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The Commisioner Series: Happy Chandler

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  • The Commisioner Series: Happy Chandler

    Albert Benjamin "Happy" Chandler, Sr. (1898-1991)

    2nd commissioner of baseball.

    Tenure: (1945 - 1951)

    "Happy" Chandler was a career politician. He held the offices of State Senator, Lieutenant Governor, Governor and United States Senator. His biggest contribution as a politician was in the establishment of the University of Kentucky Medical Center that was later renamed in his honor. He had hoped to be elected as Franklin Roosevelt's Vice-President in 1944. Instead, he was elected to a higher office!

    As a senator, Chandler had advocated on behalf of baseball during the war, endearing him to the owners. With the war still raging, the owners were looking for someone who could help negotiate the ins and outs of Washington and ensure that baseballs interests would be firmly established. Surprisingly, Chandler was not on the initial short list of candidates voted on for Commissioner. When no one received the needed votes, an informal vote was taken of 3 candidates the owners felt were electable. Happy was listed on every ballot and the vote was finally formalized.

    Like his predecessor, Chandler remained at his previous job (US Senator) for a time. Unlike Kenesaw Landis, the owners were irritated that Chandler did not quit immediately! The press piled on because of Happy's demeanor, speech and his moving of the Commissioners office from Chicago to Cincinnati.

    Chandler's first year in office set a new standard that would forever change Major League Baseball. Branch Rickey wanted to break baseball's color barrier. Although the other 15 other clubs disapproved, Chandler welcomed the idea, and in October 1945, the Dodgers signed Jackie Robinson to a 1946 contract with their Montreal farm team in the International League. In 1947, Robinson became the first black player to play Major League Baseball.

    1946 was also the year the Mexican League tried to siphon players from MLB to Mexico. Chandler stepped in with word that any player making the jump would be banned from MLB for 5 years. Only 18 players took the plunge and a crisis was averted. Chandler maintained the commissioner's office as a position of authority. He was more evenly handed than Landis was though.

    Another decision that Chandler made was also to have lasting affects on MLB and earned him the moniker of the players commissioner. In 1947 Chandler created the player pension fund. He used the money from a three-year, $475,000 contract for radio rights to the World Series to establish the plan.A couple years later, he negotiated a 7-year, $4,370,000 contract with the Gillette Safety Razor Company and the Mutual Broadcasting System for radio rights to the World Series, with those proceeds going to the pension fund as well. Not finished, Chandler negotiated a 6-year, $6,000,000 contract with the same two companies for television rights to the World Series and All-Star Game. This money also went directly into the player pension fund. Taking money from the owners pockets to help players did not endear him to the men who hired him and led to much anger on the part of the owners.

    Other highlights of Chandler's term:

    He suspended Leo "the Lip" Durocher from baseball for 1 year due to his alleged association with gamblers.
    He worked towards getting the players a minimum salary.

    When Happy Chandler's contract came up for renewal, he asked the owners for a second term. Not happy with his decisions while in office, he failed to get the needed vote (in fact it was not even close), and he was sent packing. Not one to rest on his laurels, Happy Chandler became governor of Kentucky a few years later. He was involved in and around politics the remainder of his like.

    His tenure was far shorter than Kenesaw Mountain Landis but in my opinion, his impact was far greater.

    Happy was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1982. At the time of his death in 1991, he was the oldest living member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

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