SI Vault
Gerald Holland
August 24, 1959
A day at Glenangus reveals more of the many-sided character of Larry MacPhail
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August 24, 1959

Horses, Carrots And Pimlico

A day at Glenangus reveals more of the many-sided character of Larry MacPhail

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Hastily reading from my notes as I hurried along after MacPhail, I saw that (according to press reports) Yancey Christmas, testifying to the manner of MacPhail's entrance into the Bowie clubhouse and his ringing denunciation of a group of fellow horsemen on a matter of purse values, had told the members of the racing commission that MacPhail "acted like a drunken man." When Christmas was asked about the language MacPhail used, Yancey requested that the doors of the hearing room be closed. Alan T. Clarke, meanwhile, had testified that MacPhail called him a liar, and he added, "I would have socked him if it hadn't been for his condition." Springing to MacPhail's defense, Morris Shapiro, Baltimore horseman, who was another eye-and-ear witness, said that MacPhail seemed "perfectly all right" to him, "the same as always," and "strictly business."

The time had clearly come, at last, to hear about that day at Bowie.

When we were settled in the box, MacPhail said, "I wasn't any more intoxicated that day than I am right now. I had had a couple of Martinis, that's all. I don't deny I have had more than I could handle on some occasions in my life, but this wasn't one of them."

"Now," I said, pressing my advantage, "all this had nothing to do with what happened later as you were leaving the track?"

"No," said MacPhail. "What happened there was that traffic was beginning to get snarled up and these cops were sitting on an embankment doing nothing about it. I got out of the car and yelled over to them to get up off their big fat fannies and do something about the traffic. One of them came over and got a little belligerent. We exchanged some words and then he grabbed me and got a hammerlock on me and I gave him the knee. He fell down and then another cop rushed over and the two of them jumped me together and got handcuffs on me and arrested me and took me off to the station at Hyattsville."

"You were released on bail," I said, "but you didn't appear in court to answer the charges. You forfeited the $250 bail."

"I didn't want to take a chance on a frame-up," said MacPhail.

For his conduct on that memorable afternoon, the Maryland Racing Commission barred MacPhail from even entering the Bowie premises despite the fact that he had organized (with Donald Lillis) the syndicate that purchased the track and as president had been responsible for $2 million worth of improvements in the plant. If his former colleagues expected the barring of MacPhail from the track to chasten him, they could not have been more wrong. He sued, alleging breach of contract, won and collected a judgment of $99,971.10. A short time after that he broke into the headlines again as co-chairman of a $100-a-plate dinner for the benefit of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. "If Baltimore will support this dinner," MacPhail declared as loudly as ever he bellowed in the Bowie clubhouse or at the cops in the traffic jam outside, "we will guarantee to see that the symphony stays in the future."

Suddenly, back in the box at Pimlico, MacPhail was bellowing again. His horse, Royal Voyage, was coming down the stretch, coming from far back in a great spurt to win by a head. A little later in the afternoon, MacPhail's Aberdeen won handily in the sixth race. It was MacPhail's day.

I put my notebook away. I had a note to ask MacPhail how he happened to say of Branch Rickey, "There but for the grace of God goes God." But a discussion of the classic feud between two of baseball's most colorful figures, I felt, could wait for a more auspicious time—say, the cruise we were scheduled to take on MacPhail's boat over the weekend.

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