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Gene Michael

April 16, 2008
  
Gene Michael became general manager of the Yankees in 1990, the same year I left college and moved to New York City. In those days, my brother and I occasionally rode the subway from Brooklyn up to Yankee Stadium, sometimes to quietly and uneasily root for the Red Sox, sometimes just to see some baseball featuring any random visiting team. At that time the Yankees were bad enough to allow a guy to spread himself across three seats and sit in the sun and watch a game and not have to worry whether the Beast was going rise up and stomp out every cringing nonbeliever in its path. Of course, this did not apply to the games against the Red Sox, which were always packed no matter how irrelevant either team was at the moment, and in those games the Beast was always present, at the very least a grumble, a tremor, a tip of a vast presence waiting to avalanche down on our heads.

The Yankees hadn’t been mediocre for an extended period of years since the days when they employed none other than Gene Michael as their regular everyday shortstop. Of course, neither era (the only two extended spans of also-ranness since the arrival of Babe Ruth nearly a century ago) was the fault of Gene Michael. It’s true that as a player he couldn’t really hit, and unlike some other weak-hitting shortstops of the time, such as Mark Belanger, he doesn’t seem to have a widely acknowledged reputation as a particularly good fielder, either. But the Yankees had plenty of other problems. As for Michael, all I personally know him for as a player, besides the vaguely simian, imaginary-giant-phallus-wielding association the photo on this card has ingrained into my subconscious, is that he was once pummeled by one of Carlton Fisk’s fists while Fisk used his other arm to strangle Thurman Munson. Or did Fisk strangle Michael while pummeling Munson? I can never keep that story straight. Either way, Michael played the vital part of the feckless weakling in the tableau that gave us Red Sox fans one of our rare moments of temporary superiority amid all those decades of abject subservience.

My brother and I were hoping for another one of those moments when we made our way to Yankee Stadium one sunny Memorial Day in the early 1990s. We watched from high above the leftfield foul line in the upper deck as Red Sox pitcher Danny Darwin gradually surrendered most of a big early cushion by giving up one soaring solo blast after another. The Beast, quieted by the early deficit, grew a little louder with every moonshot. Finally Jeff Reardon was summoned from the bullpen in the bottom of the ninth, and Mel Hall ripped Reardon’s meaty offering high and deep. The shrinking white pill disappeared into the rightfield bleachers stands like a catalytic tablet into a witch’s cauldron. The Beast erupted, its closest tendril, a cackling blond woman, pummeling the two of us amid the thunderous noise as Mel Hall slowly frolicked from base to base.

Though perhaps no one but Gene Michael knew it at the time, Hall was something of a vanishing breed among those Yankees. Spared the dictates of the infinitely impatient George Steinbrenner, who was suspended for several key years during Michael’s reign,  Michael was able to avoid the twin Steinbrennerian habits of jettisoning prospects and stockpiling fading veterans such as Mel Hall. And Michael’s well-guarded prospects ended up forming the foundation of one of the most dominant runs in baseball history, an (insufferable) era when the Beast hardly ever stopped roaring and devouring.

In my mind the long roar started that Memorial Day in the early 1990s. After Hall finally touched home plate it took so long for my brother and me to get out of there that I’m not entirely sure I’m not still there, insane, dreaming all subsequent events. We took a wrong turn upon exiting the stadium and had to circle the whole giant palace of horrors through an endless circling thicket of the Beast before we got to a subway. Ashen-faced, our Red Sox caps stuffed in our pockets, my brother and I said nothing, just trudged. I remember seeing one young sunburned and well-lubricated Red Sox fan flailing against the Beast.

Fuck Bucky Dent!” he kept shouting as he stumbled through the heckling throng. Veins stood out in his forehead and his voice cracked. “Bucky Dent sucks!

You poor crazy bastard, I remember thinking, not without some admiration. It was like watching someone try to start a fistfight with an oncoming train.

39 comments

  1. 1.  0 Great post, but one correction. I remember that Memorial Day game vividly, and Hall’s walk-off HR went into the right field mezzaine level, which is recessed quite a bit from the field. Very few balls every make it to that level (they either fall into the OF Main Reserve or head into the Tier), so that’s why it stands out in my memory.


  2. 2.  Yeah, the Hall shot was a liner, unbelievably hitting the mezzanine. I was there, too, though for once, my dad’s penchant for “leaving early to beat the traffic” paid off, as I didn’t have to witness the ending. Allan of Joy of Sox was at that game, too. I wonder why that was such a popular game to attend among people who would later write about baseball on the internet.


  3. 3.  Damn, so much for my meticulously crafted, pretentious “witches cauldron” metaphor.


  4. 4.  Don’t worry, it still works! I think it actually smacked the facing of the mezz, and dropped down into a slightly less-potent cauldron, the right field lower deck creatures. You could have been remembering Hall’s other homer that day–good chance that would’ve been a bleacher shot. I don’t remember.


  5. 5.  Gene Michael did have one claim to fame as a player: he was known, believe it or not, as “The Master of the Hidden-Ball Trick.”


  6. 6.  FYI: Some interesting reader comments have recently been added to older posts on Gorman Thomas (Milwaukee Brewers), Mike Easler (Pittsburgh Pirates), and Champ Summers (Cincinnati Reds).

    Also, another good “my last day of baseball” story has been added to the comments of the fairly recent Ivan Dejesus (Chicago Cubs) post. I feel that I bungled an opportunity by not more stridently lobbying readers for similar stories with that post, so I hope if anybody’s got one they’d like to share they’ll add it to the Dejesus post (and I’ll direct readers to it via a comment attached to the current post).


  7. 7.  I wanted to write this one from memory alone, but the innacuracy about where Hall’s homer landed prompted me to go to bb-ref for the game, which does indeed note that Hall’s game-winner was “to Deep RF [on a] Line”. I did at least get right the fact that the Yankees hit all solo shots until the ninth-inning blast. Here’s the link to the game:

    http://tinyurl.com/6bb4gg


  8. 8.  I watched that game on TV, but I remember it well. I can still see It remains the lone highlight of the 1989 through 1992 seasons for Yankee fans.

    Paul O’Neill, Jimmy Key and Wade Boggs showed up in 1993, Jim Abbott threw his no-hitter that year (against a Cleveland lineup that included Manny Ramirez in his third major league game), and things have been better ever since.

    Fun fact: the Red Sox got their early lead in that game against Dave Eiland, who is now the Yankee pitching coach.

    Oh, and here’s the Joy of Sox post:

    http://tinyurl.com/566c8r


  9. 9.  8 I was there the night before, for Manny’s second ML game, his Yankee Stadium debut. Half of Washington Heights was sitting in the left-field stands, and Manny put on a show for them: two homers and a double.

    My sister and her two kids went the next day. I decided not to go. Crap.


  10. 10.  8 Thanks for the link to the Joy of Sox story, which seems to offer an authoritative description of the path of Hall’s ball. According to the scorecard kept by the author during the game (there’s a reproduction of that section of the scorecard in the post) “Hall . . . lined a 2-2 pitch three or four rows deep in the right field stands. . .”

    9 : Ah, Manny. Things got a little better for Red Sox fans at Yankee Stadium after he and Pedro joined the team. Suddenly we had a ton of Dominican allies.


  11. 11.  I’m hoping the next card you draw, Josh, has nothing to do with either the Yankees or the Red Sox…


  12. 12.  11 : I hear ya.


  13. 13.  2 … my dad’s penchant for “leaving early to beat the traffic” …

    Gee, I thought only us L.A. fans left early – at least that’s the impression I get. (I actually have never left a ballgame early; I’m staying to the end, triumphant, bitter or otherwise.)


  14. 14.  10 I would bet the mortgage that the Hall HR went into the mezzaine level, and 3 or 4 rows into the RF stands. If I can find something definitive, I’ll post it, but I am Ivory Soap certain about my recollection.


  15. 15.  Here’s something else that if true would add more significance to the Mel Hall HR. According to Wikipedia, John Sterlings game ending vibrations “evolved from [his] call of Mel Hall’s game-winning three-run homer in the ninth inning on May 27, 1991, to give the Yankees a win over the arch-rival Boston Red Sox. “The Yankees win! The Yankees win!”, shouted Sterling.”


  16. 16.  15 : Ugh. That adds a deeper level of horror to that game.


  17. 17.  14 : I believe you.

    I couldn’t stand having my error about the “bleachers” in the post anymore, so I struck it out and replaced it with the generic “stands”. I wonder of that rescues my beloved cauldron simile from damning innacuracy.


  18. 18.  Is there a way for Baseball Toaster to email me when this blog gets updated? It seems to update about 20 minutes after the last time I check it during the day. I suppose I could use feeds, but I’m not the most web savvy guy on the net.

    1990 was during a baseball semiexile for me. I was in the army and didn’t follow the game that closely. I’m pretty much provincial anyways. Never got into rotisserie, so my focus has pretty much been on the Red Sox; everything else is incidental. But I did see a game in 1990. Went to Chicago to meet up with a couple of army buddies who left the nite before. Got busted for doing 101 outside of Watseka, Illinois. After the fine they gave me, I hope they named the high school gym in my honor. Almost saw history. Rnady, me, and some other guy whose name escapes me saw the game before the Andy Hawkins nohitter non-nohitter. Then we got drunk and watched PPV at the hotel.


  19. 19.  I thought Sterling’s “Yankees Win!” call evolved from his “Islanders goal!” call. But I guess Mel Hall made him vibrate more. I have to admit I have a taste for cheese and I love John Sterling. I’d hate it if he called games for my team, but I think he’s a riot.


  20. 20.  18 : I guess there’s something called an RSS feed available, but anytime anyone’s tried to explain to me what that is my eyes glaze over.

    I wonder what it’s like to see a non no-hitter no-hitter (i.e., a Andy Hawkins/Matt Young no-hits allowed loss). There’s no catcher-leaping-into-arms moment (or in David Cone’s case, no tackling-and-making-tearful-love-to-Joe-Girardi-on-the-infield-grass moment), so when do you cheer for these guys? Or do you cheer? I’m just glad I never saw such a game as a kid. I think the ambiguity of it would have stunted my growth.

    19 : You know, I like cheeseballs too, and if he did games for any team other than the Yankees and I just might enjoy his schtick. But I’m a small man. Also, I first started hearing his whole deal around when I started listening to a lot of Bob Murphy doing the Mets. Quite the gulf between those two.


  21. 21.  9 I was at the game at which Manny hit his first 2 HRs. It was September 3, 1993.


  22. 22.  John Sterling’s not bad once you get used to him. As a Yankees fan, I don’t mind the partisanship. He’s a good bullshitter during the game, which is always a plus. I don’t care for guys who just call balls and strikes. I like opinions and tangents.


  23. 23.  22 : As the world’s biggest fan of Johnny Most (late great gravelly-voiced Celtics announcer who used to call each game as if the Celtics were valiantly staving off a vicious and underhanded barbarian invasion), I’m in no position to criticize partisan announcers.


  24. 24.  23 I remember watching Sportscenter when an announcer for another team openly groaned when the opposing team got a clutch hit which broke open the game. The announcer said, “Oh, come on!”


  25. 25.  22 I respectfully disagree. I’ve listened to Sterling for 19 years now, and I still can’t stand him.

    I grew up with Phil Rizzuto, so being a homer and straying from strict, dry play-by-play isn’t necessarily a problem. (In fact, I think there are a whole lot of announcers who are a whole lot more partisan than Sterling, Ron Santo being the worst. Among other things, Sterling never, ever refers to the Yankees as “we.”)

    The difference is that Rizzuto was completely natural. Everything just came bubbling out of him in an uninhibited stream of enthusiasm. It was never shtick, it was just Scooter.

    With Sterling, everything is prepared and rehearsed; it’s nothing but shtick. Worse yet, he says the same damn thing over and over, the exact same way, day after day, year in and year out.

    Baseball is the most unpredictable game. I defy anyone to predict the game of baseball. It’s because you change the starting pitcher every day – imagine that, the most important player on the field, and he changes every day! You can throw your stat book right out the window. The patented Jeterian swing. Blahbitty blah blah blah.

    The game is like an excuse for Sterling to do his routines. I can’t wait for someone who will actually say something different, something he didn’t say yesterday.


  26. 26.  25 : I loved Scooter.

    FYI: A good story (thanks JL25and3) about “La Lob” has been added to the comments of the Gorman Thomas (Brewers) post, and the Jack Clark (Giants) post of a couple days ago has a new comment that raises an urgent (in my mind anyway) question about memories of Jack Clark’s johnson.


  27. 27.  Josh, for some reason there is no link to the 1975 Gorman Thomas entry.


  28. 28.  26 Btw, Josh, one of the many things I appreciate about this blog is that entries are perpetual. The discussions may go on long-term hiatus, but they’re never really over. Blogs are almost always sequential, but this one is comfortably non-linear.


  29. 29.  27 : That ’75 Gorman post was so slight–just a notice about the radio reading of the other Gorman post–that I didn’t think to add it, but now that you mention it I’ll add it to the Brewers pile in the sidebar.

    28 : That’s one of my favorite things about the site too.


  30. 30.  Agreed, 28, too much stuff on the net haas the shelf life of a nanosecond. Of course, Josh’s material lends it self towards having a longer shelf life.


  31. 31.  25 While I agree that the current broadcast has become the John Sterling Show with special guest stars the New York Yankees, it hasn’t always been that way.

    When Sterling was teamed with Jay Johnstone, I thought the pair was excellent. Of course, in that pairing, Johnstone was full of shtick (Sterling: “the Yankees are brought you by Snapple, makers of Peach Melba…”. Johnstone: “Peach Melba? I used to date her in high school), and Sterling was the straight man.

    A subsequent pairing with Joe Angel didn’t work out because both men hated each other, but individually, both men were very good…almost as if they were in competition.

    Sterling’s longest partner, Michael Kay, produced some of the best radio broadcasts I can remember as a fan, at least at the very beginning of their tenure. Kay was a young reporter cracking into the radio biz, while Sterling was the veteran with a booming voice. Neither posed a threat to each other, and each’s strengths made up for the other’s weaknesses (Kay, the intrepid reporter, had a poor radio voice and wasn’t great at play-by-play; Sterling, the veteran, had the golden pipes, but didn’t bring anything more than ply-by-play). This relationship also seemed to drive the other to improve upon their shortcomings. Also, the enormous size of both men’s egos seemed to keep the other’s in check. At it’s best, this pairing was so good, that I would go out of my way to turn down the TV audio to listen to them instead, and at the time, the Yankees had very good broadcasters doing games on MSG.

    Toward the end of their run together, it seemed as if Kay and Sterling were talking past each other. Still, they were solid until Kay left to takeover YES. Absent each other, however, I have found their individual efforts lacking. The Steiner/Sterling combo was awful, but sadly better than the current pairing with Susyzn Waldman, who gives life to every negative stereotype about women doing sports. Without another heavyweight to challenge him, Sterling has become a rehearsed, regurgitated tired old show. And yet, his excitement for and love of the game and the Yankees still makes him listenable, even though he really is a shell of the broadcaster that he used to be.


  32. 32.  31 Spot on on just about every particular.

    One of the worst things about the current pairing: Waldman apparently thinks Sterling is just about the funniest, most clever man she’s ever met.

    Once upon a time, Suzyn Waldman was a pretty darn good beat reporter for WFAN. Then somewhere along the way she got starry-eyed about the players – especially Paul O’Neill and Tino Martinez – and lost all perspective.

    In addition to his impeccable pipes, I have to Sterling credit for professionalism and dedication. He hasn’t missed a single game since he’s been with the Yankees, and at least one year he broadcast every inning. And, finally, he did come up with one nickname that I thought was brilliant: Gino “Clang, Clang, Clang Went” Petralli.


  33. 33.  Please.

    John Sterling is a disgraceful sideshow to the game and its participants. His shrieking, VU-Meter destroying “Is-lan-der Gooooooalll! (4x)” howls are firmly embedded in my subconscious psyche somewheres between air raid sirens and the screams of burn victims.

    His Yankee calls similiarly explode out of nowhere, out of context to any flow of the game. The schtick is indeed rehearsed. And fake. And pandering. And annoying.

    And just right for the New York Yankees.
    The unlistenable Suzyn Waldman only complements Sterling perfectly.

    G-d bless you, Bob Murphy.


  34. 34.  25 I must agree about Sterling repeating the same thing over and over every inning. I really only catch games on XM radio, and as an Orioles fan I don’t listen to a lot of Yankee games. I caught some of the Yankees-Red Sox this past week, and I was tired of listening to him after about 3 innings. I thought it was just because of the crazy 15-9 game, I can’t imagine if I had to hear that every game!

    However, I must say that I really hate the Red Sox announcers more. I don’t mind a little home town favoritism, but at least describe the game. I turned on an O’s-Red Sox game last year, and it took me two innings to find out who was pitching for the Orioles!


  35. 35.  I just have to chime in to say that I like Sterling. He’s got a great voice. While his homerun calls may be a bit rehearsed or even contrived, I find them strangely comforting. When I hear one of them I always smile and I find myself imitating him as the ball goes out.

    I will say that sometimes he makes me nuts with his missed calls, to wit: “It is high!!!!…it is far!!!!..it is…caught for an out on the warning track…3 away at the end of the 5th.”

    I live in Birmingham, Alabama and have to hear Sterling on XM. Until I got a boom box for my radio, I would sit in my car in our driveway and listen to Yankees games after the kids went to sleep (my wife still sez I’m crazy). I’ll never forget hearing him call that bottom of the 9th homerun from Jorge against the Rangers 2 years ago in May. That one was special.

    I agree that Suzyn’s not the best compadre for Sterling. She’s a bit whiny and grates on my nerves.

    I actually liked Steiner with him. The 2003 Aaron Boone shot was a great call from both of them.


  36. 36.  I was at that Andy Hawkins non-no-hitter — July 1, 1990. The play of the game on the Jumbotron was Jim Leyritz dropping a fly ball with the bases loaded. Without looking at BBR, I think it was 23,000 or so people laughing at the King (which he brought upon himself in general anyway). The walks and errors in that allowed four runs to score (Blowers error at third got things going in that fateful inning) made me want console Hawkins. His walks didn’t help, but in general it was the errors that allowed the runs to score. Now, Barfield’s error in right was a tough one, probably not an error if a no-hitter wasn’t happening. He definitely lost the ball in the sun, but still was able to get a lunging backhanded glove on it at his knees.

    Couple interesting facts about that weekend — I was also at the first game of the series, which was Kevin Maas’ first big-league game (he got a single for his first hit). That was not the biggest event of the evening, however, as that is the same night Fernando and Dave Stewart threw no-hitters in different games. The game Ennui Willie Keeler went to (from comment 18) featured Kevin Maas’ first big-league homer. I’ll never forget that weekend, in some ways unfortunately …


  37. 37.  God, I remember that game! I was living in Chicago and watching it on TV. My Yankees fan roommate was getting ready for a date, and as he was leaving with the Sox ahead, he said something to the effect of, “Don’t worry; Reardon will come in and give the game-winning homer.” It was a lowlight of my time rooming with two other baseball fans, along with the time they posted the “Great Red Sox trivia quiz” to our refrigerator. (Example: “What do Buddy Biancalana, Omar Moreno, and Rafael Santana have in common? A: They all have more World Series rings than Ted Williams.”


  38. I consider the period of 89-92 the glory years for all Yankee haters like myself with the Andy Hawkins game being the highlight.

    On a different Yankee topic, this picture of Michael was obviously taken at Shea Stadium when the Yanks played there in 74 and 75. I wonder how many players played for the Yankees only during the Shea years and never played a home game in Yankee Stadium. Bobby Bonds and Rich Coggins come to mind.


  39. Strike Rich Coggins from that list and add Rick Bladt.
    Coggins played 7 games in 1976.



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