Fair-minded MacPhail joins feisty father in Cooperstown

July 26, 1998|By JOHN STEADMAN

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Calm, collected, conservative, cooperative, all things his father wasn't. A marked contrast in styles and personalities. One strong-willed, a colorful extrovert, spoiling to fight with words or fists; and the other, his son, passive, reasonable and endeavoring to find a solution when disputes fermented.

Both made baseball their professional calling, and now, as of today, they're the first father-son tandem to be enrolled in the Hall of Fame. The MacPhails are special, their contributions extensive among the game's elite executives. Yet they were as different as any two men could ever be.

The characteristic they mutually possessed was an enormous measure of inherent intellect. Extraordinary gifts from God. Larry was president of three different major-league teams, the Cincinnati Reds, Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Yankees. He brought night baseball to the majors in 1935, recognized the need for players wearing batting helmets, introduced airplane travel for road trips and built a fashionable dining room in a ballpark.

But what a hell-raiser. Opinionated and never one to back away. Arguments and altercations fueled his machine. Sometimes firewater induced him to punch out employees and boardroom associates. During World War I, he helped form an unauthorized raiding party of U.S. soldiers who tried to capture Kaiser Wilhelm II from his castle of safety in Holland.

Larry made enemies; Lee made friends. MacPhail the elder entered the Hall of Fame after what was considered a long wait, mainly due to the battles he waged with Warren Giles, who was on the Hall of Fame selection committee.

Once, while visiting his Glen Angus Farm, in Bel Air, Md., Larry said he didn't want to go in the Hall of Fame under any circumstances. Suppose you're selected, we hypothesized. Will it be necessary they put you in leg irons and handcuffs to accept the honor?

"The Hall of Fame is for players, not executives," he stormed. "I'll turn it down." Then, when time passed and it seemed he was about to finally be designated for the role, we asked him if his attitude had changed.

Quickly, he grabbed us by the forearm, a slightly annoying MacPhail habit that anyone who knew him could attest to, and incredulously replied: "I'll do whatever you tell me to do." Imagine, if you will, Larry ever listening to anyone, much less a sportswriter.

As it evolved, the recognition came posthumously in 1978. Now, 20 years later, comes Lee MacPhail, gifted with the warm, human qualities his father unfortunately lacked. Things such as patience, restraint and a voice of reason in any and all circumstances. A gifted leader.

Lee, quite obviously, is the antithesis of his more famous, flamboyant father. He was general manager of the Orioles and New York Yankees, gave 10 years of himself to being a courageous and respected president of the American League and retired despite being implored by his colleagues to assume the commissionership of baseball.

The Hall of Fame welcomes him for his diversified abilities, fairness to one and all, management skills and contributions to the game. With the Orioles, he created the deal for Frank Robinson, which put the then-improving team in a mode to clinch pennants and qualify for the World Series. The trade was set and Harry Dalton, his successor, could either accept or reject the transaction. But MacPhail had made the agreement with Reds owner Bill DeWitt, and it was up to Dalton to take it or leave it.

MacPhail once dealt away Ron Hansen to the Chicago White Sox, and it appeared the Orioles had gotten the upper hand. Instead of MacPhail chortling or cackling, he simply said, "I'm glad it looks as if it's helping us, but if you think I'm rooting against as fine a boy as Ron Hansen, or hoping he has a bad year to justify my role, then that's just not the case."

No general manager in history had ever expressed himself with such sincere concern for a player he had sent away. The mark of a thoroughbred gentleman. Another time, he acquired the tempestuous Jim Gentile from the Los Angeles Dodgers for a free provisional look in training camp, and then, if the Orioles kept him, the price would be a mere $25,000. A steal of a deal.

Manager Paul Richards had heard too many stories about Gentile's explosive disposition to want him on the roster. But before camp began, Lee made a casual request to coach Eddie Robinson, later a general manager in Atlanta and Houston, to see if he could influence Richards to accept Gentile. He did, and Gentile set a bat bag of club hitting records.

Lee graduated from Swarthmore College and served in the Navy during World War II, but didn't try to capture Hitler. He would become player personnel director of the Yankees, signing young prospects and making trades, for a team that won seven World Series in 11 years. He was a friend and adviser to his boss, George Weiss, one of the most successful of all general managers.

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