Hall of Famer Lee MacPhail Passes Away

Lee MacPhail was part of only father-son duo in Hall of Fame history

November 09, 2012
NBHOF Library

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – He spent his life’s work out of the spotlight, building champions behind the scenes. But history will always regard Lee MacPhail as a member of one of baseball’s most famous families.

MacPhail, the oldest living Hall of Famer and a member of the Hall of Fame’s Board of Directors, passed away at his home in Delray Beach, Fla. Nov. 8 of natural causes at the age of 95. Elected in 1998 to the Baseball Hall of Fame, MacPhail was the son of another Hall of Fame executive, Larry MacPhail, making them the only father-son duo in Cooperstown.

"Baseball history has lost a great figure in Lee MacPhail, whose significant impact on the game spanned five decades," said Hall of Fame Chairman of the Board Jane Forbes Clark. "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 followed in his father’s footsteps by serving as a front office executive in baseball for 45 years. Known for his integrity and sportsmanship, MacPhail was quiet and soft-spoken in sharp contrast to his extroverted father, but also extremely successful.

MacPhail was born in Nashville, Tenn. on Oct. 25, 1917, and grew up watching his father change the face of baseball.

"Unfortunately, a person with Dad's talent comes along only once every 50 years. I've never thought of imitating him. I inherited neither his genius nor his temper. I'm just an ordinary person," said Lee MacPhail.

He graduated from Swarthmore College in 1939 and became the business manager for the Reading Brooks in 1941. He then went on to become general manager for Toronto of the International League, served as a U.S. Navy lieutenant during Word War II and then the general manager of the Yankees minor-league affiliate in Kansas City.

Beginning with the Yankees in 1949, MacPhail served as the Farm Director and Player Personnel Director for 10 years building a system that led the team to seven World Series Championships and nine pennants during his tenure.

He became the general manager for the Baltimore Orioles in 1959, laying the groundwork for the 1966 World Series Championship as well as one of the most successful franchises in the modern era.

In 1965, MacPhail became the chief administrative assistant to newly elected commissioner William Eckert. The Sporting News named him Executive of the Year in 1966. He then returned to the Yankees as general manager from 1967 to 1973 before being elected president of the American League.

From 1974-1983, he oversaw the expansion in Toronto and Seattle, helped develop the designated hitter rule and ruled on George Brett’s famous pine tar home run. In 1981, he was instrumental in negotiations about free agency that helped to end the player’s strike. He resigned after the 1983 season, but continued his work in baseball as the president of the Major League Baseball Player Relations Committee.

MacPhail lived to be 95 years and 14 days old. Among Hall of Famers, only Al Lopez (97 years, 71 days) was older at the time of his death.

Samantha Carr is a freelance writer from Rochester, N.Y.

In lieu of flowers, the MacPhail family is asking that donations in his memory be made to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.


More on Lee MacPhail