One of the things many Yankee fans loved about George Steinbrenner was his “win now at any cost” philosophy of running his baseball team. The Boss not only hated losing, it made him angry, vindictive and often times irrational. In fact, it was the irrational version of Steinbrenner who went nuts after the Yankees got beat by the Royals in the 1980 playoffs and almost ruined his organization. Ten years later he had been suspended for trying to entrap Dave Winfield out of his contract, fired two future Manager of the Year winners, traded away all of his team’s prospects, left his minor league system in a shambles and the Yankee team he had engineered was finishing at the bottom of its division.
Two men are frequently credited with rebuilding the Yankee dynasty in the early nineties, GM Gene Michael and today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant. Brian Sabean was a high school baseball player from New Hampshire who played his collegiate ball in Florida and then became a highly regarded and very young college baseball coach. He got the head coaching job at the University of Tampa in 1984 and led the school to its first-ever NCAA tournament appearance. His success caught the attention of one of Tampa’s most famous snow birds, George Steinbrenner and Sabean soon accepted a job as a Yankee scout.
That began a quick rise through the Yankee organization. Sabean was named Director of Scouting in 1986 and was then promoted to New York’s VP of Player Development and Scouting in 1990. It was the duo of Sabean and Michael that drafted or signed Andy Pettitte, Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, JT Snow, Mo Rivera and Jorge Posada and reconstructed the Yankee minor league organization into one of the best in the game.
Sabean’s most celebrated signing was a fire-balling high school phee-nom from North Carolina named Brien Taylor. Represented by a soon-to-be super agent named Scott Boras, Taylor was the first overall pick (by NY) in the 1991 MLB Draft. With Steinbrenner still on suspension, the Yanks were trying to sign the teen-aged southpaw for somewhere near a half-million dollars which was about a million less than Boras was demanding. Even though the Boss was “forbidden” to participate in the negotiations, he made a comment to the press that if the Yanks let Taylor get away “they should be shot.” The Yankee front office responded by quickly agreeing to a $1.55 million dollar deal. Taylor would of course never throw a pitch in the Bronx, after injuring his shoulder in a 1993 offseason fist fight.
As Steinbrenner was negotiating his return from suspension with the commissioner’s office, rumors in the press were rampant that he had ordered his henchmen to fire Michael as the team’s GM and replace him with Sabean. If that indeed was the plan, the Yankees waited too long to execute it because Sabean accepted a job as a Senior VP with the Giants in 1992. He then took over as San Francisco’s GM in 1997 and with that team’s World Series wins in 2010 and 2012, is now considered one of baseball’s best general managers. If he had been a bit more patient, perhaps, just perhaps, the Brian currently serving as Yankee GM might have a different last name.
Larry MacPhail Sr. was anything but an ordinary guy. The son of a prominent banker, Larry attended private schools, went on to get his law degree and then enlisted in the army to fight WWI as an artillery captain. As the armistice was being negotiated, he accompanied his commanding officer on an unsanctioned and unsuccessful mission to kidnap the Kaiser. After the war, he practiced law, ran a department store and became part owner of a minor league baseball team. That team was affiliated with the St Louis Cardinals and through that affiliation, Larry developed a working relationship with the Cardinal’s chief executive, the legendary Branch Rickey. A few years later, the Cincinnati Reds were looking for a new GM and Rickey recommended MacPhail for the job and the game of baseball was never the same. MacPhail was an innovator. He introduced night baseball, air travel and television to the sport and for good measure, he gave the game Red Barber. After leaving the Reds he became GM of the Dodgers and turned a very bad Brooklyn team into a pennant winner within two seasons. Then in 1945, he was brought into a partnership by Dan Topping and Del Webb that purchased the New York Yankees from the estate of Jacob Rupert. Neither Webb or Topping knew anything about running a baseball team and after witnessing MacPhail’s success with Brooklyn, they figured he was the right guy to make baseball decisions.
The problem with MacPhail was he loved the booze as much as he loved running a baseball team and he too often let the two mix. Yankee manager Joe McCarthy quit the team when MacPhail became its President and so did his successor, Bill Dickey. One night while drinking with Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey in Toots Shoor’s restaurant in Manhattan, MacPhail actually traded Joe DiMaggio for Ted Williams. When Yawkey sobered up the next morning, he called old Larry and nixed the deal. After both McCarthy and Dickey quit as Yankee skippers, MacPhail started courting Leo Durocher, who was being investigated by the Commissioner’s office for his association with known gamblers. It soon became clear to Webb and Topping that MacPhail was not a good fit. The situation came to a head after the Yankees beat the Dodgers in the 1947 World Series. MacPhail was already drunk before the final game ended. During a team celebration that followed at Manhattan’s Biltmore Hotel, the seriously inebriated executive insulted every one in his path including Topping. Author Roger Kahn later wrote that MacPhail was actually suffering a nervous breakdown during the event. Whatever the case, Topping and Webb quickly forced him out of the partnership. He never again ran a big league ball club.
MacPhail passed away in 1975 at the age of 85. Three years later he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. His son Lee was also a Yankee GM and joined his Dad in the Hall of Fame in 1998, becoming the only father-son tandem in Cooperstown. Larry Sr. shares his February 3rd birthday with this former Yankee pitcher, this one too and this one-time Yankee third-baseman.