The game of baseball didn’t decide they needed a commissioner until 1921 after the Black Sox Scandal. The owners set out to hire the first commissioner They determined the job description with the authority to protect “the best interests of baseball” and decide he/she would have the authority to:
- investigate and punish acts detrimental to the game
- resolve interleague disputes
- handle serious labor/management disputes
- enforce the five documents governing the game (the Major League Agreement, the Major League Rules, the Major-Minor League Agreement, the Major-Minor League rules, and the National Association Rules)
Now they would set out to find their man. The search the country and find Kenesaw Mountain Landis who was a judge in Illinois. He was making $7500 as a federal judge. He accepted the job and ruled baseball as a czar with clean power to clean up baseball and get a handle on the Black Sox Scandal. He ruled with impunity.
Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis
The first commissioner of baseball, Judge Landis, would turn out to be a great choice to save the game. At age 54, he was hired and given a salary for seven years for $50,000. He, in turn, took it for $42,500 because he would serve one more year as a Federal judge. Later, during the depression, he would get a $65,000 contract but sliced his salary during the Depression to $40,000.
One thing was clear, Landis admitted to the fact that he knew very little about baseball but he could make a tough decision based on facts. He knew that the Black Sox Scandal was an issue that baseball needed to address and close for the integrity of the game. He gathered the facts and even though a court of law found an acquittal of all parties, he issued lifetime bans for eight players. Five were starters that were banned from even buying a ticket to a major league game. One of those players was well known as Shoeless Joe Jackson that hit .356 in his lifetime. Landis had his record expunged from baseball.
Judge Landis acted swift in most cases and failed to use his executive committee for recommendations. He just made decisions that caught the ire of many in baseball. On time, Landis got tired of hearing baseball executives complain about his job so he attended a meeting with his contract and told them he would tear it up and they could do without him. The owners respected him and wanted him to remain as commissioner of baseball.
Probably the most admired player of the time, Babe Ruth, decided to not buck the commissioner after being suspended for days in 1922 due to a violation of the barnstorming clause of baseball. Landis held their $3000 World Series bonus until they served their suspension. Landis flashed his power when an umpire deemed a game was too dark to continue and Landis ruled that all matters regarding a postponement had to be approved by the commissioner. In 1934, he ordered Cardinals outfielder Joe Medwick off the field during the World Series after things were thrown at him. The fans continued to toss items onto the field and the commissioner made the Tigers forfeit the game.
During World War II, he ordered all teams to play spring training close to their home to cooperate with wartime travel. In 1944, he had Dizzy Dean removed from broadcasting for fear he was to “clownish and immature” for the national audience. Players loved him as he was able to get them some new contracts with more money. He made grown men shake in their boots when he had to make a decision that was related to their livelihood.
How Landis Got His Name
Dr. Abraham Landis was a civil war surgeon that suffered a leg would on June 27, 1864. The doctor prayed that if his leg was spared he would name his son for the beautiful spot he was lying in. He was injured in the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain in Georgia. He healed properly and his wife had a son born on November 20, 1866, and was named Kenesaw Mountain Landis (he removed one “n” from the name).
Before He was Commissioner of Baseball
How Landis Was Considered for the Job
Landis made national headlines as a judge in 1907 when he fined the Standard Oil Company $29 million for a freight rebate case. Players first heard of the judge in 1915 when he withheld an opinion on the antitrust lawsuit resulting from the collapse of the Federal League.
Landis Said Farm Systems were Slavery
The Chicago Cubs did not develop a minor league system out of respect for Landis who stated that it was nothing more than slavery. The Cubs just bought players from other minor league clubs.
Landis Hugs Player
During the 1931 World Series, Commissioner Landis embraced Cardinals star Pepper Martin and told him he would like to change places with him. Martin, never to miss a beat, retorted that he would do it if they also traded salaries. Martin made $4500 and Landis was receiving $65,000.
Part 2 Happy Chandler