SI Vault
Gerald Holland
August 17, 1959
He has been called a busher, a brawler, a bully, a flop; an incomparable leader, a showman without peer, the purest genius of the sporting scene. Here begins the story—and the stories
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
August 17, 1959

Who In The World But Larry?

He has been called a busher, a brawler, a bully, a flop; an incomparable leader, a showman without peer, the purest genius of the sporting scene. Here begins the story—and the stories

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

MacPhail became interested in Maryland through his longtime friend, Alfred Vanderbilt. He purchased the first 400 of his present 1,000 acres in 1941 when he was president of the Dodgers. The war interrupted his plans for developing the property, but in 1945 he imported 30 cows and a bull from Scotland and purchased three brood mares from Vanderbilt and began operations in earnest.

I reached down and took a cigarette out of a silver box on a coffee table between two long, curving sofas. I lit the cigarette and glanced around for an ashtray, and then I recalled that there was supposed to be a very special ashtray in this house. I didn't see it anywhere and so I walked over to the door leading into the library. I looked in and there it was sitting on a table behind MacPhail's desk: a heavy brass tray with a dog's head built into it. I remembered the story behind it: after the Armistice, at the end of World War I, some American soldiers, hearing that Germany's Kaiser had fled to Holland, decided to raid his castle hideout there, kidnap the old man and turn him over to Allied authorities with the recommendation that he be strung up. The jolly kidnaping party, made resolute by great quantities of French wine, was headed by Colonel Luke Lea of Nashville. In the forefront of the eight conspirators was MacPhail, who succeeded in penetrating to within earshot of Kaiser Bill before the alarm went up and the Dutch army guards came running to the scene. MacPhail had to flee with the others, but he alone had presence of mind to swipe a memento of the occasion—the ashtray that now rested on his library table.

I walked back into the living room and sat down on the sofa before the picture window. In a moment MacPhail came in from the kitchen and sat down on the sofa across from me. "Now then," he said, "about the Yankees. Let's go back a little way. When I was still in the Army in 1944, Mr. John Hertz of California called me and said he would lend me $3 million to buy the ball club. We went along and organized a syndicate that included Mr. Hertz, Mr. Robert Lehman and Mr. Floyd Odium and others and were all set to take over the club when the Surrogate refused to approve the purchase on behalf of the heirs of Colonel Jake Ruppert without a public hearing. That seemed to finish it, but later on I was called back by the executors of the Ruppert estate and told that the club could be purchased if the syndicate would increase the price offered by $500,000, bringing it to $2,800,000. I said I was sure that could be arranged and, after Lehman Brothers, the Wall Street investment house, had vouched for my financial responsibility, the deal was set. But then I found that Mr. Hertz, whom I was unable to contact directly, apparently had lost interest. This left me in the position of having, for all practical purposes, purchased the New York Yankees personally. Of course, I was confident that I could either revive the old syndicate or form a new one. The first person I contacted was Alfred Vanderbilt. But he was afraid his racing connections might bring some objections from Judge Landis, baseball commissioner.

"Now, just at that time, I happened to run into Dan Topping at '21,' the restaurant in New York. Dan had told me if I ever had the opportunity to buy a major league ball club he'd like to come in with me. So, going up in the elevator, I said, 'Dan, I've just bought the New York Yankees. Would you like to come in on the deal?'

"Dan said he certainly would, and he suggested that he and I buy the club together. I said I wasn't prepared to go in that deep. We had to raise approximately $3 million. I said I knew I could get a mortgage of a million and a half on the Stadium, and that would leave $1,500,000 to be raised. I said I didn't want to commit myself for more than a third of that. So Topping said he thought he could get his friend, Del Webb, the Arizona contractor, to come in for a third. As it turned out, Webb was agreeable and, instead of getting a mortgage on the Stadium, I got a straight loan of $1,500,000 for 12 years. Incidentally, I paid that off in 17 months."

Mrs. MacPhail came into the room and asked if she could bring us something to drink. I said I'd have a Coke and MacPhail said he'd have a No-Cal ginger ale. It was not his usual or his favorite drink, but he rarely takes anything stronger after dinner.

When Mrs. MacPhail had served our drinks, MacPhail held up his glass and looked at it. "When I was a kid in Michigan," he said, "I used to play ball with a town team on Sunday. Of course, I'd go to church first. Played the church organ, as a matter of fact. I remember one Sunday, after church, I was sneaking out the front door in my baseball uniform and my father called out to me from the parlor. 'Son,' he said, 'if you must play ball on a Sunday, I'd advise you to go out the back way so the neighbors won't see you.' I turned around and started for the kitchen, but then my mother called out to me. 'Son,' she said, 'if you must play baseball on Sunday, at least have the courage of your convictions. Go out the front way and make no apologies to anybody.' There was nothing hypocritical about my mother. Or my father, either. He just had a banker's caution."

He took a sip from his glass and set it down carefully on the table. "Now, I am a hypocrite about some things," he said. "For instance, I think hard liquor is a curse. I should contribute generously to the war chest of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union." He picked up the glass again and looked at it. "But," he said, "I do not contribute at all."

He grinned and returned to the subject of the New York Yankees.

"Jumping ahead now to 1947. By that time the Yankees had increased enormously in value. We had drawn approximately 2,300,000—a new record in baseball. The old Yankees—even with Ruth and Gehrig—had bettered a million in only one year. We had done a lot to improve the Stadium. We had almost completely rebuilt it, we had rescaled the seats to provide more boxes, we had put in the Stadium Club, new clubhouses, a new press room, new rest rooms and, I think, the first decent dressing room the umpires had ever had.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8