A widely respected true man of baseball has passed away. Lee MacPhail was a primary representative of the second generation of MacPhails, a family that has served the game since the 1930s and still remains involved to this day. He died Thursday at age 95 in Delray Beach, Florida.
MacPhail understood the greater good of the game and worked for it. He helped usher in the designated-hitter rule, presided over the expansion of the American League, was a force in the settlement of the 1981 players’ strike and used his influence to bring Interleague Play to the fore. Before that, he was general manager of the Orioles and Yankees.
Whatever MacPhail did, he did with class and dignity. George Steinbrenner once said, “You don’t want to be against MacPhail on an important issue too many times because you start to look bad if you are.” MacPhail earned a place in the Hall of Fame, in 1998. He and his father, Larry (who guided the Reds, Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers) are the lone father-son tandem in Cooperstown.
“Lee MacPhail was one of the great executives in baseball history and a Hall of Famer in every sense, both personally and professionally,” Commissioner Bud Selig said to MLB.com. “I had great admiration for Lee as American League president, and he was respected and liked by everyone with whom he came in contact. His hallmarks were dignity, common sense and humility.
“He was not only a remarkable league executive, but was a true baseball man as is evidenced by his brilliant leadership of the storied New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles franchises. Lee always put the interests of the sport first and through his love of the game taught all of us to cherish it in every way. Major League Baseball and all of our clubs feel a great sense of loss today, and I send my deepest condolences to one of the first families of the national pastime.”
While Lee MacPhail served as league president during Bowie Kuhn’s tenure as Commissioner, he was seen as the de facto conscience of the game because of his wisdom, fairness and balanced outlook. “Everyone should listen when Mr. MacPhail speaks,” then-Rangers owner Eddie Chiles said in 1982. “We all can learn from him.”
Oddly, MacPhail’s highest profile developed in 1983 when Steinbrenner dragged him into the pine-tar war. The relentlessness of the Yankees owner made prolonged the pine tar incident to such a degree that the generic term eventually warranted upper-case treatment. Countless skirmishes between Steinbrenner and MacPhail about umpires’ calls kept the dignified league president in headlines.
The MacPhail family is the executive-level equivalent of the Bells, Boones and Griffeys. Beginning with Lee’s father, Larry, it carries through Larry’s grandsons. Andy served the Twins, Cubs and Orioles as general manager, and Lee III, who was killed in an automobile accident in 1969 while he was working as the general manager of the Reading Phillies. Lee IV, Lee’s grandson, has worked for the Orioles as their director of professional scouting. In between though was Leland Stanford MacPhail Jr. He was as MLB.com described “a man you could trust with your watch, your secret or your franchise.”