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
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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

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The inscription on the tray read: "To Larry MacPhail, the greatest executive in baseball, whose zealous efforts were the greatest factor in our 19-game winning streak and the winning of the American League pennant and world championship in 1947. From his Yankees." Reproduced on the tray were the signatures of the 37 players and coaches.

This affectionate testimonial and the violently contrasting newspaper headlines about the manner of MacPhail's leave-taking of the Yankees fit into a theme of point and counterpoint that runs through all that has been written and said about MacPhail. I had heard it expressed in talks I had with a dozen or so of MacPhail's former associates. What all of them had said about the paradox of MacPhail was reflected in what James Mulvey, one of the directors of the Brooklyn Dodgers when MacPhail was brought in to head up the floundering ball club, had said at lunch a few days before.

"If MacPhail came to me tomorrow," said Mulvey, "with a proposition he had dreamed up, I'd be tempted to chuck everything and go in with him. [Mulvey is with Samuel Goldwyn Productions.] I'd just like to be around him, to watch him work. MacPhail can make a success of anything he puts his mind to. If I went in with him I wouldn't want any written agreement. MacPhail's word would be good enough for me because, above everything else and despite all the controversies his redheaded temperament has got him into, MacPhail has integrity. And integrity is what he is always looking for in other people. Baseball misses MacPhail. It certainly could use him today."

I walked into the living room and said to MacPhail, "A year or so ago you said unlimited night baseball—which you introduced at Cincinnati—was going to kill the day game. Does it still look that way?"

"Day baseball," said MacPhail, "is now dead for all practical purposes. Sooner or later the game will be played in its entirety at night and, as I've said before, then baseball will be squarely in the amusement, the entertainment business along with wrestling, midget auto racing and the trotting tracks. But the big tragedy in baseball is that the amateur spirit has gone out of it to a large extent. Now you may say, how can you have an amateur spirit in professional sport? Well, I'll tell you. It's been done just a few miles from here, in Baltimore. The men who brought the Baltimore Colts back in professional football have that amateur spirit. They're in the game, primarily, because they're sportsmen, they love the game, and as a result the whole promotion down there has got heart in it. It's taken Baltimore by storm."

He jumped to his feet and threw out his arms, raising his voice.

"I went up to New York last year to see the Giants play the Colts in that terrific game. Now I've seen lots of great sporting events in Yankee Stadium, the World Series, world championship fights, the Army-Notre Dame game, but never—never in my life—have I witnessed anything like that Giants-Colts game. Why, the whole town of Baltimore would have been there if the people could have got tickets. I never saw such spirit or heard as much noise in all my experience. A fellow asked me at that game, 'Larry, did you ever think you'd see such interest and enthusiasm in professional football?' I said no, I didn't think it possible, and I was never so wrong about anything in my life! Now, I owned a third interest in a major league football team, but I sold it and I was wrong, dead wrong."

He sank down on the sofa.

"That's what's missing in baseball today," he went on. "That's what's basically wrong with the game. It's too commercialized, there are too many ball clubs owned by breweries or contractors and by other people whose major interest is in the advertising value or the publicity or the contacts the ownership of a ball club gives them. I remember running into Ty Cobb one time, and I said, 'Ty, why have you lost interest in the game?' And Ty said, 'Larry, the old home-town spirit is gone. It just doesn't exist any more.' "

"What's going to happen?"

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