June 6 – Happy Birthday Torby MacDonald

220px-Torbert_MacdonaldHe was Captain of the Harvard football team, held that school’s record in the 220 yard dash for forty years and was a member of the Crimson Football Hall of Fame. He commanded a PT boat in the Pacific during World War II and won a Silver Star for bravery. He was elected a Massachusetts Congressman in 1954 and during the Cuban Missle Crisis in 1961, he was called to the White House to help his best friend, President John Kennedy deal with the crisis. Was there anything he wasn’t good at? Well according to former Amsterdam Rugmaker business manager Spencer Fitzgerald, Torbert “Torby” MacDonald had real trouble catching high fly balls, especially at night under the lights when he played in the outfield for the Class C Yankee affiliate back during the summers of 1940 and ’41. MacDonald’s Rugmaker manager, Eddie Sawyer concurred and even suggested that his Ivy League outfielder should have probably worn a helmet in the outfield because of his inability to track high fly balls. I came across both these observations about MacDonald in Amsterdam native David Pietrusza’s excellent book “Baseball’s Canadian-American League,”

MacDonald’s amazing life story began on June 6, 1916 when he was born in Everett, Massachusetts. He grew up in a middle class family. An outstanding student athlete, he was able to get himself into an exclusive prep school and then Harvard, where he roomed and played football with the future President, beginning an incredibly close friendship that would continue until Kennedy was gunned down in Dallas. He was an usher at Kennedy’s wedding, served as the Godfather at John Kennedy Jr.’s baptism and was an honorary pallbearer at the President’s funeral.

After his WWII service in the Navy, Macdonald returned to Harvard and got his law degree, got deeply involved in labor relations law and Democratic Party politics. He won election to the US House of Representatives in 1954 and served until January of 1976. During a portion of his time in Congress he served as Democratic Whip. Two major pieces of legislation he championed were the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 and the “sports blackout bill” which forced professional team owners in every sport to televise games that were sold out. He was stricken with a fatal stroke in 1976.

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