Lee MacPhail, former president of the American League and general manager of the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles, died Thursday night at his home in Delray Beach, Fla. He was 95 and had been the oldest member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame, in Cooperstown, N.Y., announced the death.
In a baseball career that spanned five decades, Mr. MacPhail held virtually every baseball executive position except commissioner. He and his father, Larry, are the only father and son in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and the MacPhail family now extends to four generations of baseball men.
Lee MacPhail was a calm presence, a conciliator, in contrast to Larry MacPhail, a combative executive who introduced night baseball to the major leagues in 1935 when he ran the Cincinnati Reds and later moved on to the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Yankees.
"My father shunned the attention and the spotlight," Lee MacPhail's son Andy, a third-generation baseball executive in the family, told The Palm Beach Post in 2008. "My grandfather enjoyed it."
Despite his placid demeanor, Lee MacPhail was probably best remembered for being at the center of a baseball storm: the pine-tar dispute of July 1983. In a game between the Yankees and the Kansas City Royals at Yankee Stadium, an umpire disallowed a go-ahead home run by George Brett of the Royals, ruling that Mr. Brett had too much pine tar on his bat.
Mr. MacPhail, who was AL president at the time, overruled the umpire, citing "the spirit of the rules," and determined that the home run could stand, even though George Brett's bat had indeed had too much pine tar on it under major league rules.
Mr. MacPhail's decision infuriated George Steinbrenner, the Yankees' principal owner and Mr. MacPhail's former boss. Steinbrenner fumed that if the ruling cost the Yankees their division race, Mr. MacPhail might consider going house-hunting in Kansas City. (The Yankees finished third in the AL East.)
Mr. MacPhail survived the tempest. That year he became the major league club owners' chief labor executive and in 1985 averted a second long players' strike. As a member of the management negotiating team while he was AL president in 1981, he had been instrumental in settling a 50-day work stoppage.
Leland Stanford MacPhail Jr. was born on Oct. 25, 1917, in Nashville, Tenn. He graduated from Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, where he played baseball and football. In 1941 he became the business manager of the Dodgers' Interstate League farm team in Reading.
Except for teaching history at Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and serving in the Navy during World War II, Mr. MacPhail said, "my whole working life was baseball."
Mr. MacPhail played a key role in building the Yankees teams that dominated baseball in the two decades after World War II.
He served as farm director and later director of player personnel and assistant general manager of the Yankees from 1949 to 1958, when their minor league system produced stars like Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Tony Kubek, Bobby Richardson and Bill Skowron.
Mr. MacPhail left the Yankees to become general manager of the Orioles in 1959. He developed a farm system in Baltimore that produced Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer, and he engineered the trade that brought Hall of Fame slugger Frank Robinson from the Reds after the 1965 season. The Orioles won their first pennant in 1966, then swept the Dodgers in the World Series. But Mr. MacPhail had left Baltimore by then, having become administrative aide to William D. Eckert, a retired Air Force general who, despite knowing little about the game, was named baseball commissioner.
"I was always with him and was generally described as 'the man who was there to show him where second base was,' " Mr. MacPhail recalled.
He returned to the Yankees in October 1966 as their general manager, hoping to rebuild a storied franchise that had fallen on hard times. But over the next six years, Mr. MacPhail was unable to bring another pennant to New York.
When Steinbrenner gained control of the franchise in January 1973, he quickly involved himself in baseball decisions, and at the end of the 1973 season, Mr. MacPhail left the team.
Mr. MacPhail became the AL president in 1974 with the retirement of Joe Cronin and served two five-year terms. He ran the player relations committee, management's labor relations arm, from 1983 to 1985, then retired from baseball.
He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1998.