Kenesaw Mountain Landis


Kenesaw Mountain Landis : biography

November 20, 1866 – November 25, 1944

Another proposal, known as the "Lasker Plan" after Albert Lasker, a shareholder in the Chicago Cubs who had proposed it, was for a three-man commission to govern the game, drawn from outside baseball. On September 30, 1920, with the Black Sox scandal exposed, National League President Heydler began to advocate for the Lasker Plan, and by the following day, four major league teams had supported him. Among the names discussed in the press for membership on the new commission were Landis, former Secretary of the Treasury William Gibbs McAdoo, former President William Howard Taft, and General John J. Pershing.

The start of the 1920 World Series on October 5 distracted the public from baseball’s woes for a time, but discussions continued behind the scenes. By mid-October, 11 of the 16 team owners (all eight from the National League and the owners of the American League Yankees, White Sox and Boston Red Sox) were demanding the end of the National Commission and the appointment of a three-man commission whose members would have no financial interest in baseball. Heydler stated his views on baseball’s requirements:

We want a man as chairman who will rule with an iron hand … Baseball has lacked a hand like that for years. It needs it now worse than ever. Therefore, it is our object to appoint a big man to lead the new commission.

On November 8, the owners of the eight National League and three American League teams which supported the Lasker Plan met and unanimously selected Landis as head of the proposed commission. The American League clubs that supported the plan threatened to move to the National League, away from Johnson, who opposed the plan. Johnson had hoped that the minor leagues would support his position; when they did not, he and the "Loyal Five" teams agreed to the Lasker Plan. In the discussions among the owners that followed, they decided that Landis would be the only commissioner–no associate members would be elected. On November 12, the team owners came to Landis’s courtroom to approach him. Landis was trying a bribery case; when he heard noise in the back of the courtroom from the owners, he gaveled them to silence. He made them wait 45 minutes while he completed his docket, then met with them in his chambers.

The judge heard out the owners; after expressing initial reluctance, he took the job for seven years at a salary of $50,000, on condition he could remain on the federal bench. During Landis’s time serving as both judge and commissioner, he allowed a $7,500 reduction in his salary as commissioner, to reflect his pay as judge. The appointment of Landis was met with acclaim in the press. A tentative agreement was signed by the parties a month later—an agreement which itemized Landis’s powers over baseball, and which was drafted by the judge. The owners were still reeling from the perception that baseball was crooked, and accepted the agreement virtually without dissent. Under the terms of the contract, Landis could not be dismissed by the team owners, have his pay reduced, or even be criticized by them in public. He also had nearly unlimited authority over every person employed in the major or minor leagues, from owners to batboys. The owners waived any recourse to the courts to contest Landis’s will. Humorist Will Rogers stated, "[D]on’t kid yourself that that old judicial bird isn’t going to make those baseball birds walk the chalkline". Player and manager Leo Durocher later stated, "The legend has been spread that the owners hired the Judge off the federal bench. Don’t you believe it. They got him right out of Dickens."

Establishing control

Banning the Black Sox

On January 30, 1921, Landis, speaking at an Illinois church, warned:

Now that I am in baseball, just watch the game I play. If I catch any crook in baseball, the rest of his life is going to be a pretty hot one. I’ll go to any means and to anything possible to see that he gets a real penalty for his offense.

The criminal case against the Black Sox defendants suffered unexpected setbacks, with evidence vanishing, including some of the incriminating statements made to the grand jury. The prosecution was forced to dismiss the original indictments, and bring new charges against seven of the ballplayers (McMullin was not charged again). Frustrated by the delays, Landis placed all eight on an "ineligible list", banning them from major and minor league baseball. Comiskey supported Landis by giving the seven who remained under contract to the White Sox their unconditional release. Public sentiment was heavily against the ballplayers, and when Jackson, Williams, Felsch, and Weaver played in a semi-pro game, The Sporting News mocked the 3,000 attendees, "Just Like Nuts Go to See a Murderer".