George Weiss was not an easy guy to get along with. Even his wife agreed with that, once complaining after he was let go by the Yankees that she didn’t like having him at home too much. The reason George did not make friends easily could be summed up by his business philosophy, which was to never be satisfied with anything. He always felt things could be better and to him, better meant winning more world championships and becoming more profitable. That’s the philosophy he used when he designed and built the Yankee farm system during the thirties and forties and also exactly how he ran the organization when he was named General Manager of the parent club in January of 1948. Weiss managed every detail at every level of the Yankee organization, regardless how small and that usually meant saving or making every penny possible.
My favorite story about “Lonesome George” took place in 1957. Mickey Mantle had won the triple crown in 1956 and finished the ’57 season with a .365 batting average, 34 home runs and 94 RBIs. Weiss sent him a contract with a $17,000 pay cut. Mantle asked why. Weiss pointed out that Mantle had failed to repeat as triple crown winner. Weiss was GM of the Yankees from 1948 until 1961. During that time, New York won ten AL Pennants and seven Fall Classics. His greatest move as GM was hiring Casey Stengel. His biggest failure and the stain on his otherwise brilliant career was his refusal to sign black ballplayers.
Weiss shares his birthday with this Yankee catcher, who he traded to the White Sox for Eddie Lopat in 1948 . This one-time Yankee slugging prospect and this former Yankee pitching prospect were also born on June 23rd.
Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant is the only member of the Baseball Hall of Fame who’s father is also a member. Lee MacPhail’s dad Larry was one of baseball’s most legendary executives, running both the Cincinnati Reds and Brooklyn Dodger organizations before becoming a part owner of the Yankees in 1946. Lee had a much quieter demeanor than his hard-living and combative father and was generally considered one of the kindest and most liked executives in baseball during his career.
That career got its real start in 1949, when the younger MacPhail took over as director of the Yankees’ minor league system. That system had been built by geniuses like Ed Barrow and George Weiss, so there was a lot of pressure on the new guy to maintain its excellence as a breeding ground for future pennant winners. Many baseball people thought MacPhail had only got the job because of his last name, but he proved those detractors wrong by operating brilliantly in that capacity. New York’s farm system produced an unprecedented flow of quality big league players all throughout the decade of the 1950’s.
In 1959, MacPhail became General Manager of the Baltimore Orioles. When he left that job in 1965 to become an assistant to Baseball Commissioner, William Eckert, he left an Orioles’ team poised to win a World Championship in 1966 and a thriving minor league system that would keep the O’s near or at the top of the AL East standings for the next decade.
He returned to the Yankees in 1967 to take over as GM from Ralph Houk, who had returned to the dugout to skipper the team after Johnny Keane had failed miserably in that role. It was an unsuccessful era in the organization’s history, notable because for the first and only time in franchise history, the Yankees were owned by a corporation and not wealthy individuals. Suddenly the team’s performance was being judged by profits and loss instead of wins and losses, making MacPhail’s job especially difficult. He did however make progress. He traded for Sparky Lyle, drafted Thurman Munson, and negotiated the deals that brought both Graig Nettles and Lou Piniella to New York.
Things got hairy for MacPhail in New York when George Steinbrenner took over the team in 1973 and brought Gabe Paul with him. It soon became apparent to the beleaguered GM that neither “the Boss” or Paul respected his opinions on much of anything, so he got out of the Bronx when the getting was good and took over as AL President from the retiring Joe Cronin. He served in that capacity for the next decade and is credited for leading the negotiations that ended the 1981 Players strike. He also got some revenge on Steinbrenner, when he overruled the umpires decision to negate George Brett’s home run in the famous “Pine Tar” game between the Yankees and Royals in 1983.
MacPhail was selected to join his father in Cooperstown in 1998 and he lived to the age of 95, passing away at his home in Florida in November of 2012. He lived to see both his son Andy and grandson Lee MacPhail IV extend the family’s involvement in MLB front offices to a fourth generation.
Tal Smith applied for his first job in baseball in 1960, when he was 27-years-old. He interviewed for an open position in the front office of the Cincinnati Reds with Gabe Paul, who happened to be the team’s GM at the time. Paul did not hire him. He told Smith the reason was he did not know shorthand, but three months later the eager exec-wannabe returned having mastered the skill and an impressed Paul gave him a job. Thus began a long association and friendship between the two men.
Two years later, Paul was hired as GM of the newly formed Houston Colt 45s and again hired Smith to assist him. Though Paul remained in Texas for just a few short months before accepting the GM job in Cleveland, Smith stayed in Houston for over a decade, serving in a variety of front office positions and gaining a level of knowledge and experience that would make him one of the more respected executives in the game.
Before George Steinbrenner purchased the Yankees, he had been very close to purchasing the Indians and during the negotiation process, he had developed a fondness for Gabe Paul. When his offer for the Tribe was refused Steinbrenner called Paul and told him to keep his ears open for news of other big league owners that might want to sell. A few weeks later, Paul called “the Boss” and told him CBS wanted to dump the Yankees.
Though he had been promised the Presidency of the Yankees by Steinbrenner once the deal had been consummated, Paul did not completely trust the new owner. He therefore attempted to staff the Yankee front office with people he could trust and one of the first guys he brought to the Bronx as his de-facto GM in 1973 was Smith. The two men spent the next couple of years engineering a series of trades that brought the Yankees back to postseason play.
I had always thought that the reason Smith left New York to accept the GM’s position with Houston in August of 1975 was that he could not get along with the unpredictable Steinbrenner. As we learned later, Gabe Paul hated working for “the Boss” so I assumed his close friend Smith did as well. But years later, when Steinbrenner passed away, some of the most glowing tributes of him came from none other than Tal Smith. Still working in the Houston front office at the time, he spoke of the Yankee owner’s persistent and unpublicized generosity with all sorts of individuals and causes. The truth probably was that Smith loved the City of Houston, loved the Astros and didn’t at all mind removing himself from a job that had him answering to two egomaniacs in Steinbrenner and Paul.
He would remain associated with the Astros on and off for the next 35 years. He also became a sports industry entrepreneur. In 1981, he formed the Houston-based Tal Smith Enterprises, a firm which specialized in the preparation and presentation of salary arbitration cases. The company has done work for 26 different big league teams.
The only other member of the Yankee family born on this date is this one-time reliever.