When Lee MacPhail died in Delray Beach, Florida Friday at age 95, other members of the Hall of Fame talked about what a good guy and what a nice man he was. From all of my reading, I think it would be harder to round up such quotes about his father Larry, who apparently made a fair amount of enemies. The MacPhails, both long-time Major League executives, are the only father and son in the Hall of Fame.
When you are a baseball executive and you have been retired for decades after your career ended, you tend to fade from the public consciousness more than a player in the same situation. Your statistics don’t live on, even if you do. I had frequently heard the question asked about who is the oldest member of the Hall of Fame. It came up when Bob Feller died at 92 in 2010. A lot of people said Yogi Berra (Yogi is 87 now) and even I had to reminded by a Hall of Fame researcher that the correct answer was MacPhail.
The younger MacPhail was born on Oct. 25, 1917 in Nashville, Tennessee and spent 45 years as a baseball executive. MacPhail’s first notable success in the front office was supervising the New York Yankees’ farm system for 10 years, starting in 1949. On MacPhail’s watch the Yankees kept producing young talent that fed the parent club during its subsequent stretch nine pennants and seven World Series crowns under manager Casey Stengel.
MacPhail became general manager of the Baltimore Orioles in 1959 and in 1965 he took a job in the commissioner’s office. Between 1967 and 1973 MacPhail served as GM of the Yankees and then he was chosen as president of the American League, a position he held between 1974 and 1983. After that MacPhail stayed in the game as president of the Major League Baseball Player Relations Committee. His son Andy became general manager of the Minnesota Twins, and a grandson, Lee MacPhail IV, is a scout for the Orioles.
MacPhail directly followed his father into baseball, but Larry McPhail’s route was a bit more convoluted. He was the son of a bank founder and became a lawyer. He attended law school with Branch Rickey and the men later overlapped as executives with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Larry MacPhail first bought into the Columbus Redbirds minor league team, worked for the Cincinnati Reds, and then became president of the Dodgers and part owner of the Yankees. He was often regarded as cantakerous, difficult to get along with, and imperious. Comments about his son Lee describe him differently.
“He will always be remembered in Cooperstown as a man of exemplary kindness and a man who always looked after the best interests of the game,” said Jane Forbes Clark, Hall of Fame chair.
Pat Gillick, who was recently elected to the Hall of Fame as an executive, was equally flattering in is praise. “Lee was one of the nicest, most considerate general managers I ever dealt with,” he said. Former Yankees Hall of Fame pitcher Whitey Ford called MacPhail “a good man and I had a great relationship with him for many, many years.” Ford said MacPhail was “so talented at building winners.”
Lee MacPhail broke into baseball when his father ran the Dodgers and he followed him to the Yankees. After that MacPhail set his own path with the Orioles and MLB administration. The American League Championship Series Most Valuable Player trophy is named after him.
It says something about MacPhail that his family asked that any donations in his memory be made to the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, their favorite non-profit organization.