After 42 Years in Baseball, MacPhail Is Retiring

Associated Press

Lee MacPhail looked content.

Next door to his office, members of baseball's Player Relations Committee were working on position papers for a labor hearing. He would help them, of course. He has always helped.

For two more weeks, PRC staffers will have the benefit of his experience. After that, they're on their own.

On Dec. 31, after 42 years in baseball, MacPhail is retiring.

"They'll let me go this time," he said. "If there's ever any real need, they know where to find me."

The last time Lee MacPhail tried to retire, after a decade as president of the American League, the owners drafted him for the PRC job, a thankless task considering management's history of adversarial relations with the players' union.

It was a no-win assignment, but it's likely MacPhail's low-key style helped keep last summer's labor unpleasantness within manageable bounds and enabled the strike to be settled after just two days.

MacPhail didn't exactly covet the job, but he took it as a favor to the owners who were seeking a better working relationship with the players. His qualifications included a larger variety of non-playing jobs than anybody in baseball.

He has run a minor-league department, been a road secretary, farm director, an assistant general manager, general manager, club president, assistant to a commissioner, league president, and finally PRC president.

"There's not much I haven't done off the field," MacPhail said, "other than commissioner."

And he almost did that, too. When baseball was deadlocked seeking a successor for William D. Eckert in 1969, MacPhail, then president of the New York Yankees, was mentioned fleetingly as a candidate. Instead, he supplied an alternative to break the logjam when the owners couldn't settle on a name.

His choice, Bowie Kuhn, held the job for 16 years.

"I have been around and knew all five commissioners," MacPhail said. And that includes the first one, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who ruled baseball for a quarter century from 1921-1945.

"It was my first year in baseball," MacPhail said. "I was general manager in Reading, 22 years old. I complained that the Philadelphia A's were infringing on our broadcast rights and Landis ordered a hearing."

The commissioner, a formidible man, was in top form. "He put on some show," MacPhail recalled. "I'd say something and he'd snarl 'Get so-and-so on the phone.' He was a stern, tough-looking man. I was in awe a little bit. But we won the case."

On the wall of his office hangs a picture of Landis and baseball's first MacPhail, Lee's father, Larry. It was Larry MacPhail who trailblazed night baseball as a part-owner, first of the Brooklyn Dodgers and later the Yankees.

"Dad was brilliant, an aggressive, great showman. He was the antithesis of me in a lot of ways. He probably didn't have as much balance as I have and he was not in baseball all that long. But he accomplished a lot."

Larry MacPhail's legacy to the game was his son, who trained with some of the sport's greatest administrators, people like Branch Rickey and George Weiss.

"I worked for dad, Rickey and Weiss, all Hall of Famers, all quite different, with different temperaments. Weiss was the exact opposite of my father, low key, attendant to detail, a tough, economy-minded man. He was shy and cold on the surface, but a good person to work for."

MacPhail worked for Weiss with the Yankees for 11 years, mostly as farm director. He has fond memories of those days.

"Of all the jobs I've held, farm director was my favorite," he said. "Working with scouts, minor-league managers, trying to find young talent and develop it. I found that very rewarding work."

Later there were stints in Baltimore, where he negotiated the trade that brought slugger Frank Robinson to the Orioles, and one year--"that was enough"--as an aide to Commissioner Eckert, a baseball neophyte.

He returned to the Yankees for seven seasons, leaving one year after George Steinbrenner arrived, to become president of the American League. There he presided over a decade-long losing streak in All-Star games, futility that still sticks in his craw.

"The losing streak really bothered me," he said. "You lose one All-Star Game, you can forget it. It doesn't bother you that much. But nine in a row irritates you."

The AL gave him a farewell gift, winning the 1983 game before MacPhail's first, short-lived retirement.

MacPhail's second and, he says, permanent retirement does not mean an end to baseball's involvement with this family. His son, Andy, is assistant general manager of the Minnesota Twins.

"I'll still be around," MacPhail said. "I'll go to spring training and I'll go to games and now that I don't have to be impartial, I'll root.

"For the Twins."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World