Few executives had as profound an impact on the game as Larry MacPhail. In Cincinnati (1934-36) MacPhail introduced night baseball and commercial air travel to the majors. He laid the groundwork for the Reds’ 1939-40 pennant winners, and he departed in controversy before they won, a trademark of his career. He went to Brooklyn in 1938. In his first year, the franchise made money for the first time since 1920. MacPhail hired Babe Ruth as coach to generate interest and, anticipating Charlie Finley years later, brought the “stitched lemon,” a yellow baseball, to spring training.
MacPhail’s presence inaugurated the modern era of Brooklyn baseball. In the 38 years before MacPhail, the Dodgers had won three pennants; in the 20 years following his arrival they won seven and lost in playoffs two times after finishing tied for first. MacPhail also brought Red Barber with him from Cincinnati to introduce daily game broadcasts in New York, ending a gentleman’s agreement among the three local clubs not to do so.
In 1941, there was jubilation following the Dodgers’ clinching of their first pennant in 21 years. In the excitement, MacPhail was left on a platform at the 125th Street Station, expecting to board the team train to meet a jubilant crowd at Grand Central Station. Manager Leo Durocher had decided to skip the stop in an attempt to keep the players on board. A furious MacPhail fired Durocher on the spot, something he did numerous times, many of which he seemed not to remember later. According to Durocher, “There is a thin line between genius and insanity, and in Larry’s case it was sometimes so thin you could see him drifting back and forth.”
MacPhail began as a protege of Branch Rickey, and Rickey replaced him in Brooklyn when MacPhail went into the army in 1942. MacPhail was a veteran of WWI as well, and had been in a group of plotters who had nearly succeeded in kidnapping Kaiser Wilhelm.
After the war, MacPhail joined the Yankees, and he had three managers (Joe McCarthy, Bill Dickey, and Johnny Neun) quit on him in 1946. He also came close to arranging what would have been one of the biggest trades in ML history while drinking with Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey. The pair allegedly agreed to swap Ted Williams for Joe DiMaggio, but when they sobered up Yawkey asked for Yogi Berra as well, and the deal was nixed.
Following the Yankees’ victory over Rickey’s Dodgers in the exciting 1947 Series, MacPhail upstaged the clubhouse victory party by unleashing a barrage of insults, punching a writer, and announcing his resignation in a drunken stupor. Topping Webb bought him out the next day.
The innovative, tempestuous MacPhail started a family baseball tradition. His son Lee became president of the American League, and his grandson Andy was general manager of the 1987 World Champion Minnesota Twins.