Larry MacPhail

Larry MacPhail
Larry MacPhail took over the floundering
Brooklyn franchise in the late 1930s.
In 1941, the club won its first pennant
since 1920.

Leo Durocher once said about Larry MacPhail: “There is no ­question in my mind but that Larry was a genius. There is a thin line between genius and insanity, and in Larry’s case it was sometimes so thin that you could see him drifting back and forth.”

Leland Stanford MacPhail (1890-1975) was born in Cass City, Michigan. He was an athlete as well as a scholar, and he received his law degree at age 20. By age 24, he was the president of a department store in Nashville, Tennessee. MacPhail led a group of officers into Holland after the World War I Armistice was signed in a nearly successful attempt to kidnap Kaiser Wilhelm. MacPhail kept the Kaiser’s ashtray on his desk as a reminder of the attempt.

Larry bought the declining Columbus, Ohio, franchise in the American Association in 1930. It took him three years to revive it. In 1934, he became general manager of the nearly bankrupt Cincinnati Reds. He introduced night baseball and air travel to the major leagues, and he also built the foundations of pennant winners in 1939 and 1940.

MacPhail moved to the Dodger organization by 1938 before he could enjoy the fruits of his success with the Reds. He and Durocher won a pennant in 1941. In addition, Larry put lights in Ebbets Field and brought in Red Barber to broadcast Dodger games -- breaking an informal agreement among the three New York ballclubs.

Larry developed a reputation as a slick trader and a power. When Kenesaw Mountain Landis died in 1944, MacPhail used his considerable clout to have Happy Chandler named the new commissioner. MacPhail served in World War II, and when he got out he became part owner of the New York Yankees, with a 10-year contract to run the team. As president and general manager he helped build what would become the most successful team in baseball history.

A big, hard-drinking man, MacPhail almost made an alcohol-induced trade with Boston owner Tom Yawkey -- Joe DiMaggio for Ted Williams one-for-one. Sober, neither had the nerve to go through with the deal. Larry installed lights in The House Ruth Built, and the Yankees won the World Series in 1947. His celebration of the event included a drunken brawl that prompted his partners to buy him out and fire him.

Larry’s son Lee became American League President, and his grandson, Andy, served as general manager of the Twins and president of the Cubs. MacPhail was named to the Hall of Fame in 1978.

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