Kenesaw Mountain Landis


Kenesaw Mountain Landis : biography

November 20, 1866 – November 25, 1944

Two other player gambling affairs marked Landis’s early years as commissioner. In 1922, Giants pitcher Phil Douglas, embittered at McGraw for disciplining him for heavy drinking, wrote a letter to Cardinals outfielder Leslie Mann, suggesting that he would take a bribe to ensure the Giants did not win the pennant. Although Mann had been a friend, the outfielder neither smoked nor drank and had long been associated with the YMCA movement; according to baseball historian Lee Allen, Douglas might as well have sent the letter to Landis himself. Mann immediately turned over the letter to his manager, Branch Rickey, who ordered Mann to contact Landis at once. The Giants placed Douglas on the ineligible list, an action backed by Landis after meeting with the pitcher. On September 27, 1924, Giants outfielder Jimmy O’Connell offered Phillies shortstop Heinie Sand $500 if Sand didn’t "bear down too hard against us today". Sand was initially inclined to let the matter pass, but recalling the fate of Weaver and other Black Sox players, told his manager, Art Fletcher. Fletcher met with Heydler, who contacted Landis. O’Connell did not deny the bribe attempt, and was placed on the ineligible list.

In total, Landis banned eighteen players from the game. Landis biographer Pietrusza details the effect of Landis’s stand against gambling:

Before 1920 if one player approached another player to throw a contest, there was a very good chance he would not be informed upon. Now, there was an excellent chance he would be turned in. No honest player wanted to meet the same fate as Buck Weaver … Without the forbidding example of Buck Weaver to haunt them, it is unlikely Mann and Sand would have snitched on their fellow players. After Landis’ unforgiving treatment of the popular and basically honest Weaver they dared not to. And once prospectively crooked players knew that honest players would no longer shield them, the scandals stopped.

Ruth-Meusel barnstorming incident

At the time of Landis’s appointment as commissioner, it was common for professional baseball players to supplement their pay by participating in postseason "barnstorming" tours, playing on teams which would visit smaller cities and towns to play games for which admission would be charged. Since 1911, however, players on the two World Series teams had been barred from barnstorming. The rule had been indifferently enforced—in 1916, several members of the champion Red Sox, including pitcher George Herman "Babe" Ruth had barnstormed and had been fined a token $100 each by the National Commission.

Ruth, who after the 1919 season had been sold to the Yankees, and who by then had mostly abandoned his pitching role for the outfield, was the focus of considerable fan interest as he broke batting records in 1920 and 1921, some by huge margins. Ruth’s major league record 29 home runs with the Red Sox in 1919 fell to his own efforts in 1920, when he hit 54. He then proceeded to hit 59 in 1921, leading the Yankees to their first pennant. Eight major league teams failed to hit as many home runs in 1921 as Ruth hit by himself. The Yankees lost the 1921 World Series to the Giants (Ruth was injured and missed several games) and after the series, the outfielder proposed to capitalize on fan interest by leading a team of barnstormers, including Yankees teammate Bob Meusel, in violation of the rule. According to Cottrell,

[T]he two men clashed who helped the national pastime overcome the Black Sox scandal, one through his seemingly iron will, the other thanks to his magical bat. Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis and Babe Ruth battled over the right of a ballplayer from a pennant-winning squad to barnstorm in the off-season. Also involved was the commissioner’s continued determination to display, as he had through his banishment of the Black Sox, that he had established the boundaries for organized baseball. These boundaries, Landis intended to demonstrate, applied even to the sport’s most popular and greatest star. Significant too, only Babe Ruth now contended with Commissioner Landis for the title of baseball’s most important figure.