Andy MacPhail likes to say that his father, Lee, never wanted to be "in the spotlight.'' Lee MacPhail, however, couldn't avoid it. And Lee MacPhail knew how to handle the attention.
MacPhail, 95, was the oldest living Hall of Famer at the time of his death on Thursday night, and along with his father, Larry, was half of the only father-son pairing in the Hall. Lee MacPhail is perhaps best known for his role in the infamous Pine Tar Game in 1983, involving the Kansas City Royals and New York Yankees. MacPhail, however, spent nearly half a century as a baseball executive and enjoyed success. In a 10-year term as farm director and player personnel director, he built the foundation for a New York Yankees team that won nine pennants and seven World Series championships during his 1949-58 tenure. In his role as general manager of the Baltimore Orioles, he laid the groundwork for the acquisition of Frank Robinson from Cincinnati in 1966. When Major League owners became concerned about their decision in 1965 to make Gen. William Eckert Commissioner, even though he hadn't even seen a baseball game in 10 years, it was MacPhail who got the call to serve as chief administrative assistant. "I was always at [Eckert's] side, and was generally described as the man who was there to show him where second base was,'' MacPhail would later say. MacPhail would eventually serve two five-year terms as President of the American League, where his ability as a leader was underscored with the behind-the-scene role he played in reaching a settlement to the 1981 players strike that wiped out 50 days of the season. MacPhail was one of the few Major League executives who had the respect of Marvin Miller, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association at the time of the strike. While Miller did not mention the 1981 negotiations, he did issue a statement in the wake of MacPhail's death, stating, "Lee was a good man, trustworthy and honest, and I had a decent relationship with him over the years. I offer my condolences to his son, Andy, and all his family and friends." No one event, however, brought more notoriety for MacPhail than the July 24, 1983, game between the Kansas City Royals and New York Yankees. George Brett hit a two-run home run in the top of the ninth inning to put the Royals up, 5-4. Yankee manager Billy Martin protested that Brett used an illegal bat, because the pine tar on it extended more than 18 inches from the handle. Home-plate umpire Tim McClelland agreed, and called Brett out, resulting in the ejection of Brett, Royals manager Dick Howser, and also Royals pitcher Gaylord Perry, who tried to sneak the bat away before the umpires confiscated it. The Royals appealed the ruling, and MacPhail ruled in their favor -- much to the chagrin of Martin and Yankees owner George Steinbrenner -- citing a Sept. 7, 1975, ruling which MacPhail upheld when umpires refused to call Royals first baseman John Mayberry out for excessive pine tar on his bat in a game against the Los Angeles Angels. The umpires said the intent of the rule was to keep pitchers from benefiting from having pine tar on the ball, not because of a benefit for the hitter. MacPhail ordered the game replayed from the point of Brett's home run until its conclusion. After efforts to stall by the Yankees, the Royals returned to Yankee Stadium on Aug. 18, 1983, a scheduled off day for both teams. With Hal McRae, who hit behind Brett, stepping to the plate, Yankee reliever George Frazier stepped off the mound, and threw to first to appeal that Brett missed first base, a ploy Martin designed knowing that the original umpiring crew was in Seattle working another series that day. First-base umpire Tim Welke ruled that Brett touched the bag. Frazier then stepped off the mound and threw to second base, appealing that Brett missed that base, but second base umpire Dave Phillips called Brett safe. When Martin raced out to argue, Phillips pulled a notarized affidavit out of his back pocket, signed by the four members of the original umpiring crew, declaring that Brett had touched each base as he circled the bases on his home-run jaunt. "Mr. MacPhail had been around long enough,'' Phillips later explained. "He knew Billy would have some angle, and Mr. MacPhail wanted to cover all the bases. Nothing got by Mr. MacPhail.'' MacPhail shunned the spotlight. He, however, was never left in the dark.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.