Tagged: general manager

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 effective Yankee reliever from the late 1990’s, 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.

May 10 – Happy Birthday Ed Barrow

edbarrowThe only thing Edward Grant Barrow couldn’t do real well in the game of baseball, was play it. But nobody managed a team, an organization or a league better than this one-time farm boy from Springield, IL. Barrow’s Yankee career started after he managed the Red Sox and Babe Ruth to a World Series title in 1918. Boston owner, Harry Frazee than began selling his best players for the money he needed to finance his Broadway shows. At the time the Yankees were co-owned by Jacob Rupert and a guy named Tillinghast Huston. The two millionaires hated each other and were constantly arguing about what was best for their baseball team. Hiring Barrow to serve as the team’s business manager in 1920 was about the only thing the two agreed on and it turned out to be the best decision in the history of the Yankee franchise.

Barrow convinced Rupert to make the deal for Ruth. Working closely with Huggins, the new team exec put together a 1921 Yankee roster that won the franchise’s first-ever pennant. Barrow was the architect and overseer of a Yankee minor league organization that became the envy of all of baseball. He handled every detail in the opening and operation of the greatest stadium in the history of US sports. When Huggins died in 1929, it was Barrow who hired Joe McCarthy as soon as the Cubs fired him. Many of the players he put into pinstripes have their faces on plaques that reside in Cooperstown today. Barrow was known for having a fiery temper and for being a strict negotiator. He spent Ruppert’s money as thriftily as if it was his own and his annual contract squabbles with the Yankee stable of superstars were legendary. When Ruppert died and Dan Topping, Del Webb and Larry MacPhail purchased the team, they made Barrow Chairman of the Board. He retired from that position in 1946, after over a half century making his living in and his mark on the game of baseball.  Barrow’s Yankee teams had won 14 Pennants and ten World Series. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1953 and he died that same year at the age of 85.

Barrow shares his May 10th birthday with this one-time Yankee pitcher.

April 10 – Happy Birthday Bob Watson

watson.jpgI was not a big fan of Bob Watson when he became the Yankee’s starting first baseman in 1980. The biggest reason for this was that I had been a big fan of the starting first baseman Watson replaced that season for New York, Chris Chambliss. In my humble opinion, the historic home run Chambliss had hit to get the Yankees into the 1976 World Series earned him the right to remain in pinstripes for the rest of his playing career. Instead, the Yankees had dealt him to the Blue Jays to get Toronto catcher, Rick Cerone. New York then signed Watson as a free agent to take over at first.

Watson was actually a very similar player to Chambliss. He averaged about 16 home-runs per season, drove in close to 90 and hit close to .300. He wasn’t as good defensively as Chambliss was, but few were. He had a good first year in pinstripes, hitting .307 and helping New York make the playoffs. He slumped badly in 1981, hitting just .212 during that strike shortened season. He then surprised me and every other Yankee fan by putting together an outstanding 1981 postseason. He hit .438 against the Brewers in that year’s ALDS and then had 2 home runs and 7 RBIs in the Yankees’ 6-game loss to the Dodgers in the ’81 World Series. That didn’t prevent the Yankees from trading the LA native to the Braves in April of the following season. Watson then spent the final three years of his 19-season big league career, backing up the same first baseman he had replaced as a Yankee starter in 1980.

After retiring in 1984, Watson became a coach with Oakland, then an assistant GM at Houston and in 1993, he was promoted to GM by the Astros, becoming the first black man in Major League history to hold that position. George Steinbrenner then hired Watson as GM of the Yankees in October of 1995 where he remained until Brian Cashman replaced him in February of 1998. Watson found out very quickly that working as GM for the Boss could be hazardous to one’s health. Steinbrenner would not let Watson make any decisions by himself, which still did not prevent the Yankee owner from berating his new GM’s every action. George even refused to congratulate Watson after the Yankees’ 1996 World Series win. The stress of working for Steinbrenner was so bad that the guy who’s nickname had been “the Bull” during his playing days, ended up in the hospital in April of 1997 with high blood pressure and orders from his doctors to reduce his Yankee GM workload by 25%.

Also born on this date was this father of one of baseball’s all-time great home run hitters.

Year Tm Lg G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1980 NYY AL 130 525 469 62 144 25 3 13 68 2 1 48 56 .307 .368 .456 .825
1981 NYY AL 59 180 156 15 33 3 3 6 12 0 0 24 17 .212 .317 .385 .701
1982 NYY AL 7 20 17 3 4 3 0 0 3 0 0 3 0 .235 .350 .412 .762
19 Yrs 1832 6962 6185 802 1826 307 41 184 989 27 28 653 796 .295 .364 .447 .811
HOU (14 yrs) 1381 5496 4883 640 1448 241 30 139 782 21 22 508 635 .297 .364 .444 .808
ATL (3 yrs) 171 394 348 34 92 16 1 13 71 1 3 41 55 .264 .338 .428 .766
NYY (3 yrs) 196 725 642 80 181 31 6 19 83 2 1 75 73 .282 .355 .438 .793
BOS (1 yr) 84 347 312 48 105 19 4 13 53 3 2 29 33 .337 .401 .548 .949
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/12/2013.

January 4 – Happy Birthday Gabe Paul

PaulIn 1972, a group of Cleveland-based investors headed by George Steinbrenner attempted to purchase the Cleveland Indian baseball team from frozen food magnate, Vernon Stouffer. Having negotiated the terms of the deal himself with the owner’s son Jimmy, who was his good friend and former school classmate, the Boss-to-be had confidently assembled many of his fellow investors at the headquarters of his Cleveland-based shipping company and waited for the elder Stouffer’s phone call, telling them the offer had been accepted.

The phone rang, Steinbrenner answered it and proceeded to listen in disbelief as Stouffer angrily rejected the deal, accusing Steinbrenner of trying to steal his team with an undervalued offer. A bitterly disappointed Boss did not at that moment realize that Stouffer had done him a gigantic favor, actually two favors. The rejection left Steinbrenner and many of his investor buddies free to purchase another baseball team at a later date and the Cleveland negotiations had given the Boss the opportunity to get to know Indians’ GM Gabe Paul.

As Bill Madden later detailed in his book; Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball, Steinbrenner placed a call to Paul after the offer was rejected and let him know how much he had enjoyed the opportunity to work with him. In the process, the Boss had discovered that Paul knew everybody who was anybody in the game and business of baseball and he now told the veteran GM to keep his ears open for news of another club for sale so the two men could go in on it together.

A few months later, Paul made a phone call to Steinbrenner and told him CBS was interested in selling the Yankees. When the deal was complete, Steinbrenner was the new managing owner of the Bronx Bombers and Gabe Paul was the club’s President. Over the next few years, Paul orchestrated transactions that put Graig Nettles, Chris Chambliss, Oscar Gamble, Dick Tidrow, Lou Piniella, Ed Fiqueroa, Mickey Rivers, Willie Randolph and Bucky Dent in pinstripes and he signed free agents Catfish Hunter and Don Gullett. He hung around long enough to see the Yankees win the 1976 AL Pennant and the 1977 World Series and than he went back to Cleveland, claiming he had to escape the maniacal management style of George Steinbrenner, who Paul had grown to detest.

This native of Rochester, NY passed away in 1998 at the age of 88. He shares his January 4th birthday with this former Yankee outfielder and this one-time Yankee starting pitcher.

July 3 – Happy Birthday Brian Cashman

I consider Gabe Paul to have been the most successful Yankee GM during the Steinbrenner era, but the guy who has been sitting in that same seat since 1998 would be the choice of many. Brian Cashman turns 46-years-old today. He got his current job when George Steinbrenner’s ranting and raving drove Bob Watson’s blood pressure up into the stratosphere. Certainly, a big reason Cashman is still in the chair is that his reign as Yankee GM coincided with the physical decline of “the Boss.” Let’s face it, the George Steinbrenner of the seventies and eighties would have blamed and fired or driven Cashman away long before now.

But with the legendary Yankee owner first de-clawed and now gone from the scene, Cashman has done a pretty good job of establishing himself as the new decider in the Yankee hierarchy. Don’t get me wrong, if Hal Steinbrenner disagrees with Cashman on any move, that move doesn’t get made. But the truth is that while the Boss’s boy may understand how baseball works, Cashman lives, eats and breathes it.

Cashman began his Yankee career as an intern who got that job because his Dad, who raised harness horses for a living, had a friend who knew the race-horse-loving George Steinbrenner. It was Watson who recommended that Cashman, who was by then Watson’s assistant, be hired as his successor, but not before he warned his ambitious apprentice to consider refusing the promotion.

Cashman’s ascension, however, was blessed by perfect timing. The 1998 Yankee team he inherited was about to put forth one of the greatest seasons in MLB history and because Cashman had little to do with its formation, he got little credit from the media for the achievement. This greatly pleased Steinbrenner, who had a well-publicized mania about any Yankee front office executive being praised for the team’s success. Cashman also was a master at accepting Steinbrenner’s insults, taunts and criticisms. He learned quickly that when things did not work out for the team on the field to act as if it was his fault but if and when they did, to give credit to others, especially the Boss. Then as George got older and sicker, he gradually became less and less involved with the team’s personnel decisions. As the Yankees kept winning, the only real battle for authority Cashman had to fight was with Steinbrenner’s famous Florida-based team of baseball advisors. It appears he won it when in 2005, he threatened to accept the GM’s job for the Washington Nationals if the Yankees didn’t give him authority over George’s sunshine boys.

Cashman has made several adept moves during his tenure. One of his most recent was the trade that put Curtis Granderson in pinstripes. He has also made several errors, especially involving free agent pitchers, which have cost millions upon millions of Yankee bucks. But there’s no doubt that the guy works hard and is well respected by his peers around the league.

So what have I got against Cashman? Believe it or not, his treatment of Derek Jeter during the Captain’s most recent salary negotiation turned me off to the guy. I don’t blame him for being a tough bargainer and trying to sign the living legend for as little as possible. I do however blame Cashman for taking it public, even after Jeter guaranteed the Yankees at the outset that he would not negotiate or sign with any other team. It was as if Cashman was trying to prove to everyone how tough he was by acting that way with a Yankee legend when all he accomplished was to embarrass Jeter for absolutely no good reason.

Oh well, happy birthday Brian Cashman. I wish you a future filled with good health and happiness. He shares his birthday with this former Yankee pitching coach.

May 23 – Happy Birthday Clyde King

Of all the managers George Steinbrenner hired and fired during his tenure as managing owner of the New York Yankees, none were more loyal to the “Boss” than today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant, Clyde King. The native of Goldsboro, North Carolina began his big league career in 1944 with the Dodgers. During the first six years of his playing career he pitched out of the Brooklyn bullpen. After getting traded to the Reds, where he played his final big league season in 1953, King became a minor league manager, then a big league pitching coach and eventually a manager for both the San Francisco Giants and the Atlanta Braves. But King disliked managing because he had a tough time communicating with modern day ballplayers. He was big on discipline and felt the players union had made it more difficult than necessary for Major League skippers to exercise control over their teams.

In 1976, King joined the Yankees as an advance scout and Steinbrenner took a liking to him. Like George, King was a pessimist who found it much easier to criticize than praise. The two got along famously and King became the only man in history to serve as the Yankee pitching coach, manager and GM. He got his shot at managing the Yankees during their tumultuous 1982 season. Bob Lemon had started that year as the Yankee field boss but was replaced by Gene Michael just 14 games into the new season. Michael hated the job because Steinbrenner meddled so much and he asked the Boss to put him back in the front office. “The Stick” got his wish and was replaced by King who led the team to a 29-33 finish.

The following year George brought Billy Martin back to the Yankee dugout and returned King to the front office, where he took part in two controversial moments in franchise history. The first occurred in 1985, when Steinbrenner broke his promise to let Yogi Berra manage the entire season. It was King who did the actual firing. Eleven years later, during the Yankees 1996 spring training camp, King convinced the Boss that the Yankees could not win with Derek Jeter starting at shortstop. Fortunately, Gene Michael defended Joe Torre’s desire to start the talented youngster and Steinbrenner reluctantly relented.

King would remain one of the Yankee owner’s most loyal and trusted advisors until the day Steinbrenner died in July of 2010. King would follow his Boss to the grave just four months later, at the age of 86. King shares his birthday with another former Yankee manager this first voice of the Yankees and this one-time back up catcher.

Rk Year Age Tm Lg G W L W-L% Finish
5 1982 58 New York Yankees AL 3rd of 3 62 29 33 .468 5
San Francisco Giants 2 years 204 109 95 .534 2.5
Atlanta Braves 2 years 198 96 101 .487 4.0
New York Yankees 1 year 62 29 33 .468 5.0
5 years 464 234 229 .505 3.6
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/23/2013.

February 3 – Happy Birthday Larry MacPhail Sr.

Larry MacPhail Sr.  was anything but an ordinary guy. The son of a prominent banker, Larry attended private schools, went on to get his law degree and then enlisted in the army to fight WWI as an artillery captain. As the armistice was being negotiated, he accompanied his commanding officer on an unsanctioned and unsuccessful mission to kidnap the Kaiser. After the war, he practiced law, ran a department store and became part owner of a minor league baseball team. That team was affiliated with the St Louis Cardinals and through that affiliation, Larry developed a working relationship with the Cardinal’s chief executive, the legendary Branch Rickey. A few years later, the Cincinnati Reds were looking for a new GM and Rickey recommended MacPhail for the job and the game of baseball was never the same. MacPhail was an innovator. He introduced night baseball, air travel and television to the sport and for good measure, he gave the game Red Barber. After leaving the Reds he became GM of the Dodgers and turned a very bad Brooklyn team into a pennant winner within two seasons. Then in 1945, he was brought into a partnership by Dan Topping and Del Webb that purchased the New York Yankees from the estate of Jacob Rupert. Neither Webb or Topping knew anything about running a baseball team and after witnessing MacPhail’s success with Brooklyn, they figured he was the right guy to make baseball decisions.

The problem with MacPhail was he loved the booze as much as he loved running a baseball team and he too often let the two mix. Yankee manager Joe McCarthy quit the team when MacPhail became its President and so did his successor, Bill Dickey. One night while drinking with Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey in Toots Shoor’s restaurant in Manhattan, MacPhail actually traded Joe DiMaggio for Ted Williams. When Yawkey sobered up the next morning, he called old Larry and nixed the deal. After both McCarthy and Dickey quit as Yankee skippers, MacPhail started courting Leo Durocher, who was being investigated by the Commissioner’s office for his association with known gamblers. It soon became clear to Webb and Topping that MacPhail was not a good fit. The situation came to a head after the Yankees beat the Dodgers in the 1947 World Series. MacPhail was already drunk before the final game ended. During a team celebration that followed at Manhattan’s Biltmore Hotel, the seriously inebriated executive insulted every one in his path including Topping. Author Roger Kahn later wrote that MacPhail was actually suffering a nervous breakdown during the event. Whatever the case, Topping and Webb quickly forced him out of the partnership. He never again ran a big league ball club.

MacPhail passed away in 1975 at the age of 85. Three years later he was inducted  into the Baseball Hall of Fame. His son Lee was also a Yankee GM and joined his Dad in the Hall of Fame in 1998, becoming the only father-son tandem in Cooperstown. Larry Sr. shares his February 3rd birthday with this former Yankee pitcherthis one too and this one-time Yankee third-baseman.