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Kenesaw Mountain Landis
Kenesaw Mountain Landis (November 20, 1866–November 25, 1944) was an Americanmarker jurist who served as a federal judge from 1905 to 1922, and subsequently as the first commissioner of organized baseball, including both the American and National leagues and the governing body of minor league baseball, the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues.

Personal life

Born in Millville, Ohiomarker, to Abraham Hoch Landis and Mary (Kumler) Landis. He grew up in Logansport, Indianamarker where, at the age of 17, he played on and managed the Logansport High School baseball team. He later dropped out of school to take a job at the courthouse in South Bend, Indianamarker. His name comes from a variant spelling of Kennesaw Mountainmarker in Georgiamarker, where his father, a physician, fought on the Union side and lost a leg during the American Civil War at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountainmarker. Two of his brothers, Charles Beary Landis (1858–1922) and Frederick Landis (1872–1934), served in the United States Congress.

Judicial career

He took pre-law courses at the University of Cincinnatimarker and obtained a law degree at Union Law School, now Northwestern Universitymarker, in Evanston, ILmarker. He graduated in 1891, and opened a law practice in Chicago. After being appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt to the bench of the Northern District of Illinoismarker in 1905, Landis dealt with several cases of historical significance during his career as a U.S. federal judge. In 1907, he presided over a Standard Oil antitrust trial fining them $29 million for accepting rail freight rebates, although the verdict was later set aside.

In 1918, he presided over the trial of over 100 members of the Industrial Workers of the World (including Big Bill Haywood) on the charge of violating (by hindering the draft) the Espionage Act of 1917. He also presided over the December 1918 trial of 5 prominent Socialist Party of America leaders, including Victor Berger, SPA Executive Secretary Adolph Germer, youth section leader William Kruse, and editor of the party's national newspaper J. Louis Engdahl. While Landis oversaw the convictions of many in these trials, imposing draconian verdicts, many of the verdicts were reversed on appeal or nullified by presidential pardon.

Landis was also instrumental in getting African-American heavyweight champion Jack Johnson banned from the sport by charging him with transporting a white woman over state lines for prostitution.

The end of Landis' judicial career overlapped his duties as baseball commissioner, a position he accepted in November 1920. Throughout 1921 Landis came under intense criticism for his moonlighting, and congressional members called for his impeachment. In February 1922, Landis resigned his position as a federal judge saying that, "There aren't enough hours in the day for me to handle the courtroom and the various other jobs I have taken on."

Baseball commissioner

While serving as a Federal judge, Landis, an ardent baseball fan, was selected as chairman of a new National Commission of baseball. The owners decided to appoint a commission made up entirely of non-baseball men to restore confidence in the sport following the 1919 Black Sox Scandal, perhaps the worst of a number of incidents that jeopardized the integrity of the game.

However, Landis declared that he would accept only an appointment as sole commissioner. He also demanded unlimited authority to act in the "best interests of baseball"--in essence, serving as an arbitrator whose decisions could not be appealed. The owners, still reeling from the perception that the sport was crooked, readily agreed.

Gambling

Landis' first act was to deal with the Black Sox scandal. He banned for life eight players suspected of involvement in the fix, including Buck Weaver and superstar Shoeless Joe Jackson.

Over the years, he dealt harshly with others proven to have thrown individual games, consorted with gamblers or engaged in actions that he felt tarnished the image of the game. Among the others he banned were New York Giants players Phil Douglas and Jimmy O'Connell, Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Gene Paulette, Giants coach Cozy Dolan, and (in 1943) Phillies owner William D. Cox. He also formalized the unofficial banishments of Hal Chase and Heinie Zimmerman. In 1921, he banned Giants center fielder Benny Kauff even though he had been acquitted of involvement in a car theft ring. Nonetheless, Landis was convinced Kauff was guilty and argued that players of "undesirable reputation and character" had no place in baseball.

A fiercely independent Commissioner's Office

The owners had hoped he would then settle into a comfortable retirement as the titular head of baseball. Instead, Landis ruled baseball with an iron hand for the next 25 years. He established a fiercely independent Commissioner's Office that would go on to often make both players and owners miserable with decisions that have been seen in hindsight as being in the best interests of the game. He worked to clean up the hooliganism that was tarnishing the reputation of players in the 1920s, and inserted his office into negotiations with players, where he deemed appropriate, to end a few of the labor practices of owners like Charles Comiskey that had contributed to the players' discontent. He also personally approved broadcasters for the World Series.

Landis' only significant rival in the early years was longtime American League founder and president Ban Johnson, who was as iron-willed as Landis. A clash between the two was inevitable, and it happened in the 1924 World Series. When several Giants were implicated in a plan to bribe players on the moribund Phillies late in the season, Johnson demanded that the Series be canceled, and loudly criticized Landis' handling of the affair. Landis threatened to resign. The American League owners promised to throw Johnson out of office if he stepped out of line again. Two years later, when Johnson criticized Landis' decision to give Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker an amnesty after it surfaced they had bet on a fixed game in 1919, Landis told the American League owners to choose between him and Johnson; the owners promptly sent Johnson on a sabbatical from which he never really returned.

The baseball color line

Landis perpetuated the color line and prolonged the segregation of organized baseball. His successor, Happy Chandler, said, "For twenty-four years Judge Landis wouldn't let a black man play. I had his records, and I read them, and for twenty-four years Landis consistently blocked any attempts to put blacks and whites together on a big league field." Bill Veeck claimed Landis prevented him from purchasing the Phillies when Landis learned of Veeck's plan to integrate the team. The signing of the first black ballplayer in the modern era, Jackie Robinson, came less than a year after Landis's death on Chandler's watch and was engineered by one of Landis's old nemeses, Branch Rickey. Eleven weeks after Robinson's debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Veeck became the first American League owner to break the color line.

Curbing the growth of minor league farm systems

Landis tried to curb the growth of minor league farm systems by innovators such as Rickey, in the name of protecting the lower levels of professional ball. Landis argued that because a parent club could unilaterally call up players from teams which were involved in pennant races, the organization was unfairly interfering with the minor competitions. His position was that the championship of each minor league was of no less importance than the championships of the major leagues, and that minor league fans and supporters had the right to see their teams competing as best they could. Yet he also prevented the formation of a powerful third major league when he stopped Pants Rowland from upgrading the Pacific Coast League in the 1940s.

One of the schemes he fought was the effort by major-league teams to "cover up" players they were hiding in their farm systems. The term, not used in formal communications by league or team officials, referred to players clandestinely signed by a major-league team to a minor-league contract. Occasionally one team would serendipitously find such a player in the off-season draft, as in this occasion recorded in the book Dodger Daze and Knights:

All the clubowners and managers, and Commissioner Landis, were assembled to conduct the draft.
One team representative said he "claim[s] Player [Paul] Richards of Brooklyn."


"You can't do that!" barked a surprised Wilbert Robinson, manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers.



"Why not?" asked Landis.



"Because Brooklyn has him covered up," sputtered Robbie.



Most of the others broke down laughing.

Even Landis smirked.

Legacy and honors

Whether his decisions were praised or criticized, he was satisfied with being respected and feared. Dubbed "the baseball tyrant" by journalists of the day, his rule was absolute. In the context of ensuring the integrity of the game itself, baseball historians generally regard him as the right man at the right time when appointed, but also as a man who perhaps held office too long.

He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Famemarker in 1944, in a special election held one month after his death, and the Most Valuable Player Award in each league is officially known as the Kenesaw Mountain Landis Award in his honor.

Landis' remains are interred in the Oak Woods Cemeterymarker in Chicago, Illinoismarker.

See also



In popular culture



References

Bibliography

  • Pietrusza, David, Judge and Jury: The Life and Times of Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, South Bend (IN): Diamond Communications, 1998.
  • Spink, J. G. Taylor, Judge Landis and Twenty-Five Years of Baseball, New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1947.


Notes

  1. MLB.com: History of the Game Doubleday to Present Day
  2. MLB.com: History of the Game Doubleday to Present Day
  3. ESPN.com: Johnson boxed, lived on own terms
  4. "Landis Quits Bench for Baseball Job; Boomed for Mayor"; New York Times, Feb. 18, 1922
  5. Bums: An Oral History of the Brooklyn Dodgers by Peter Golenbock


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