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The Commiisioner Series: Kenesaw Mountain Landis

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  • The Commiisioner Series: Kenesaw Mountain Landis

    Kenesaw Mountian Landis (1866-1944)

    1st commissioner of baseball.

    Tenure: (Nov. 1920 - Nov. 1944)

    Prior to assuming the role of baseballs first commissioner, Landis was a Federal Judge of the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, a position he held from 1905-1922. In fact, when he became baseballs 1st commish, critics immediately called for his resignation and there was even a move afoot to have him impeached. The cries for his departure increased when he made some controversial decisions as a judge. Once the furor calmed down he resigned at such a time that it would appear he ended things on his own terms.

    Baseball had been run by a 3-man National Commission made up of the AL and NL presidents and the Cincinnatti Reds owner, Garry Herrmann. When Herrmann left office (at the owners nudge...I mean request) some owners wanted a single man in charge of MLB. The Lasker plan called for another leadership triad made up of those outside of MLB. After a series of owners votes and meetings, the plan was whittled to a one man commissioner with Judge Landis being selected as that man. (In a side note, when the owners approached him, he was trying a case and gaveled them to silence, making them wait 45 minutes.) Landis accepted the post on the condition that he kept his job as a judge, have full autonomy as commissioner, and that his baseball salary ($50,000) be reduced by the amount he received as a judge ($7,500).

    Landis came in as a result of the Black Sox scandal and having studied the history of the game as a judge when he heard the Federal Leagues case against MLB, Landis decided to crack down hard. In early 1921 he was quoted as saying, "Now that I am in baseball, just watch the game I play. If I catch any crook in baseball, the rest of his life is going to be a pretty hot one. I'll go to any means and to anything possible to see that he gets a real penalty for his offense."

    Landis did not care what the courts decided, he was a judge, jury and executioner unto himself. Landis banned all 8 White Sox players accused or suspected to be involved in the Black Sox scandal, despite the courts acquittal. Landis regularly dropped the ban-hammer. New York Giants outfielder Benny Kauf was banned for theft and receiving stolen property; Giants pitcher Phil Douglas for suggesting he would leave the club to make the Giants lose the pennant; Giants rookie Jimmy O'Connell and coach Cozy Dolan for attempting to bribe an opposing player; and William D. Cox, president of the Philadelphia Phillies, for betting on ball games. Landis was a bit hypocritical in his approach though. When Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker suddenly retired it came out that the two were coerced into retirement because of allegations of game-fixing brought about by Dutch Leonard.

    Leonard claimed proof existed in letters written to him by Cobb. Landis held a series of secret hearings with Cobb and Speaker. When word go out, even more hearings were held but when Leonard refused to show for the new set of hearings, Cobb and speaker were cleared of wrongdoing. Landis had banned players for less than what he acquitted Cobb and Speaker for.

    The no-nonsense approach that Landis took in regards to gambling did help clean up the game and make people feel integrity had been restored. In addition to that, Landis also barred Babe Ruth and Bob Meusel of the New York Yankees from the first 40 games of the 1922 season for barnstorming without permission following the 1921 Wold Series.

    Let's look at some other choices ol' Judge Landis made:

    He fought for all minor league teams to be included int he major league draft so no players could be stuck in the minors.
    He cracked down on teams by having them declare their "interests (which teams they owned)" in minor league teams so as to avoid hiding players from the draft.
    He forcefully, secretly or by sheer acts of ignorance (depending on the source) hindered the integration of baseball.
    He sought to discourage night baseball, was heavily involved in tweaking the World Series and was a huge proponent of the All-Star game and the HoF.

    Despite his forceful and aggressive approach, Landis did clean up the game. His rulings on gambling became part of the baseball rules book. These were the only worthy actions he took as commissioner, though he went to far in his bans and was very selective.

    He was in declining health his last 9 years in office. Despite this, the owners voted him a new 7-year contract. he died 8 days later.

    Kenesaw Mountain Landis was enshrined in the hall of Fame by a special committee vote in Dec. of 1944.

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