Kenesaw Mountain Landis


Kenesaw Mountain Landis : biography

November 20, 1866 – November 25, 1944

Commissioner (1920–1944)


Black Sox scandal

By 1919, the influence of gamblers on baseball had been a problem for several years. Historian Paul Gardner wrote,

Baseball had for some time been living uneasily in the knowledge that bribes were being offered by gamblers, and that some players were accepting them. The players knew it was going on, and the owners knew it was going on. But more important, the players knew that the owners knew—and they knew the owners were doing nothing about it for fear of a scandal that might damage organized baseball. Under such conditions it quite obviously did not pay to be honest.

The 1919 World Series between the Chicago White Sox and Cincinnati Reds was much anticipated, as the nation attempted to return to normalcy in the postwar period. Baseball had seen a surge of popularity during the 1919 season, which set several attendance records. The powerful White Sox, with their superstar batter "Shoeless Joe" Jackson and star pitchers Eddie Cicotte and Claude "Lefty" Williams, were believed likely to defeat the less-well-regarded Reds. To the surprise of many, the Reds defeated the White Sox, five games to three (during 1919–1921, the World Series was a best-of-nine affair).

Rumors that the series was fixed began to circulate after gambling odds against the Reds winning dropped sharply before the series began, and gained more credibility after the White Sox lost four of the first five games. Cincinnati lost the next two games, and speculation began that the Reds were losing on purpose to extend the series and increase gate revenues. However, Cincinnati won Game Eight, 10–5, to end the series, as Williams lost his third game (Cicotte lost the other two). After the series, according to Gene Carney, who wrote a book about the scandal, "there was more than the usual complaining from those who had bet big on the Sox and lost".

The issue of the 1919 Series came to the public eye again in September 1920, when, after allegations that a game between the Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies on August 31 had been fixed, a grand jury was empaneled in state court in Chicago to investigate baseball gambling. Additional news came from Philadelphia, where gambler Billy Maharg stated that he had worked with former boxer Abe Attell and New York gambler Arnold Rothstein to get the White Sox to throw the 1919 Series. Cicotte and Jackson were called before the grand jury, where they gave statements incriminating themselves and six teammates: Williams, first baseman Chick Gandil, shortstop Swede Risberg, third baseman Buck Weaver, center fielder Happy Felsch and reserve infielder Fred McMullin. Williams and Felsch were also called before the grand jury and incriminated themselves and their teammates. Through late September, the 1920 American League season had been one of the most exciting on record, with the White Sox, Cleveland Indians, and New York Yankees dueling for the league lead. By September 28, the Yankees were close to elimination, but the White Sox and Indians were within percentage points of each other. On that day, however, the eight players, seven of whom were still on the White Sox, were indicted. They were immediately suspended by White Sox owner Charles Comiskey. The Indians were able to pull ahead and win the pennant, taking the American League championship by two games over Chicago.

Search for a commissioner

Baseball had been governed by a three-man National Commission, consisting of American League President Ban Johnson, National League President John Heydler and Cincinnati Reds owner Garry Herrmann. In January 1920, Herrmann left office at the request of other club owners, leaving the Commission effectively deadlocked between Johnson and Heydler. A number of club owners, disliking one or both league presidents, preferred a single commissioner to rule over the game, but were willing to see the National Commission continue if Herrmann was replaced by someone who would provide strong leadership. Landis’s name was mentioned in the press for this role, and the influential baseball newspaper The Sporting News sought his appointment.