George Michael – Baseball Historian – RIP

The prominent television sportscaster, perhaps the last “up-and-coming” Top 40 disc jockey at the height of the genre, and onetime NHL announcer, George Michael, passed away this morning in Washington after a two-year fight with leukemia. He was 70 years old.

Less known about George was that he, like so many people I’ve discussed here in the last few months, had a remarkably specific and utterly satisfying contribution to the game we love. Nellie King has been a fixture of Pittsburgh player, reporter, game announcer, and now author. With only 25 major league games under his belt, Dirk Hayhurst has probably written the best baseball book of the young century. Lester Rodney, who I memorialized here on Tuesday, was perhaps the only white journalist of the 1930’s and 1940’s who not only pointed out the unstated ban on black players but tirelessly advocated for its repudiation.
And now there’s George, who for all the eccentric devotion of his program “The Sports Machine” to rodeo, or (when it was hardly known to exist north of the Carolinas, NASCAR), was an ardent baseball researcher and historian. He had a general interest in vintage baseball game photography, but, like all of us, you could cut to the chase with him and quickly discover his exact, precise fascination with… slides into the plate or the bases.
It was George’s self-appointed duty to identify every participant in every such photograph, and the game depicted. He focused on the days before uniform numbers, when often you couldn’t see the runner’s face, the catcher’s back was turned to you, the uniforms were barely identifiable (if that), and even the stadiums were hard to pin down. He was published on the subject in a Society for American Baseball Research Journal a few years back, and his walk-through of his step-by-step process for finding clues was not only fascinating, but terrifically instructional to anybody trying to figure out the identities in any vintage baseball photography (when logos are not visible, you can most easily narrow down years and teams, even in black-and-white photos, by whether the caps and socks were dark, light, or striped; also don’t forget to judge where the throw originated – was it from an outfielder, or was it from the catcher? In the latter case you’re most likely dealing with a stolen base attempt – and probably a guy with a few steals under his belt).
I remember once getting a large package from George containing a series of photocopies of the top ten or twenty photos that were giving him the hardest time. Inevitably he had already found the era, at least one of the teams, possibly the ballpark. One, I believe, he had found to be from a 1911 A’s-Red Sox game, in Philadelphia, in the sixth inning. The third baseman was Home Run Baker but the runner tearing into third was problematic because the face was partially obscured and, incredibly, there had been two different plays made at third during the inning.
So if you think of George’s untimely passing this holiday season, remember that for all his larger-than-life tv persona, and the seemingly endless rodeo highlights — he was truly one of us, and his hobby underscored how otherwise diverse a crowd “we” are.

5 Comments

Another sad passing of another fascinating person….

I remember seeing the “Sports Machine” once in a while, but I had no idea that George Michael was a baseball researcher and historian. It’s interesting that he consulted you for help with those photos that he was having trouble identifying. Okay, maybe “interesting” isn’t the right word. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say “flattering”, since he respected your knowledge enough to seek your input.

I especially feel for Mr. Michael’s family right now. The death of a loved one is always very, very difficult. But when it falls on a holiday – especially Christmas or Christmas Eve, when society expects you to be cheerful – that adds another degree of difficulty to it. It’s hard enough just going through the first Thanksgiving, Christmas, or whatever, after a loved one dies, without such a holiday being the anniversary of the death.

Which segues into my wish that your family can find comfort during this, the first Christmas/New Year’s holiday season since your mother passed away earlier this year. I’ve lost loved ones in years past, and know how hard it can be when people say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”, while the weight of such a loss is on one’s shoulders. So I wish you, and the rest of us who are in similar situations, a peaceful holiday season, instead.

As one who watched George Michael here in the D.C. area for lo, those 28 years he was on the air for Channel 4…that’s WRC-TV, for the rest of MLBlogs World…it truly feels as though a death in the family has happened.
Because that’s EXACTLY what George was…a member of the family. Of course, that didn’t stop ESPN from ripping him off (witness “Pardon the Interruption”, “Around the Horn”…hell, even “The Sports Reporters”)…all taken from “Redskins Report”. Ask around.
Having vented, thank you for this piece, Keith. Trust me, my MLBlog will mention you immensely.
Gary
Nasty Nats Live Here (and Everywhere)
http://go-nasty-nats.mlblogs.com
http://twitter.com/gonastynats

I’ve thought for a day or so about what to say, but finally concluded that unpaka pretty much said it all (and rather eloquently I might add). So I’ll just say this – Keith, I hope you and your family have a peaceful Christmas, and that you are able to find some happiness. One other thing – even though some people give you grief, always know that there are many of us out here who really do care about you, and appreciate what you bring to the table. Stay warm and well, and hugs to you and your father.

Thanks Keith for yet another baseball story about someone I didn’t know. I guess you could say this has been the common theme of your baseball blog since you began this site. Just when we think we know all we will ever need to know about baseball and its history, we realize there is so much more to this game and those who loved it.

The story about sending you the photos to look over is indeed very flattering. It reminded me of a night many years ago playing Red Sox trivia. It was myself and my brother-in-law vs my brother and another brother-in-law, two guys who could quote just about any statistic of any Red Sox player/team from the beginning of time. They were the go-to guys in the neighborhood on all things baseball. My brother-in-law, who was on my team, unbeknownst to me, made a bet with my father and some others that he and I would win the game, which we did. Only “my teammate” never answered one single question. I alone answered all the questions, yet I never received a dime from the bet. lol. But I was thrilled to have beaten “the experts”. It’s especially nice since I was the only female in the game. But unlike you, I probably have forgotten much of what I knew back then. But I do my best to re-educate myself. Especially during spring training. That’s when my history of baseball reading begins anew. It’s almost NFL playoff time, so I am sitting here in the quiet middle of the night reading a wonderful book about Johnny Unitas.

Thanks once again for sharing these stories with us. They touch me in a way I can’t really describe nor understand. All I know is I love reading them.

“Mr. (Connie) Mack, I’m here. (to complete the $100,000 infield).” Home Run Baker

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