He was the oldest Hall of Famer, and he died Thursday night at his home in Delray Beach, Fla., the shrine said Friday.
“There’s not much I haven’t done off the field other than commissioner,” he said during a 1985 interview with The Associated Press when he retired after 4 1/2 decades in the sport.
In the second generation of one of baseball’s most prominent families — his son, Andy, also was in the front office for several teams — MacPhail’s most well-known moment in baseball came in 1983. He upheld Kansas City’s protest in the Pine Tar Game against the New York Yankees, restoring a ninth-inning home run to Royals slugger George Brett — also a future Hall of Famer.
“Lee MacPhail was one of the great executives in baseball history and a Hall of Famer in every sense, both personally and professionally,” Commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement. “His hallmarks were dignity, common sense and humility. He was not only a remarkable league executive but was a true baseball man.”
With MacPhail’s death, Bobby Doerr at 94 becomes the oldest living Hall of Famer.
“Baseball history has lost a great figure in Lee MacPhail, whose significant impact on the game spanned five decades,” Hall chairman Jane Forbes Clark said. “He will always be remembered in Cooperstown as a man of exemplary kindness and a man who always looked after the best interests of the game.”
Lee MacPhail was the son of Larry MacPhail, a top executive with the Cincinnati Reds, Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Yankees.
“Over his lifetime in baseball, Lee made many significant contributions that helped to make the game what it is today,” former players’ union head Don Fehr said.
Born Leland Stanford MacPhail Jr. in Nashville, Tenn., on Oct. 25, 1917, McPhail was general manager at minor league Reading, went on to work for the Yankees in 1949 and spent a decade as farm director and player personnel director, with players he developed winning seven World Series titles.
He moved to the Baltimore Orioles as general manager in 1959 and six years later returned to New York as chief administrative assistant for new baseball Commissioner Spike Eckert. He returned to the Yankees as general manager from 1967-73 and left after George Steinbrenner bought the team to become the American League president in 1974.
A member of management’s labor negotiating team along with NL President Chub Feeney during the 1981 midseason strike, he also led the American League when it added the designated hitter for the 1973 season and expanded to Seattle and Toronto for 1977.
After he stepped down as league president following the 1983 season, he served two years as president of the owners’ Player Relations Committee, overseeing bargaining during a two-day strike in 1985. He was elected to the Hall as an executive in 1998, 20 years after his father.
In the famed Pine Tar case, MacPhail overruled plate umpire Tim McClelland and crew chief Joe Brinkman and restored a home run to Brett.
After Yankees manager Billy Martin argued that Brett’s bat had excessive pine tar when he hit a two-run, ninth-inning homer at Yankees Stadium on July 24, McClelland had called Brett out, the final out in a 4-3 New York victory.
Brett stormed out of the dugout, eyes bulging, in one of baseball’s most replayed arguments. Four days later, MacPhail upheld a protest for the first time as league president, said the home run counted and ordered the game to continue from that point. When the game was completed Aug. 18, the Royals held on to win 5-4.
While the pine tar extended more than 18 inches past the handle, the limit set by baseball’s rules, MacPhail said taking away the home run was improper.
“The umpires’ interpretation, while technically defensible, is not in accord with the intent or spirit of the rules and that the rules do not provide that a hitter be called out for excessive use of pine tar. The rules provide instead that the bat be removed from the game,” he wrote. “Although manager Martin and his staff should be commended for their alertness, it is the strong conviction of the league that games should be won and lost on the playing field — not through technicalities of the rules.”
He retired at the end of that season.
His son, Andy, became GM of the Minnesota Twins, president of the Chicago Cubs and president of baseball operations of the Orioles. From the next generation, Andy MacPhail IV worked for the Cleveland Indians and is a scout for the Orioles.
The Hall said no services are planned, and a memorial will be held later.