Kenesaw Mountain Landis


Kenesaw Mountain Landis : biography

November 20, 1866 – November 25, 1944

Ruth had asked Yankees general manager Ed Barrow for permission to barnstorm. Barrow had no objection but warned Ruth he must obtain Landis’s consent. Landis biographer Spink, who was at the time the editor of The Sporting News, stated, "I can say that Ruth knew exactly what he was doing when he defied Landis in October, 1921. He was willing to back his own popularity and well-known drawing powers against the Judge." Ruth, to the commissioner’s irritation, did not contact Landis until October 15, one day before the first exhibition. When the two spoke by telephone, Landis ordered Ruth to attend a meeting with him; Ruth refused, stating that he had to leave for Buffalo for the first game. Landis angrily refused consent for Ruth to barnstorm, and after slamming down the receiver, is recorded as saying, "Who the hell does that big ape think he is? That blankety-blank! If he goes on that trip it will be one of the sorriest things he has ever done." By one account, Yankees co-owner Colonel Tillinghast Huston attempted to dissuade Ruth as he departed, only to be told by the ballplayer, "Aw, tell the old guy to jump in a lake."

The tour also featured fellow Yankees Bob Meusel and Bill Piercy (who had been called up late in the season and was ineligible for the World Series) as well as Tom Sheehan, who had been sent to the minor leagues before the end of the season. Two other Yankees, Carl Mays and Wally Schang, had been scheduled to join the tour, but given Landis’s position, according to Spink, "wisely decided to pass it up". Spink describes the tour as "a fiasco." On Landis’s orders, it was barred from all major and minor league ballparks. In addition, it was plagued by poor weather, and was called off in late October. In early December, Landis suspended Ruth, Piercy, and Meusel until May 20, 1922. Yankee management was actually relieved; they had feared Landis would suspend Ruth for the season or even longer. Both the Yankees and Ruth repeatedly asked Landis for the players’ early reinstatement, which was refused, and when Landis visited the Yankees during spring training in New Orleans, he lectured Ruth for two hours on the value of obeying authority. "He sure can talk", noted Ruth.

When Ruth returned on May 20, he batted 0-for-4, and was booed by the crowd at the Polo Grounds. According to Pietrusza, "Always a politician, there was one boss Landis did fear: public opinion. He had no guarantee at the start of the Ruth controversy that the public and press would back him as he assumed unprecedented powers over baseball. Now, he knew they would.

Policies as commissioner

Major-minor league relations; development of the farm system

At the start of Landis’s commissionership, the minor league teams were for the most part autonomous of the major leagues; in fact the minor leagues independently chose to accept Landis’s rule. To ensure players did not become mired in the minor leagues without a chance to earn their way out, major league teams were able to draft players who played two consecutive years with the same minor league team. Several minor leagues were not subject to the draft; Landis fought for the inclusion of these leagues, feeling that the non-draft leagues could prevent players from advancing as they became more skilled. By 1924, he had succeeded, as the International League, the final holdout, accepted the draft.

By the mid-1920s, major league clubs were beginning to develop "farm systems", that is, minor league teams owned or controlled by them, at which they could develop young prospects without the risk of the players being acquired by major league rivals. The pioneer in this development was Branch Rickey, who then ran the St. Louis Cardinals. As the 1921 National Agreement among the major and minor leagues which implemented Landis’s hiring lifted a ban on major league teams owning minor league ones, Landis was limited in his avenues of attack on Rickey’s schemes. Developing talent at little cost thanks to Rickey, the Cardinals dominated the National League, winning nine league titles in the years from 1926 to 1946.