MC History Spotlight: From Scottville to professional baseball — the McPhail family.

April 11, 2019

Larry MacPhail

MC History Spotlight: From Scottville to professional baseball — the McPhail family.

MC History Spotlight is a weekly history column brought to you by Ludington Woods Living and Memory Care. Each week this column features a story from our county’s past.

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

For generations, Mason County athletes have competed at McPhail Field in Scottville. The field, located on the south side of US 10 at the western city limits, was a gift to the city by Curtis W. and Catherine A. McPhail on Sept. 28, 1925. The field serves as a symbol to Scottville’s connection to professional baseball and also a symbol that people who grow up in a small town have just as much potential and opportunities as those who grow up in an urban environment. 

CW and Catherine McPhail

C.W. McPhail’s deed restriction to the property was that it be used as a park “and for no other purpose; except that such a portion as is necessary for an athletic field may be enclosed for such purpose.”

The deed restriction was lifted, 14 years after C.W.’s death, in an April 1953 quit claim deed, executed by the Fountain Street Baptist Church of Grand Rapids, which had acted as a residuary beneficiary under the will of C.W. McPhail. In C.W.’s will, he left $5,000 to the City of Scottville to make improvements to the field.

The McPhail family’s time in Scottville was limited, but the family left a legacy locally and nationally, which included ownership in professional baseball teams.

C.W. McPhail worked in the banking industry and started several banks before he founded the State Savings Bank of Scottville in 1898 (see related story). That bank is now known as West Shore Bank. McPhail ultimately started 20 small banks throughout Michigan.

C.W. was born on Oct. 13, 1865 in Almer, located in Tuscola County. He was the son of Harriet (Sherman) and William McPhail. His early personal adult life was struck with tragedy. In 1879, he married Matilda Purvis. In 1880, their first son, Herman Ward McPhail, was born. Herman lived to the age of 64, dying in 1944. C.W. and Matilda’s second child, daughter Nina, was born in April 1882 and died later that year in October. Their second son, Glen, was born in February 1886 and died in February 1886. From family records, it appears that Matilda died while giving birth to Glen.

Lee MacPhail

In 1888, C.W. married Catherine McMurtrie. Their only child, Leland “Larry” Stanford MacPhail, was born in February 3, 1890. At the time, they lived in Cass City. Larry’s involvement and influence in professional baseball would extend into four generations.

On June 30, 1898, C.W. McPhail formed the State Savings Bank of Scottville. On July 25, 1898, the first board of directors meeting was held in Detroit. Board members included C.W. and Catherine along with H.G. Flint and his wife M.A. Historical documents show that C.W. and Catherine lived in Scottville for several years. Larry graduated from Scottville High School. They later moved to Ludington and then eventually to Grand Rapids.

Catherine died Sept. 30, 1931 in Grand Rapids. C.W. died May 10, 1939 in Grand Rapids.

After graduating from high school in 1907, (historical documents are conflicting if Larry attended Scottville High School or Ludington High School) Larry attended George Washington University Law School and received a law degree. After college he worked at a Chicago law firm then was an executive at a Nashville, Tenn. department store. During World War I, he was in the U.S. Army and served as an artillery captain in France and Belgium. He had received a reprimand for his involvement in the unsanctioned attempt to arrest exiled German Kaiser Wilhelm II in order to bring the leader to the Paris Peace Conference to be tried for war crimes.

He acquired the name Larry when he was officiating Big Ten football games and was listed in a program as Lawrence. His friends shortened it to Larry and it stuck.

Larry opened a law office in Columbus, Ohio after the war and purchased interest in the Columbus Red Birds, a minor league affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals. In 1933, he became the chief executive and general manger of the Cincinnati Reds. In 1938, he became vice president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers. For a year prior to that, he worked with C.W. in an investment business. Larry was promoted to president of the Dodgers in 1939.

Larry ended his baseball career following the 1947 World Series when he apparently got into confrontations during the team’s post-game celebrations at Yankee Stadium and later in Manhattan.

Later in life, Larry MacPhail owned a 400 acre farm, called Glenangus, near Bel Air, Maryland where he owned and bred thoroughbred horses. He died in a Miami nursing home on Oct. 1, 1975. In a 1975 Ludington Daily News column, written by George Wilson shortly after Larry’s death, George recalled meeting Larry MacPhail in 1965 when he came to Scottville to meet with Matt Urka and talk about some changes to McPhail Field. Wilson also explained, with the assistance of local historian and school teacher June Newkirk, that Larry had changed the spelling of the family name from McPhail to MacPhail. This little piece of trivia has actually caused much debates locally since the official name of the field is McPhail Field, but most professional baseball fans know the name by the other spelling. The deed to the land does spell the name McPhail.

Though Larry MacPhail ended his professional baseball management career in 1947, the family’s involvement in the sport continued. His son Lee MacPhail served as president and general manager of the Baltimore Orioles, general manager of the New York Yankees, and president of the American Baseball League. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998, making him and Larry the only father-son inductees (Larry was inducted in 1978). Larry’s son Bill MacPhail was president of CBS Sports and later president of CNN Sports.

Lee’s son Andy MacPhail has been the president of baseball operations for the Philadelphia Phillies since 2015. He has also served as general manager for the Minnesota Twins and Chicago Cubs and president of the Baltimore Orioles.

Two great-grandsons of Larry MacPhail also work in professional baseball. Lee MacPhail IV is a scout for the New York Mets and Drew MacPhail works for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The legacy of the MacPhail family is also carried on with the Larry MacPhail Award which recognizes the top promotional effort by a minor league team.

Ludington Woods Assisted Living and Memory Care, 502 N. Sherman St., Ludington, MI 49431; 231-845-6100; www.ludingtonwoods.com.

This story is copyrighted © 2019, all rights reserved by Media Group 31, LLC, PO Box 21, Scottville, MI 49454. No portion of this story or images may be reproduced in any way, including print or broadcast, without expressed written consent.

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