October 25th, 2013
Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant is the only member of the Baseball Hall of Fame who’s father is also a member. Lee MacPhail’s dad Larry was one of baseball’s most legendary executives, running both the Cincinnati Reds and Brooklyn Dodger organizations before becoming a part owner of the Yankees in 1946. Lee had a much quieter demeanor than his hard-living and combative father and was generally considered one of the kindest and most liked executives in baseball during his career.
That career got its real start in 1949, when the younger MacPhail took over as director of the Yankees’ minor league system. That system had been built by geniuses like Ed Barrow and George Weiss, so there was a lot of pressure on the new guy to maintain its excellence as a breeding ground for future pennant winners. Many baseball people thought MacPhail had only got the job because of his last name, but he proved those detractors wrong by operating brilliantly in that capacity. New York’s farm system produced an unprecedented flow of quality big league players all throughout the decade of the 1950’s.
In 1959, MacPhail became General Manager of the Baltimore Orioles. When he left that job in 1965 to become an assistant to Baseball Commissioner, William Eckert, he left an Orioles’ team poised to win a World Championship in 1966 and a thriving minor league system that would keep the O’s near or at the top of the AL East standings for the next decade.
He returned to the Yankees in 1967 to take over as GM from Ralph Houk, who had returned to the dugout to skipper the team after Johnny Keane had failed miserably in that role. It was an unsuccessful era in the organization’s history, notable because for the first and only time in franchise history, the Yankees were owned by a corporation and not wealthy individuals. Suddenly the team’s performance was being judged by profits and loss instead of wins and losses, making MacPhail’s job especially difficult. He did however make progress. He traded for Sparky Lyle, drafted Thurman Munson, and negotiated the deals that brought both Graig Nettles and Lou Piniella to New York.
Things got hairy for MacPhail in New York when George Steinbrenner took over the team in 1973 and brought Gabe Paul with him. It soon became apparent to the beleaguered GM that neither “the Boss” or Paul respected his opinions on much of anything, so he got out of the Bronx when the getting was good and took over as AL President from the retiring Joe Cronin. He served in that capacity for the next decade and is credited for leading the negotiations that ended the 1981 Players strike. He also got some revenge on Steinbrenner, when he overruled the umpires decision to negate George Brett’s home run in the famous “Pine Tar” game between the Yankees and Royals in 1983.
MacPhail was selected to join his father in Cooperstown in 1998 and he lived to the age of 95, passing away at his home in Florida in November of 2012. He lived to see both his son Andy and grandson Lee MacPhail IV extend the family’s involvement in MLB front offices to a fourth generation.