankeecoachesRemember Charley Lau? Many considered him the greatest hitting coach in MLB history. During his 11-season big league career as a catcher and pinch-hitter however, he was never more than a part-time player with a .255 lifetime batting average. So how does a guy who was never a great hitter himself in the big leagues teach others to become one? Honestly? I don’t know.

But at least Lau was a good enough hitter to make it to the big leagues. Kevin Long, the Yankees’ highly praised current hitting coach and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant, never got out of the minors. After a good college career at the University of Arizona, the Phoenix native was signed by the Royals and spent eight years trying to get an official regular season at bat in Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium. When he failed to do so, he asked for and received a minor league coaching assignment with the Royals’ organization.

The Yankees hired him in 2004 as the hitting instructor for their Triple A affiliate Columbus Clippers. In 2007, he got the same job with the parent club, succeeding Don Mattingly, who had been promoted to Joe Torre’s bench coach.

During the next six seasons, Long had the benefit of working with a Yankee offense that was consistently near the top of the league’s run producers. His most notable achievements during that time were helping Curtis Granderson become a much better hitter against left-handed pitching and getting Robinson Cano to exercise more strike zone discipline.

Long’s biggest challenge by far was the roster of hitters he was given to work with during the 2013 season. A series of injuries and bad deals had decimated the Yankees’ highly potent offense and Long found himself working with the likes of Vernon Wells, Travis Hafner, Lyle Overbay and Chris Stewart. There would be no miracles performed by the Yankee hitting coach with that crew. No one could possibly have been happier than Long, when the Yankees retooled their offense during the 2013 offseason by signing Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran. If Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira can return to anything near their pre-injury hitting forms, the Yankee offense should once again score runs in bushels in 2014. That means Kevin Long will once again be recognized as one the game’s best hitting coaches.

October 28 – Happy Birthday Johnny Neun

neunThe late George Steinbrenner probably felt he had much more in common with Jake Ruppert than any other team owner in Yankee franchise history. After all, both were sons of wealthy German-American businessmen who purchased the Yankee team when it wasn’t winning and were able to restore the franchise to glory with bunches of additional World Championships and get a magnificent new Stadium built for their team. And since Rupert got elected to the Hall of Fame in 2012, you know the Boss would have loved following his lead by also getting inducted into Cooperstown.

But Georgie-boy was actually a much more meddling owner than old Jake Ruppert ever thought to be. Simply put, Ruppert kept hiring the best GMs and field managers he could find and let them make their own decisions and though Steinbrenner’s reign started the same way, he quickly morphed into a micro-managing, you-do-what-I-say type of owner. That’s why instead of Ruppert, he reminds me much more of another former Yankee team owner who is also in the Hall of Fame. His name was Larry MacPhail Sr. and he’s the guy who made today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant the manager and ex-manager of the New York Yankees.

Remember when Steinbrenner promised Yankee catching legend Yogi Berra that he would be New York’s skipper during the entire 1985 season and then replaced him with Billy Martin just 16 games into that season? In 1946, MacPhail was brought in as an ownership partner by Dan Topping and Del Webb when they purchased the Bronx Bombers from Ruppert’s estate. The fiery but highly innovative ex-Red and Dodgers exec was made the team’s de-facto GM. Long-time Yankee skipper, Joe McCarthy couldn’t stomach working for MacPhail and quit just 35 games into the season. MacPhail then made Bill Dickey the team’s manager but instead of giving him some job security with a longer-term contract, the new owner also hired former Senators’ “Boy Wonder” manager, Bucky Harris as a special consultant. With Harris looking over his shoulder at every move he made on the field, its easy to understand why Dickey began feeling insecure in his new role and started asking the Yankee front-office for a longer-term deal. When it became apparent that MacPhail had no intention of granting Dickey an extension during the 1946 season, the future Hall-of-Fame catcher quit with 14 games remaining on the schedule and went home to Arkansas.

The Yanks then turned to one of Dickey’s coaches, Johnny Neun to finish the season as New York’s field boss. Neun had been a big league first baseman for both the Tigers and the Braves back in the 1920′s and early thirties. A switch-hitter with little power, he was never more than a back-up during his six years in the Majors but he did become famous for becoming the seventh big leaguer in history to pull off an unassisted triple play. It happened during the 1927 season and his feat was made even more memorable by the fact that one day earlier, Chicago Cubs infielder, Jimmy Cooney had also done it.

After Neun retired as a player in 1934, he got a job managing in the Yankees’ farm system and soon became one of the organization’s top minor league skippers. He led both Newark and Kansas City, New York’s top minor league affiliates to league titles and was rewarded with a job on Joe McCarthy’s coaching staff, joining Dickey, Art Fletcher and Johnny Schulte.

MacPhail made it clear that Neun’s hiring was on an interim basis and no one expected him to be considered a candidate for the job the next season. Neun led the Yankees to an 8-6 finish and the Baltimore native then accepted the manager’s job with the Cincinnati Reds. He spent a season and two-thirds skippering the Reds. His record when he was fired 117-137. He later became a long-time scout for the Milwaukee Braves.

As expected, MacPhail ended up hiring Harris to manage the Yanks in 1947 and he did a good job, leading New York to the 1947 World Championship. But during the World Series victory celebration, an intoxicated MacPhail became so belligerent, Topping and Webb decided they needed to force him out of their partnership. With his mentor gone, Harris managed in the Bronx for one more season before being replaced by Casey Stengel.

Neun shares his birthday with this former Yankee reliever.

Rk Year Age Tm Lg W L W-L% G Finish
1 1946 45 New York Yankees AL 3rd of 3 8 6 .571 14 3
New York Yankees 1 year 8 6 .571 14 3.0
Cincinnati Reds 2 years 117 137 .461 254 6.0
3 years 125 143 .466 268 5.0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/28/2013.

October 27 – Happy Birthday Tom Nieto

nietoSlim pickings when it comes to October 27th Yankee birthdays. Tom Nieto was a big league backup catcher for seven seasons during the 1980s, who succeeded my high school classmate, Gary Tuck as Yankee catching coach in 2000. A native of California, Nieto caught for the Cards, Expos, Twins and Phillies during his playing days, but his lifetime .205 batting average kept him out of the starting lineups on all those ball clubs.

He got his start with the Yankees in 1995, when he was hired as the organization’s minor league catching instructor. Two years later, he was given the managers’ job with the Yankees old South Atlantic League affiliate in Greensboro, NC. After two winning seasons there, he was promoted to the skipper’s job for the Tampa Yankees. After two seasons there, he replaced Tuck as the Yankees catching mentor.

The Yanks let him go after the 2001 season and he went back to managing in the minors for the Cardinals’ organization. Then in 2004, when Willie Randolph got the Mets’ manager’s job, he made Nieto his bench coach. He’s now back with the Yankee organization, managing their Gulf Coast League affiliate, down in Florida.

The only other Yankee born on this date was this long-ago outfielder.

October 15 – Happy Birthday Dana Cavalea

cavalea_danaAny newspaper or Web site that covers New York Yankee baseball has offered readers some type of editorial or polling content that focuses on what changes the Yankees need to make during the winter to get back into the postseason in 2014. Who should be signed, who should be released, who should be fired, who should retire, there have been dozens of articles published, offering opinions on the offseason fate of every current Yankee employee from Robbie Cano to Brian Cashman.

Permit me to throw today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant into that mix. Dana Cavalea has been the Yankees’ strength and conditioning coach since 2007. Though I don’t have specific facts to back this up, I’m willing to go out on the limb here and say that the average number of Yankee injuries and disabled list assignments per season have climbed to record levels under Cavalea’s watch, peaking in 2013 when New York was forced to make 28 different disabled list assignments.

You can’t blame Cavalea for broken bones but how many strained quads, rib cages, hamstrings, groins and tendons does it take before you begin to question the soundness of the team’s strength and conditioning program. I know I’m sounding a lot like George Steinbrenner here. For that matter, if the Boss were still running things in both Tampa and the Bronx, Mr. Cavalea would probably be looking for a new job right about now.

I certainly know nothing about strength and conditioning strategies and techniques for modern day athletes and I’m sure Cavalea is well credentialed and highly respected in the field. But when there are more starters on the Yankee DL list than in the team’s starting line-up, something’s got to change, doesn’t it?

Happy birthday Dana and please don’t take what I’ve written above personally or professionally for that matter since I have no idea what I’m talking about. I’m just burning off some of the frustration I had left over from the just completed season of sickness.

The only Yankee player born on today’s date gave up playing baseball for golf.

October 4 – Happy Birthday Frank Crosetti

The Yankees had their own California Gold Rush in the 1920′s and ’30′s.  New York’s favorite mine for the precious metal was the Pacific Coast League, which back then was the equivalent of Major League Baseball for the western United States. The team’s prospecting began with San Francisco native Tony Lazzeri who the Yanks acquired from his Salt Lake City PCL team in August of 1925. Four years later, they struck gold again when they purchased the contract of pitcher Lefty Gomez from the San Francisco Seals. Their most famous western find of course was the great Joe DiMaggio, also born in the City by the Bay and also acquired from the Seals in 1934. In between the Gomez and DiMaggio additions came Frankie “The Crow” Crosetti, who was born on today’s date in 1910 in San Francisco. He spent more seasons in a Yankee uniform than any other human being. These included ten seasons as a starting shortstop, seven more as back-up shortstop and then a twenty-season tenure as New York’s third base coach. Not a force with the bat, Frankie was a good base-runner, an excellent fielder and one of the game’s all-time great sign stealers. He was also a skilled bunter and turned the act of getting hit by a pitch into an art form. He became one of Joe McCarthy’s favorite players.

The Yankees of the 1920s were a rowdy bunch, led by the greatest partier and biggest kid in big league history, Babe Ruth. The Yankees of the thirties eventually became the team of Lou Gehrig and McCarthy. They were all business on the field and much more quiet and reserved off of it. Crosetti joined the Yankees as the club was in the process of transitioning from being Ruth’s team to being Gehrig’s. Picking a side was an easy choice for the Crow.

Crosetti was a quiet guy off the field. In his New York Daily News obituary, the writer describes an evening after a Yankee game on the road, at the team’s hotel. Crosetti, Lazzeri and DiMaggio all came down to the lobby at the same time and sat next to each other for an hour and twenty minutes and not one of the three players said a word to each other.

He finished his playing career with a .245 lifetime average. His on base percentage during that time was almost 100 points higher. He collected 1,546 hits and scored 1,006 runs. He was not a great World Series performer although in the 1936 Fall Classic he drove in six runs in New York’s four-game sweep of the Cubs and also hit his one and only postseason home run off of the great but past-his-prime, Dizzy Dean.

He was also a no-nonsense Yankee coach. Crosetti often threw Yankee batting practices and he demanded that every player work on a specific hitting skill when it was their turn in the cage. If someone started swinging for the fences, Yogi Berra remembered Crosetti would actually just walk off the mound and refuse to throw the guy any more pitches. In his book “Ball Four,” Jim Bouton claimed that Crosetti was useless as a coach and hardly ever spoke to or attempted to instruct Yankee players. Ellie Howard later refuted that charge in his own book, claiming Bouton loved everybody on the team when he was pitching good and then hated and blamed everybody when his career went bad. Crosetti retired as a Yankee coach in 1968 but returned to the coaching box for a short time with both the Pilots and Twins.

He died in 2002, at the age of 91. He owned 17 World Series rings. Actually, Crosetti had accumulated so many rings, the Yankees finally started giving him engraved shotguns instead. In all, Crosetti received 23 World Series paychecks as a Yankee player (9) and coach (14). They totaled $142,989.30.

The Crow shares his October 4th birthday with this long ago Yankee spitballer.

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1932 NYY 116 461 398 47 96 20 9 5 57 3 51 51 .241 .335 .374 .709
1933 NYY 136 513 451 71 114 20 5 9 60 4 55 40 .253 .337 .379 .716
1934 NYY 138 632 554 85 147 22 10 11 67 5 61 58 .265 .344 .401 .744
1935 NYY 87 351 305 49 78 17 6 8 50 3 41 27 .256 .351 .430 .781
1936 NYY 151 738 632 137 182 35 7 15 78 18 90 83 .288 .387 .437 .824
1937 NYY 149 718 611 127 143 29 5 11 49 13 86 105 .234 .340 .352 .692
1938 NYY 157 757 631 113 166 35 3 9 55 27 106 97 .263 .382 .371 .752
1939 NYY 152 743 656 109 153 25 5 10 56 11 65 81 .233 .315 .332 .647
1940 NYY 145 632 546 84 106 23 4 4 31 14 72 77 .194 .299 .273 .572
1941 NYY 50 170 148 13 33 2 2 1 22 0 18 14 .223 .320 .284 .603
1942 NYY 74 328 285 50 69 5 5 4 23 1 31 31 .242 .335 .337 .672
1943 NYY 95 395 348 36 81 8 1 2 20 4 36 47 .233 .317 .279 .596
1944 NYY 55 220 197 20 47 4 2 5 30 3 11 21 .239 .299 .355 .654
1945 NYY 130 524 441 57 105 12 0 4 48 7 59 65 .238 .341 .293 .634
1946 NYY 28 69 59 4 17 3 0 0 3 0 8 2 .288 .382 .339 .721
1947 NYY 3 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000
1948 NYY 17 16 14 4 4 0 1 0 0 0 2 0 .286 .375 .429 .804
17 Yrs 1683 7268 6277 1006 1541 260 65 98 649 113 792 799 .245 .341 .354 .695
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/4/2013.

September 6 – Happy Birthday Gary Tuck

If you ask Joe Girardi, Jorge Posada or Jason Varitek who was the best catching instructor they ever had, each highly respected veteran receiver would answer, “Gary Tuck.” Gary was a classmate of mine in high school back in Amsterdam, NY, in the early seventies. He was the quarterback of our school’s varsity football team and the catcher on our baseball team and the thing I remember most about him in both roles was his almost flawless technique. At the time, there were better athletes available to play both positions but Tuck was smarter and worked harder than everybody else. He was a keen student of both games even way back then and he is now considered one of Major League Baseball’s most gifted catching mentors. He won four World Series rings as a Yankee coach and currently serves as the Red Sox bullpen coach, where he has won a fifth ring. I’m hoping that some day, he gets a shot at managing in the big leagues. His hometown is very proud of him and all that he has accomplished.

Gary shares a birthday with this former Yankee catcher and this one-time Yankee first-baseman. 

September 1 – Happy Birthday Cloyd Boyer

The Boyer family of baseball fame was a large one, seven boys and seven girls. Five of the boys played professional ball and three of them made it to the big leagues. Of those three, it was Ken Boyer who had the best career. He was a seven-time All Star at third base with the Cardinals and won five Gold Gloves (Clete won just one GG,) the NL MVP Award and a World Series during his days with St. Louis. Ken was the only Major League Boyer who was never a member of the Yankee family.

Unlike his younger brother, Yankee third base great Clete, Cloyd Boyer never played a game in a Yankee uniform. Instead, after a torn rotator cuff ended his pitching career, he became a very effective minor league pitching instructor for New York for many years. But perhaps his greatest Yankee achievement occurred when he managed New York’s Binghamton farm team in 1968. He was given that job specifically so he could put the finishing touches on the development of a young Thurman Munson before Munson was called up to the parent club for good. The late Yankee catcher often said he learned more from Boyer in that one season than he had from any other manager or coach in his career.

The only Yankee player to be born on this date was a guy named Foster Edwards, an Ivy Leaguer who pitched for the Braves during the second half of the roaring twenties without distinction. He appeared in two games for the 1930 New York Yankees, which concluded his inauspicious big league career.

July 5 – Happy Birthday Dave Eiland

eilandOne of the things that always confused me is how guys who could not hit well at the big league level somehow become highly respected hitting coaches for Major League teams. Remember Charley Lau? Here’s a former player who couldn’t crack a starting lineup during the eleven years he played in the bigs because he averaged in the two-fifties, yet if you ask George Brett who it was that made him one of baseball’s great hitters, he credits Lau. The same mystery applies to bad pitchers who become great pitching coaches. Leo  Mazzone was considered one of the game’s great ones during his tenure in that role with Bobby Cox’s Braves yet he wasn’t good enough to pitch even to a single batter at the Major League level.

Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant was considered a top Yankee pitching prospect in the late 1980′s, when the team was in desperate need of starting pitchers. Drafted by New York out of the University of South Florida in the seventh round of the 1987 draft, Dave Eiland was being pegged as the next great Yankee right-hander after he was named the International League’s Pitcher of the Year in 1990. But he was a bust for the Yanks and the two other teams he pitched for at the big league level between 1988 and 2000, finishing his playing career with a 12-27 record and a career ERA of 5.74.

That’s when he turned to coaching. The Yankees hired him as a minor league pitching coach and he immediately impressed the organization with his ability to effectively work with young pitchers. He quickly worked his way up the New York farm chain, establishing an excellent rapport with prospects like Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain along the way. That’s why it seemed to make sense when the Yankees announced Eiland would replace Ron Guidry as the Yankee pitching coach in 2008. Brian Cashman was betting the team’s postseason chances on the young arms of Hughes, Kennedy and Chamberlain that year and he felt Eiland was the guy who could successfully transition them from minor to major league pitchers. That did not happen.

Eiland however, escaped front office wrath for the failed experiment and when the Yanks won the World Series in 2009, the young pitching coach was credited for helping AJ Burnett overcome the inconsistencies in his delivery to finish wit a 13-9 record and a huge win in Game 2 of that year’s Fall Classic.

It all unraveled for Eiland in June of the 2010 season when Eiland took a mysterious leave of absence from his Yankee coaching responsibilities for most of the month of June, citing personal family issues as the reason. During his leave, AJ Burnett literally fell apart, going 0-5 and never again reaching the comfort or performance level in Pinstripes he had enjoyed during his first season in the Bronx. Though it wasn’t officially given as the reason, most Yankee fans and pundits suspect it was Eiland’s leave that caused the team to dismiss him after the 2010 season and bring in current pitching coach, Larry Rothschilds. Eiland has since landed on his feet, getting the pitching coach position for the Kansas City Royals in 2012.

He shares his July 5th birthday with this Hall of Fame closer, this former Yankee pitcher and this one-time New York outfielder.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1988 NYY 0 0 6.39 3 3 0 0 0 0 12.2 15 9 9 6 4 7 1.500
1989 NYY 1 3 .250 5.77 6 6 0 0 0 0 34.1 44 25 22 5 13 11 1.660
1990 NYY 2 1 .667 3.56 5 5 0 0 0 0 30.1 31 14 12 2 5 16 1.187
1991 NYY 2 5 .286 5.33 18 13 4 0 0 0 72.2 87 51 43 10 23 18 1.514
1995 NYY 1 1 .500 6.30 4 1 1 0 0 0 10.0 16 10 7 1 3 6 1.900
10 Yrs 12 27 .308 5.74 92 70 6 0 0 0 373.0 465 274 238 46 118 153 1.563
NYY (5 yrs) 6 10 .375 5.23 36 28 5 0 0 0 160.0 193 109 93 24 48 58 1.506
TBD (3 yrs) 6 12 .333 6.54 39 26 1 0 0 0 137.2 181 111 100 16 48 71 1.663
SDP (2 yrs) 0 5 .000 5.38 17 16 0 0 0 0 75.1 91 54 45 6 22 24 1.500
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/5/2013.

July 3 – Happy Birthday Art Fowler

fowlerMy first encounter with Art Fowler was his 1962 Topps baseball card pictured here. He was a member of the first Los Angeles Angels baseball team and according to Bill Rigney, the skipper of that ball club, when Fowler got hit in the head by a batting practice line drive and was lost for the rest of the infant team’s second season, it destroyed any chance the Angels had of shocking the world and winning the 1962 AL Pennant.

The more I learned about Fowler, the more he sort of grew on me. For example, he didn’t just have an older brother who had pitched in the big leagues, he had a much much older brother. His name was Jesse and he made his big league debut in 1924, when his younger sibling was just one year old. Art himself didn’t get to pitch in the big leagues until 30 years later, in 1954, when he was a 31-year-old rookie member of the Reds starting rotation. He went 12-10 that season and then won 11 games in each of the next two years with Cincinnati. But by 1957, he had been converted into a full-time reliever with the Reds and when his ERA climbed above six in that role he was traded to the Dodgers. He spent the ’58 season in the minors and then got into 36 games for the Los Angeles team that ended up winning the ’59 World Series. He then went back to the minors until May of 1961, when his contract was purchased by the newly formed Angels.

One of the things Fowler enjoyed more than pitching was drinking and when he joined the Halos, he was entering the big league heaven for booze. That Angel team featured an All Star line-up of imbibers that included Ryne Duren, Bo Belinski, Eli Grba, Dan Osinski, Ken Hunt and of course Fowler. With their better than expected pitching and a potent lineup that included Leon Wagner, Lee Thomas and Albie Piersall, the second-year Angels were in first place as late as August 12th, finally finishing in third place behind New York and the Minnesota Twins. Fowler spent the rest of his big league playing career pitching out of the LA bullpen until he was released in May of 1964.

Instead of quitting, he signed on to continue pitching for the Denver Bears, the Twins triple A franchise in the Pacific Coast League. Billy Martin was the manager of that club and he took enough of a liking to his new 42-year-old right-hander to make him the Bears player/pitching coach. It was rumored that Fowler got the job because he happened to be Martin’s best drinking buddy. Whatever the reason, it was the beginning of a partnership that would continue off and on for over the next two decades in five different big league cities.

It started when Martin was named manager of Minnesota in 1969 and continued in Detroit from 1971 through ’73 and then in Texas for two more seasons. When George Steinbrenner hired Martin to manage the Yankees late in the second half of the 1975 season however, his baseball people had told him that his new manager had a serious drinking problem that needed to be controlled and they warned the Boss that Fowler was Billy’s best drinking buddy. The Yankee owner thought hiring Martin but not Fowler would somehow reduce Billy’s taste for booze. When that didn’t turn out to be the case, Steinbrenner finally relented to Billy’s request and Fowler was hired as Yankee pitching coach in 1977.

The Yankee pitching staff got along fine with their new mentor. Ron Guidry still claims to this day that Fowler was the best pitching coach he ever had. The fact of the matter was that Fowler’s coaching philosophy was pretty simple, throw strikes and stay in the game. Fowler expected his starters to give him lots of innings and he expected his relievers to warm up and appear in games as often as necessary. One of the other reasons Martin loved Fowler was because he would do whatever the manager wanted. That included answering “yes” whenever Martin asked if so and so could pitch tonight.

Martin was famous for blaming his pitchers for Yankee losses. If one of the team’s hurlers was struggling on the mound, an irate Martin would tell Fowler to go out there and give the guy hell. Instead, when he got to the mound, the portly coach would often explain to whoever was on the mound how angry Martin was back in the dugout and then plead with the pitcher to please start getting the ball over the plate or Billy was going to get even madder.

Though Steinbrenner and many sportswriters considered Fowler something of a joke, he did obtaint some impressive results. During his tenure in the big leagues, he mentored 18 twenty-game winners, a record for pitching coaches.

Still, the relationship between the Boss and Martin was too rocky to enable smooth pinstriped sailing for Fowler. Every time the manager angered the owner, Steinbrenner would threaten to fire Fowler. Finally in 1983, during Martin’s fourth tour of duty as the team’s skipper, he carried through on that threat and dismissed Fowler in June over Billy’s strenuous objections. He tempered the harshness of his actions by giving Fowler his full salary plus a $20,000 bonus. When the press asked the terminated coach if he had been unfairly treated, Fowler told them he thought the Yankee owner was a great guy but that he didn’t know nothing about baseball. He publicly urged Steinbrenner to listen to what Billy Martin tells him to do and the Yankees would get back to the World Series. He then went home to South Carolina and waited for Billy to call.

The phone rang again in 1988, when Billy was hired for his last tour of duty in the Bronx. That job lasted just half a season and when they were again fired, Martin’s managing career was over which meant Fowler’s was as well. Billy didn’t last too long after that, getting killed in his pickup the following year. Fowler lived in his Spartanburg, SC home until 2007, when he died at the age of 84.

He shares his birthday with this Yankee GM.

June 2 – Happy Birthday Gene Michael

michaelIf you weren’t around during the 1960′s when the great New York teams led by Mantle and Maris were doing their thing, you missed a great era of the Yankee dynasty. Fortunately, you also missed the second-half of that decade as well, which means you didn’t see that dynasty crumble, as the players who comprised it grew old or got hurt seemingly all at once. What was left were a bunch of prospects who would never become good big league players along with a few who weren’t yet ready to do so. That forced the Yankees to fill in the holes and gaps with acquisitions from other teams and one of those deals was for a switch-hitting Dodger shortstop named Gene Michael.

The resident of Akron, Ohio had only been in the big leagues for a couple of seasons when the Yanks purchased his contract from Los Angeles, yet Michael was already 30 years old. He was considered a decent fielding shortstop but what had kept him in the minor leagues for so long was his inability to hit. He might have been a switch-hitter but the problem was he really couldn’t swing the bat very well from either side of the plate. In fact, after he averaged just .202 trying to replace Maury Wills as the Dodger shortstop in 1967, Michael spent the following winter in the Florida Instructional League, determined to become a pitcher. That’s when his phone rang and it was Yankee GM Larry MacPhail telling him he was coming to New York where Ralph Houk hoped to make him his starting shortstop. That plan looked like it had flopped decisively after Michael played 61 games at short during the ’68 season and hit just .198. That forced Houk to bring Tom Tresh back in from the outfield to once again play the position at which he had won the 1962 Rookie of the Year Award.

When the 1969 spring training season rolled around, Houk had penciled in Tresh to remain at short but was also hoping Bobby Murcer or Jerry Kenney might win the job in camp. Both players were returning from military service that spring but neither could handle the position and when Tresh started the regular season in a horrible slump, Houk again turned to Michael.

Even though this all happened over 45 years ago, I can remember feeling not-to-thrilled when I heard that Michael was being given the job again. If he had been with the Yankees just a half dozen seasons earlier and hit .198, he’d have been released or buried so deeply in the Yankee farm system his family would have needed a backhoe to find him. So what’s Michael do? He goes out and hits, 272 and fields the position close to brilliantly. Could I have been wrong? Was the player sarcastically nicknamed “Stick” actually evolving into a good stick? Unfortunately no. Houk and Yankee fans like me spent the next four years waiting for Michael to replicate the offense he generated during that 1969 season and he never did.

When Steinbrenner took over the team, Houk left to manage in Detroit and when the Yankees released Michael in January of 1975, he joined the Major in Mo-Town for his final season as a big league player. Steinbrenner may have not respected the Stick as a player but he valued his baseball smarts so he kept giving Michael jobs in the Yankee organization. In 1981, Steinbrenner made him Yankee manager and he had the Yankees in first place when baseball went on strike that June. When play resumed that August, Michael grew so sick of Steinbrenner’s meddling with his handling of the team that he told the Boss to either fire him or shut up. Steinbrenner felt he had no choice but the latter and replaced him with Bob Lemon. The following April, when Lemon’s decision making irked the Boss, he fired him too and replaced him with the Stick.

He would eventually ask Steinbrenner to relieve him as manager because the two argued too much when Michael was in that job. He wanted to work in the Yankee front office and fortunately for the Boss, he gave Michael his wish. So when Faye Vincent suspended the Yankee owner for his roll in the Dave Winfield-Howie Spira episode in 1990, Michael took over control of the organization and is credited with building the team that won four World Series between 1996 and 2000. So the shortstop who signified the end of one Yankee dynasty became the architect of another.

The Stick shares his birthday with this postseason hero from 2012 and  this former Yankee second baseman.

Michael’s Yankee playing record:

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1968 NYY 61 119 116 8 23 3 0 1 8 3 2 23 .198 .218 .250 .468
1969 NYY 119 464 412 41 112 24 4 2 31 7 43 56 .272 .341 .364 .705
1970 NYY 134 491 435 42 93 10 1 2 38 3 50 93 .214 .292 .255 .548
1971 NYY 139 513 456 36 102 15 0 3 35 3 48 64 .224 .299 .276 .576
1972 NYY 126 430 391 29 91 7 4 1 32 4 32 45 .233 .290 .279 .568
1973 NYY 129 446 418 30 94 11 1 3 47 1 26 51 .225 .270 .278 .547
1974 NYY 81 193 177 19 46 9 0 0 13 0 14 24 .260 .313 .311 .623
10 Yrs 973 3092 2806 249 642 86 12 15 226 22 234 421 .229 .288 .284 .572
NYY (7 yrs) 789 2656 2405 205 561 79 10 12 204 21 215 356 .233 .296 .289 .585
PIT (1 yr) 30 33 33 9 5 2 1 0 2 0 0 7 .152 .152 .273 .424
LAD (1 yr) 98 245 223 20 45 3 1 0 7 1 11 30 .202 .246 .224 .470
DET (1 yr) 56 158 145 15 31 2 0 3 13 0 8 28 .214 .253 .290 .543
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/1/2013.

Michael’s Yankee managing record:

Rk Year Age Tm Lg G W L W-L% Finish
1 1981 43 New York Yankees AL 1st of 2 56 34 22 .607 1 First half of season
2 1981 43 New York Yankees AL 1st of 2 26 14 12 .538 6 Second half of season
3 1982 44 New York Yankees AL 2nd of 3 86 44 42 .512 5
New York Yankees 2 years 168 92 76 .548 4.0
Chicago Cubs 2 years 238 114 124 .479 5.5
4 years 406 206 200 .507 4.6
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/1/2013.