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Kenesaw Mountain Landis

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Kenesaw Mountain Landis

Kenesaw Mountain Landis (20 November, 186625 November, 1944) was an American jurist who served as a federal judge from 1905 to 1922, and subsequently as the first commissioner of Major League Baseball. Born in Millville, Ohio to Abraham Hoch Landis and Mary (Kumler) Landis, he died in Chicago, Illinois. His name comes from a variant spelling of Kennesaw Mountain in Georgia, the site of a battle his father, a physician, fought in on the Union side during the American Civil War. Two of his brothers, Charles Beary Landis (1858-1922) and Frederick Landis (1872-1934), served in the United States Congress.

Judicial careerEdit

After being appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt to the bench of the Northern District of Illinois in 1905, Landis dealt with several cases of historical significance during his career as a US federal judge. In 1907, he presided over a Standard Oil antitrust trial fining them $29 million for accepting rail freight rebates, although the verdict was later set aside. In 1918, he held the trial of over 100 members of the Industrial Workers of the World (including Big Bill Haywood) for supposed violation (hindering the draft) of the Espionage Act of 1917. He also presided over the trial of several Socialist Party leaders, including Milwaukee editor and congressman Victor Berger.

Baseball commissionerEdit

Baseball Hof
Kenesaw Mountain Landis
is a member of
the Baseball
Hall of Fame

While serving as a federal judge, Landis was selected to become the first Commissioner of Major League Baseball, serving from 1920 until his death in 1944. The position was created to restore public confidence in the integrity of baseball following the 1919 Black Sox scandal, only the worst of a number of incidents that jeopardized the integrity of the game. He achieved this by permanently banishing eight players from the sport for their Black Sox scandal involvement, including Buck Weaver and superstar Shoeless Joe Jackson, and by dealing harshly with others proven to have thrown individual games or consorted with gamblers. He also banned New York Giants players Phil Douglas, Bennie Kauff and Jimmy O'Connell, Phillies pitcher Gene Paulette, Giants coach Cozy Dolan, and (in 1943) Phillies owner William D. Cox.

The owners had hoped he would then settle into a comfortable retirement as the titular head of baseball. Instead, Landis established a fiercely independent Commissioner's Office that would go on to often make both players and owners miserable with decisions that were, generally, in the best interests of the game. He worked to clean up the hooliganism that was tarnishing the reputation of players in the 1920s, and inserted his office into negotiations with players where he deemed appropriate to end a few of the labor practices of owners like Charles Comiskey that had contributed to the players' discontent.

His detractors claim he perpetuated the color line and prolonged the segregation of organized baseball. Although still disputed, club owner Bill Veeck claimed Landis prevented him from purchasing the Philadelphia Phillies when Landis learned of Veeck's plan to integrate the team. Landis tried to curb the growth of minor league farm systems by innovators such as Branch Rickey, in the name of protecting the lower levels of professional ball (the farm systems ultimately proved to be the salvation of minor league ball). Landis argued that because a parent club could unilaterally call up players from teams which were involved in pennant races, the organization was unfairly interfering with the minor competitions; his position was that the championship of each minor league was of no less importance than the championships of the major leagues, and that minor league fans and supporters had the right to see their teams competing as best they could. Yet he also prevented the formation of a powerful third major league when he turned away a challenge by Pants Rowland and his Pacific Coast League in the 1940s.

Whether his decisions were praised or criticized, he was satisfied with being respected and feared. Dubbed 'the baseball tyrant' by journalists of the day, his rule was absolute. In the context of ensuring the integrity of the game itself, baseball historians generally regard him as the right man at the right time when appointed, but also as a man who perhaps held office too long.

He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1944, in a special election held one month after his death.

The signing of the first black ballplayer, Jackie Robinson, came less than a year after Landis's death, on the watch of the new, progressive Commissioner A. B. "Happy" Chandler and was engineered by one of Landis's old nemeses, Branch Rickey.

Major League Baseball's Most Valuable Player Award is officially known as the Kenesaw Mountain Landis Award in his honor.

Landis's body is interred in the Oak Woods Cemetery, Chicago.

Preceded by:
New Position
Commissioner of Baseball
1920–1944
Succeeded by:
A. B. "Happy" Chandler I

Popular CultureEdit

Kenesaw Mountain Landis is featured in a song of the same title by folk/rock singer Jonathan Coulton.

Kenesaw Mountain Landis is portrayed in Philip Roth's 1973 book, The Great American Novel.

BibliographyEdit

  • Pietrusza, David, Judge and Jury: The Life and Times of Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, South Bend (IN): Diamond Communications, 1998.
  • Spink, J. G. Taylor, Judge Landis and Twenty-Five Years of Baseball, New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1947. (said to be ghostwritten by Fred Lieb)

External linksEdit

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