One of the great innovators in baseball history, Larry MacPhail introduced such standards as night baseball, airplane travel, pension plans and batting helmets. He was also a flamboyant-yet-brilliant executive who significantly improved the fortunes of three separate major league franchises.
In 1930, MacPhail was a lawyer, department store owner and World War I veteran when he bought a share of a minor league baseball team in Columbus, Ohio, and incorporated it into Hall of Fame executive Branch Rickey’s burgeoning farm system. Though the team was struggling financially, MacPhail built a new stadium and installed a set of floodlights. He also introduced special ticket packages for women and children.
In 1934, MacPhail was hired to be general manager for the struggling Cincinnati Reds franchise. That season, MacPhail made the Reds the first team to fly in an airplane to their road games. MacPhail also brought his crowd-pleasing tactics with him to the Queen City, installing floodlights atop Crosley Field and drawing more than 20,000 fans for Major League Baseball’s first night game on May 24, 1935.
“Day baseball is now dead for all practical purposes,” MacPhail said. “Sooner or later, the game will be played in its entirety at night, and as I've said before, then baseball will be squarely in the amusement, the entertainment business along with wrestling, midget car racing and the trotting tracks.”
MacPhail left the Reds in 1937 and worked as a banker until the following season, when he was asked by the Brooklyn Trust Company to bail out the cash-strapped Dodgers. MacPhail spun his magic once again in Brooklyn, increasing attendance by introducing night games at Ebbets Field and hiring the legendary Babe Ruth as a coach.
In 1939, MacPhail introduced regular radio broadcasts to Dodgers games and hired future Ford C. Frick Award winner Red Barber as the team’s play-by-play announcer. The following season, MacPhail developed some of the earliest protective batting helmets after Dodgers outfielder Joe Medwick was struck in the head by a pitch.
MacPhail saw his Dodgers win their first pennant in more than two decades in 1941 before enlisting to assist the U.S. War Department in World War II. In 1945, MacPhail returned to baseball as team president of the New York Yankees.
During his tenure with the Yankees, MacPhail chaired an owners committee that implemented unprecedented benefits for players, including a minimum salary of $5,000, a pension plan, a Spring Training allowance and formal representation on a council with owners and league presidents. He would guide the Yankees to a World Series title in 1947 before resigning from the team.
After leaving baseball, MacPhail raised cattle and operated a horse racing track. Even in retirement, MacPhail suggested the adoption of divisional play and the addition of second teams to New York and Los Angeles.
MacPhail passed away on Oct. 1, 1975. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1978.