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Lee MacPhail, whose ties to the Yankees go back more than 60 years, died Thursday night of natural causes at his home in Delray Beach, Fla., two weeks after his 95th birthday. MacPhail had been the oldest living member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, a distinction that belongs now to former Red Sox second baseman Bobby Doerr, 94.
Born Oct. 25, 1917 in Nashville, Tenn., Lee MacPhail was the son of another Hall of Fame executive, Larry MacPhail. They are the only father-son combination in Cooperstown. Lee followed in his father’s footsteps by serving as a front office executive in baseball for 45 years.
“Baseball history has lost a great figure in Lee MacPhail, whose significant impact on the game spanned five decades,” Hall of Fame board chairman Jane Forbes Clark said. “As a Hall of Fame executive, Lee developed one of the game’s strongest farm systems for the New York Yankees before serving as American League president for 10 years. 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.”
MacPhail began his career with the Yankees in 1949. He served as farm director and player personnel director for 10 years and built a system that resulted in the team winning nine AL pennants and seven World Series championships during his tenure.
“Lee MacPhail was a good man, and I had a great relationship with him for many, many years,” Hall of Fame pitcher Whitey Ford said. “I was pleased to see him elected to the Hall of Fame because he was so talented at building winners. As farm director, he was integral in maintaining the Yankees’ championship run.”
MacPhail left the Yankees in 1959 to become general manager of the Orioles. In Baltimore, he laid the groundwork for the 1966 World Series championship squad that began a decade-long stretch of success for that franchise.
In 1965, MacPhail became the chief administrative assistant to newly-elected commissioner William Eckert. After being named Executive of the Year in 1966 by The Sporting News, MacPhail returned to the Yankees as general manager and served in that capacity from 1967 to 1973 before being elected president of the AL.
From 1974 to 1983, MacPhail oversaw expansion in Toronto and Seattle, helped develop the designated hitter rule and ruled on George Brett’s famous pine tar home run in 1983. MacPhail was not popular with Yankees fans for that decision which upheld Brett’s home run. Principal owner George Steinbrenner felt strongly that Brett had broken baseball’s rule for how much pine tar could be used on a bat, but MacPhail ruled that the spirit of the rule was violated by negating the home run. The incident still causes debates today nearly 30 years later.
MacPhail resigned after the 1983 season but continued his work in baseball as the president of Major League Baseball’s Player Relations Committee. He was elected to the Hall of Fame’s board of directors in 1974, making him the longest-tenured member of the current board, and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1998 by the Veterans Committee.
“Lee was one of the nicest, most considerate general managers I ever dealt with,” Hall of Fame executive Pat Gillick said. “And as president of the American League, he was one of the most professional individuals with whom I have ever worked.”
No services are planned at this time. A memorial will be held at a date to be announced.
In lieu of flowers, the MacPhail family has asked that donations in his memory be made to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
Here is the reading on Lee MacPhail’s Hall of Fame plaque:
Leland Stanford MacPhail Jr.
One of the leading executives in baseball history, his name is synonymous with integrity and sportsmanship. As farm director and player personnel director of the Yankees (1949-58), helped build a system which yielded seven world championships. As Orioles general manager (1959-65), helped lay the groundwork for one of the game’s most consistently successful franchises; and he later rejoined the Yankees in the same capacity. Served admirably as American League president (1974-83) before concluding his 45-year career as president of the Player Relations Committee. He and his father Larry form the first father son tandem in the Hall of Fame.