Lee MacPhail, the former president of the American League and general manager of the Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees, died Thursday night at his home in Delray Beach, Florida. He was 95 years old.
The Hall of Fame, of which MacPhail was the oldest member, announced his death.
Chairman of the Board Jane Forbes Clark wrote:
“Baseball history has lost a great figure in Lee MacPhail, whose significant impact on the game spanned five decades. 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 held nearly every executive position in baseball except commissioner. Four generations of MacPhail men have been involved in sports in some capacity. He and his father, Larry, are the only father and son to both be in the Hall of Fame, and the elder MacPhail was a front office executive with the Yankees, Cincinnati Reds, and Brooklyn Dodgers. Lee MacPhail was enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 1998, 20 years after his father had been inducted.
His late brother, Bill, was president of CBS Sports and CNN Sports. His son, Andy, was general manager of the Minnesota Twins from 1986 to 1994 and president of the Chicago Cubs from 1994 to 2006. He was also the president of baseball operations for the Orioles from 2007 to 2011. His grandson, Lee MacPhail IV, is currently a scout for the Orioles.
MacPhail is probably best known for being at the center of the pine-tar dispute of July 1983. In a game between the Kansas City Royals and the Yankees at Yankee Stadium, umpires disallowed a go-ahead home run by the Royals’ George Brett with two out in the ninth inning. The umpires said Brett had too much pine tar on his bat.
Pine tar is applied to the handles of baseball bats to improve the batter’s grip. It also prevents the ball from slipping out of the batter’s hand. The MLB has a rule that pine tar can only extend 18 inches from the handle, and Brett’s bat had more than the allowed amount. MacPhail, who was president of the AL at the time, overruled the umpires’ decision, saying the tar restriction was about economics not competitive advantage.
In his 1989 autobiography, My 9 Innings, Lee MacPhail described leaving the ballpark to go home after a game. He wrote:
“When I came out after a game, there were a gang of kids waiting to get the players’ autographs, and especially in my younger days I would be mobbed. Someone at the back of the group would yell, ‘Who is it?’ and then one of the kids who had gotten my autograph would exclaim in disgust, ‘Oh, he’s nobody.’ But you couldn’t not sign; they wouldn’t believe it if you tried to tell them you were nobody.”