" Colonel MacPhail," I said, "so now we have you out of baseball. You go from Columbus back to join your father and brother in the banking and investment business in Grand Rapids, Mich. Then the Central Trust Company of Cincinnati is forced to foreclose on Mr. Sidney Weil, the owner of the Cincinnati Reds. The bank finds itself in the baseball business and desperately needs an experienced baseball man to take over. Feelers are put out to Branch Rickey to see if he is interested. He is not but he recommends you and you get the job."
"Nothing of the kind," roared MacPhail. " Rickey had nothing to do with it. I was hired by the board of directors and approved as a member of the National League by a unanimous vote, with Mr. Breadon of St. Louis casting the first vote in my favor. Furthermore, Judge Landis was called on the telephone by Mr. John Heydler, president of the National League, and asked if there would be any objection to me for any reason whatsoever. Judge Landis replied that he considered Mr. MacPhail capable of filling any job with any major league ball club from bat boy to president!"
I held up my notebook. "I read now from the minutes of that National League meeting which voted on your acceptance as a league member. Mr. Rickey is asked, with special reference to your tenure at Columbus, to make a statement about your qualifications for the Cincinnati thing, to say if there is any reason why you should not have it. Mr. Rickey says, in part, and I quote: 'My opinion is that Mr. MacPhail is a man who will benefit the league in Cincinnati tremendously. Now, whether that answers your question or not, I do not know, but I am ready to make that statement very forcibly—apart from minor criticisms, to which we are all subject, that come from impulsive natures at times. ... I am referring to little things. It might be that he would be too trusting. For example, to put a concrete case before you, Larry MacPhail would be very trusting, let us say, to a friend of his, a newspaperman, John Jones, and he has him out to dinner tonight, and he casually observes a certain thing, makes a certain observation about something he proposes to do, let us say. He tells him that in confidence, as a statement in confidence, to be respected as such. From the standpoint of your own practical experience in baseball, that would have been a subject that MacPhail perhaps should not have told that man, but he did it, trustingly, and then the first thing he knows, something comes out of nowhere. I have known other baseball men in their early days to make the same mistake, if you can call it a mistake.' "
I looked up at MacPhail. "What was Mr. Rickey driving at there?"
MacPhail threw up his hands. "How the hell do I know? You tell me." I stood up. MacPhail pushed me and I sat down. "Go listen to some of Casey Stengel's doubletalk and ask him what he's driving at."
MacPhail peered out the porthole. "Where the devil are we? I'd better go take a look at the chart. I think we've passed Fairlee Creek."
He went up to the bridge.
I picked up my notebook. I pondered the case of Rickey vs. MacPhail. The key to the long-standing feud between these two giants (who had done more to change the face of baseball than any other two men or two hundred men ever connected with the game) was not to be found, it seemed to me, in the resolving of such basically simple questions as to whether Rickey helped MacPhail get his jobs at Cincinnati and Brooklyn. As a matter of fact, I had checked on that. Conroy, the Cincinnati banker, a warm friend and admirer of both Rickey and MacPhail, had told me that Rickey did indeed recommend MacPhail for the job with the Reds. On the other hand, James Mulvey, director of the Brooklyn Dodgers, had told me that it was Ford Frick, not Rickey, who recommended MacPhail at Brooklyn.
The record was further complicated by the fact that Rickey and MacPhail had more or less cordial dealings in player trades when MacPhail was at Cincinnati and Brooklyn. MacPhail hired Rickey's son, Branch Jr., to help run the Brooklyn farm system. Did Rickey tell MacPhail to make Leo Durocher manager of the Dodgers in 1939 or was it John McDonald, the traveling secretary, who claimed credit for the idea? Again, James Mulvey supported MacPhail. "Larry," he said, "knew all about Durocher's potential as a manager. He didn't need Rickey's advice on that and he certainly wasn't depending on his traveling secretary for counsel about anything so vital."
There were two incidents, either of which might have been enough to cause the breach between the two men to widen beyond hope of repair.