Kenesaw Mountain Landis


Kenesaw Mountain Landis : biography

November 20, 1866 – November 25, 1944

The criminal trial of the Black Sox indictees began in early July 1921. Despite what Robert C. Cottrell, in his book on the scandal, terms "the mysterious loss of evidence," the prosecution was determined to pursue the case, demanding five-year prison terms for the ballplayers for defrauding the public by throwing the World Series. On August 2, 1921, the jury returned not guilty verdicts against all defendants, leading to happy pandemonium in the courtroom, joined by the courtroom bailiffs, with even the trial judge, Hugo Friend, looking visibly pleased. The players and jury then repaired to an Italian restaurant and partied well into the night.

The jubilation proved short-lived. On August 3, Landis issued a statement:

Regardless of the verdict of juries, no player that throws a ball game; no player that undertakes or promises to throw a ball game; no player that sits in a conference with a bunch of crooked players and gamblers where the ways and means of throwing ball games are planned and discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever play professional baseball. Of course, I don’t know that any of these men will apply for reinstatement, but if they do, the above are at least a few of the rules that will be enforced. Just keep in mind that, regardless of the verdict of juries, baseball is competent to protect itself against crooks, both inside and outside the game.

According to ESPN columnist Rob Neyer, "with that single decision, Landis might have done more for the sport than anyone else, ever. Certainly, Landis never did anything more important." According to Carney, "The public amputation of the eight Sox was seen as the only acceptable cure." Over the years of Landis’s commissionership, a number of the players applied for reinstatement to the game, notably Jackson and Weaver. Jackson, raised in rural South Carolina and with limited education, was said to have been drawn unwillingly into the conspiracy, while Weaver, though admitting his presence at the meetings, stated that he took no money. Both men stated that their play on the field, and their batting percentages during the series (.375 for Jackson, .324 for Weaver) indicated that they did not help to throw the series. None was ever reinstated, with Landis telling a group of Weaver supporters that his presence at the meetings with the gamblers was sufficient to bar him. Even today, long after the deaths of all three men, efforts are periodically made to reinstate Jackson (which would make him eligible for possible election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame) and Weaver (deemed by some the least culpable of the eight). In the 1990s, a petition drive to reinstate Jackson drew 60,000 signatures, he has been treated sympathetically in movies such as Eight Men Out and Field of Dreams, and Hall of Famers Ted Williams and Bob Feller expressed their support for Jackson’s induction into the Hall. Landis’ expulsion of the eight men remains in force.

Cracking down on gambling

Landis felt that the Black Sox scandal had been initiated by people involved in horse racing, and stated that "by God, as long as I have anything to do with this game, they’ll never get another hold on it." In 1921, his first season as commissioner, New York Giants owner Charles Stoneham and manager John McGraw purchased Oriental Park Racetrack in Havana, Cuba. Landis insisted that they could be involved in baseball or horse racing, but not both. They sold the track.

Even before the Black Sox scandal had been resolved, Commissioner Landis acted to clean up other gambling cases. Eugene Paulette, a first baseman for the Philadelphia Phillies, had been with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1919, and had met with gamblers. It is uncertain if any games were fixed, but Paulette had written a letter naming two other Cardinals who might be open to throwing games. The letter had fallen into the hands of Phillies President William F. Baker, who had taken no action until Landis’s appointment, then turned the letter over to him. Paulette met with Landis once, denying any wrongdoing, then refused further meetings. Landis placed him on the ineligible list in March 1921. In November 1921, Landis banned former St. Louis Browns player Joe Gedeon. The player had been released by the Browns after admitting to sitting in on meetings with gamblers who were trying to raise the money to bribe the Black Sox, and a minor league official asked if he was eligible. Landis settled the matter by placing Gedeon on the ineligible list.