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Lee MacPhail, Hall-of-Fame baseball executive with Orioles and others, dies at 95

MacPhail helped build foundation of 1966 World Champions as member of four-generation baseball family

Childs Walker, The Baltimore Sun

5:24 PM EST, November 9, 2012

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Lee MacPhail, a Hall of Fame baseball executive who served as Orioles general manager from 1959 to 1965, died Thursday evening at his home in Delray Beach, Fla. He was 95.

Mr. MacPhail, who was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1998, represented the middle of a four-generation baseball dynasty. His father, Larry, was also a Hall of Fame executive. His son, Andy, became the Orioles' top baseball executive from 2007 to 2011 after serving in similar roles for the Minnesota Twins and Chicago Cubs. His grandsons, Lee MacPhail IV and Reed MacPhail, work for the Orioles and Cincinnati Reds, respectively.

Larry and Lee MacPhail became the first father-son duo elected to the Hall of Fame, though Andy MacPhail said his father and grandfather possessed opposite temperaments.

"My grandfather was bombastic, flamboyant, a genius when sober, brilliant when he had one drink and a raving lunatic when he had too many," he said. "My father was mild-mannered, low-key, a consensus builder. He was the most fair-minded man I ever met."

He recalled how his father was once pulled over by a state trooper in Miami during spring training, and his grandfather, riding in the back seat, got out to berate the officer. Lee MacPhail had to soothe the old man. The trooper told him: "That father of yours is going to get you in a lot of trouble some day."

"He would laugh and laugh about that," Andy MacPhail said of his father.

Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said Lee MacPhail was "one of the great executives in baseball history and a Hall of Famer in every sense, both personally and professionally. … 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."

Orioles owner Peter Angelos also offered condolences, saying in a statement that, "Lee MacPhail's impact on the game and the Orioles cannot be overstated."

In addition to his work building the first winning Orioles teams of the early 1960s, Mr. MacPhail oversaw the New York Yankees' remarkably fruitful farm system in the 1950s and served as American League president from 1974 to 1983. He helped implement expansion and the designated hitter rule, played a key role in negotiating labor peace in 1981 and restored a George Brett home run that had been disallowed because of pine tar on the third baseman's bat in a 1983 game.

Mr. MacPhail came from the Yankees to the Orioles in 1959, when the club had yet to show Baltimore a winning season. In tandem with manager Paul Richards, he laid the foundation for a team that would contend for the first time in 1960 and win the World Series in 1966.

While overseeing the development of signature Orioles such as Brooks Robinson, Boog Powell, Dave McNally and Jim Palmer, Mr. MacPhail helped set up the club's famous trade for Frank Robinson, ultimately completed by his successor, Harry Dalton, before the 1966 season.

The MacPhails lived only a few blocks from Memorial Stadium, but Andy said he didn't see much of his father, who walked to the ballpark shortly after the children left for school and often came home after they had gone to bed. "He would cajole us to come to games, just so we could spend time with him," he said.

On football Sundays, Andy MacPhail could hear the cheers of the Colts crowds from his front stoop. "He was always jealous that the Colts got more attention," he said of his father.

Father and son grew closer when Mr. MacPhail's wife, Jane, whom he had met as a student at Swarthmore College, died during Andy's senior year of high school.

As he entered the family business of baseball, Andy MacPhail counted on his father to lend perspective. He remembered making a sarcastic comment about the player's union as a young executive. "He very quietly explained to me that I had to look at things from their perspective," he said. "He didn't have a problem seeing things from the other guy's point of view. I think that was very valuable for him."

When Andy MacPhail returned to Baltimore in 2007, he still asked his father for occasional baseball advice and hosted the elder MacPhail at spring training in Fort Lauderdale.

He left the Orioles in part to care for his ailing father, who always had a ballgame on his television until the last weeks of his life. Family and friends recently gathered to celebrate Lee MacPhail's 95th birthday.

Mr. MacPhail was born Leland Stanford MacPhail Jr. in Nashville, Tenn., on Oct. 25, 1917. His father, after serving as an artillery captain in World War I, became an executive with the Reds, Brooklyn Dodgers and Yankees. Larry MacPhail introduced night baseball at Cincinnati's Crosley Field, and also pushed the sport to innovations in air travel and television broadcasting.

Andy MacPhail said his father loved baseball from an early age but that Larry MacPhail insisted his son work in an outside business before pursuing a career in the game. Outside business meant a pig farm in Florence, S.C.

"How my grandfather thought that would dissuade him from wanting to enter baseball is an enduring mystery in my family," said Andy MacPhail with a laugh.

After his pig farming dalliance, Mr. MacPhail served in the Navy during World War II, sailing to the Pacific theater just as fighting drew to a close. He returned to the career in baseball he had long desired.

As Yankees farm director from 1949 to 1958, Mr. MacPhail helped provide the players for the greatest sustained run of excellence in major league history. He played a sort of good cop in contrast to his notoriously stingy boss, general manager George Weiss. From 1949 to 1964, the Yankees won nine World Series and appeared in five others.

Mr. MacPhail was especially proud to have played a part in signing his favorite player, the great centerfielder Mickey Mantle.

"I was pleased to see him elected to the Hall of Fame because he was so talented at building winners," said Yankees great Whitey Ford in a statement released by the Hall of Fame. "As farm director, he was integral in maintaining the Yankees' championship run."

Mr. MacPhail later became general manager of the Yankees from 1967 to 1973, leaving to escape the tempest of George Steinbrenner's ownership.

Outside of the game, he loved classical music and American history, even penning an unpublished manuscript about the Revolutionary War.

In addition to Andy MacPhail, he is survived by his sons Allen MacPhail of Scarsdale, N.Y., and Bruce MacPhail of Asheville, N.C.

No services are planned at this time, though the Hall of Fame said a memorial will be held on a date to be announced.

The MacPhail family has asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Hall of Fame in Lee MacPhail's memory.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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