The Foundation recognizes Lee MacPhail Jr. as this week’s honoree. He served in the United States Navy during World War II, sacrificing two years of his professional baseball career.
MacPhail graduated from Swarthmore College in 1939 and was eager to start a career in baseball. His father, Larry MacPhail, was a highly regarded baseball executive so it seemed obvious to Lee that he would follow in his dad’s footsteps, creating his own legacy in baseball. His father surprisingly had other ideas and recommended that Lee work in an industry outside of baseball for a year.
The following year, his father, who was the President of the Brooklyn Dodgers, decided to offer Lee a position as the business manager of the Dodgers’ Club. He was responsible for creating schedules, coordinating transportation, supervising the staff, and conducting press conferences. He later became the General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, an unaffiliated team in the International League.
In 1944, Lee served in the United States Navy and was accepted into the Navy V7 Officer’s Program. His entrance had been delayed about a year, but he was finally sworn in on May 25, 1944. Although he did not see combat, he did serve two years on the USS Turner, a radar picket ship. He returned home in April 1946.
When he returned from the Navy, his father provided him with another job at the Kansas City Blues of the American Association, which was the Yankees farm club. He went on to work for several different organizations throughout his career, becoming the Director of Player Personnel, as well as the Executive Vice President and General Manager for the New York Yankees, the General Manager for the Baltimore Orioles, and the President of the American League from 1974 to 1983. During this time, he was involved in the negotiations in an agreement over free agency, as well as the settlement during the work stoppage of 1981, establishing cooperation between the two leagues. Despite his placid demeanor, Lee was probably best remembered for the pine tar incident involving George Brett in 1983. An umpire disallowed his home run because of too much pine tar on his bat. MacPhail overruled the umpire’s decision and said that the home run would stand citing the “spirit of the game”, despite what the major league rules stated.
MacPhail was well known in baseball for his personality and mannerisms. He made an effort to visit museums and symphonies in each city that he visited and enjoyed learning about the Presidents of the United States by reading their biographies. He was gifted with a calm attitude, sound judgment, and was very knowledgeable in all aspects of baseball.
MacPhail was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998, joining his father who had been elected in 1979, being the only father and son members.
MacPhail demonstrated his dedication to serve his country during World War II and left behind an impactful legacy through his miliary service and corporate baseball career.