Kenesaw Mountain Landis


Kenesaw Mountain Landis : biography

November 20, 1866 – November 25, 1944

Landis’s documented actions on race are inconsistent. In 1938, Yankee Jake Powell was interviewed by a Chicago radio station, and when asked what he did in the offseason, stated that he was a police officer in southern Illinois "and I get a lot of pleasure beating up niggers and then throwing them in jail". Landis suspended Powell for ten days. In June 1942, the Negro League Kansas City Monarchs played several games against the white "Dizzy Dean All-Stars" at major league ballparks, attracting large crowds. After three games, all won by the Monarchs, Landis ordered a fourth canceled, on the ground that the games were outdrawing major league contests. On one occasion, Landis intervened in Negro League affairs, though he had no jurisdiction to do so. The Crawfords lost a game to a white semi-pro team when their star catcher, Josh Gibson dropped a pop fly, and Gibson was accused of throwing the game at the behest of gamblers. Landis summoned the black catcher to his office, interviewed him, and announced Gibson was cleared of wrongdoing.

In July 1942, Dodger manager Leo Durocher charged that there was a "grapevine understanding" keeping blacks out of baseball. He was summoned to Landis’s Chicago office, and after emerging from a meeting with the commissioner, alleged that he had been misquoted. Landis then addressed the press, and stated,"

Negroes are not barred from organized baseball by the commissioner and never have been in the 21 years I have served. There is no rule in organized baseball prohibiting their participation and never has been to my knowledge. If Durocher, or if any other manager, or all of them, want to sign one, or twenty-five Negro players, it is all right with me. That is the business of the managers and the club owners. The business of the commissioner is to interpret the rules of baseball, and to enforce them.

In his 1961 memoir, Veeck as in Wreck, longtime baseball executive and owner Bill Veeck told of his plan, in 1942, to buy the Phillies and stock the team with Negro League stars. Veeck wrote that he told Landis, who reacted with shock, and soon moved to block the purchase. In his book, Veeck placed some of the blame on National League President Ford Frick, but later reserved blame exclusively for Landis, whom he accused of racism, stating in a subsequent interview, "[a]fter all, a man who is named Kenesaw Mountain was not born and raised in the state of Maine." However, when Veeck was asked for proof of his allegations against Landis, he stated, "I have no proof of that. I can only surmise." According to baseball historian David Jordan, "Veeck, nothing if not a storyteller, seems to have added these embellishments, sticking in some guys in black hats, simply to juice up his tale."

In November 1943, Landis agreed after some persuasion that black sportswriter Sam Lacy should make a case for integration of organized baseball before the owners’ annual meeting. Instead of Lacy attending the meeting, actor Paul Robeson did. Robeson, though a noted black actor and advocate of civil rights, was a controversial figure due to his affiliation with the Communist Party. The owners heard Robeson out, but at Landis’s suggestion, did not ask him any questions or begin any discussion with him.

Neyer noted that "Landis has been blamed for delaying the integration of the major leagues, but the truth is that the owners didn’t want black players in the majors any more than Landis did. And it’s not likely that, even if Landis hadn’t died in 1944, he could have prevented Branch Rickey from bringing Jackie Robinson to the National League in 1947." C.C. Johnson Spink, son of Landis biographer J.G. Taylor Spink and his successor as editor of The Sporting News, noted in the introduction to the reissue of his father’s biography of Landis,

K.M. Landis was quite human and not infallible. If, for example, he did drag his feet at erasing baseball’s color line, he was grievously wrong, but then so were many others of his post-Civil War generation.