We object to the inclusion of league executives in a Hall of Fame that should best honor on-field exploits, and we present this son of a Hall of Famer — half of the only such pair in the Hall — as Exhibit One.
The father, Leland Stanford “Larry” MacPhail Sr., brought creative (albeit alcohol-laced) thinking to the game, about which more later. Not so his son.
Lee MacPhail, the younger, is on much shakier ground. His entire Hall of Fame biography fits neatly into one unmemorably flat paragraph that even begins with his main credential:
Following in his father’s Hall of Fame footsteps, Lee MacPhail served as a front office executive for 45 years. As director of player personnel for the Yankees, MacPhail built one of the game’s strongest farm systems. During his tenure in New York, the Yankees won seven World Championships in 10 years. MacPhail also served as general manager of the Orioles before rejoining the Yankees. His admirable service as president of the American League preceded his final service role as president of the player relations committee.
So for simply fulfilling the inherited position of team executive in the largest and richest baseball market in the league, Lee gets into the Hall of Fame. His father’s coattails are plainly visible.
Consider Dad’s official Hall of Fame bio:
One of the game’s great innovators, Larry MacPhail introduced night baseball to the major leagues at Cincinnati’s Crosley Field in 1935. He laid the foundation for two Reds championship teams before moving on to win two pennants in the 1940s as the chief executive of the Dodgers and Yankees. MacPhail also originated plane travel for teams, championed the regular broadcasting of games and initiated pension plans. He and his son, Lee, form the first father-son tandem to be elected to the Hall of Fame.
Comparing the two résumés is like comparing a Dutch Old Master with a son who only learned finger painting. Larry was the consummate innovator and entrepreneur in the harsh business environment of the Great Depression; Lee sailed through the 1960s and ’70s before fading from baseball shortly after adjudicating the infamous Pine Tar Bat episode of 1983.
Larry’s innovations are still paying dividends to both fans and owners; it’s hard to name one original or daring thing done by Lee MacPhail.
The elder MacPhail was hardly a choir boy: In 1946, he helped write a report to team owners that said the hiring of black players would keep white fans away from ballparks; Ford Frick later claimed that Larry had tried to include a paragraph recommending integration, but most historians doubt the claim. In 1947, Larry was forced out as a Yankees owner the day after he engaged in an alcoholic screed and fisticuffs bout during the World Series victory celebration in the team locker room and later at the Biltmore Hotel. He was out of baseball only 14 years after joining the Cincinnati Reds.
On the Society for American Baseball Research web site, Ralph Berger lists a dozen career highlights of Larry MacPhail:
Lee’s list consists of, well, not much.
Interestingly, Larry was never league president nor baseball commissioner. All of his many accomplishments (and failings) came as a team executive with Cincinnati, Brooklyn and the New York Yankees. Lee achieved higher status as a league president, but accomplished virtually nothing lasting other than the reinstatement of George Brett’s tar-encrusted bat.
Neither MacPhail should be in the Hall because we think it unwise and unseemly for baseball writers to be lobbied by the very business executives they are supposed to be reporting about. In addition, executives can seem to be unduly influencing the Hall of Fame’s scholarly research of their own careers, compromising the museum’s credibility.
Lee is so obviously out-classed by his father that nepotism is the only explanation for his induction into the Hall of Fame. We accept Larry’s membership as a fait accompli, though we question the propriety of having any owners in the Hall of Fame.