Before Baseball

Albert Benjamin Chandler was born on July 14, 1898 in Corydon, Kentucky. He served in the infantry during World War I, and graduated from Transylvania College in 1921 following his return home from the war. He attended Harvard for a year before returning to his home state and earning his law degree from the University of Kentucky. In 1929, he won a spot as a state senator, and in 1935, Chandler was elected to be governor of Kentucky. He became famous for his integration laws (predating the civil rights movement by nearly 30 years) and his good treatment of those on welfare, and in 1939 he took the job of United States Senator for the Bluegrass State. He was re-elected to the Senate in 1942.

Making It

In 1945, while he was still serving out his term as Kentucky senator, Happy was put on the short list of candidates for commissioner of Major League Baseball to replace the retiring Kenesaw Mountain Landis. After three votes, Chandler won the three-fourths majority required and was elected to the position.

His first order of business as Commish was to approve the Malaney Plan, the first such plan to play interleague games in the majors. The games are merely to be exhibition matches, not counting towards the regular season standings, and they were a minor success. Amazingly, despite being named to head Major League Baseball, Chandler held onto his Senator spot until October 1945, when he stepped down to rule the majors full time.

The Mexican Jumping Beans

At about the same time that Chandler became Commissioner, a new upstart league began south of the border in Mexico. The Mexican League began enticing major league players with fat salary increases and other incentives. Chandler warned his players that any person jumping to the Mexican League would be banned from Major League Baseball forever. He delivered on that promise when Lou Klein and Max Lanier both made the jump over the Rio Grande, although eventually they were allowed to return to baseball after Chandler's departure from the top office.

I'm Not A Betting Man

The next major issue that came across Happy's desk was Leo Durocher's gambling problem. Ever since the 1919 Black Sox scandal, baseball had held a fairly tight rein on its players' extracurricular activities, especially those involving gangsters and other illicit activity. Durocher had broken the rules by being seen around New York City with mobsters. Chandler responded by suspending Durocher for the entire 1947 season. He also fined New York Yankees owner Larry MacPhail $2,000 and suspended Charlie Dressen, a coach for the New York Yankees, for their associations with gamblers and criminals.

Barriers Broken

Mr. Chandler cared about blacks in baseball when it wasn't fashionable.
Don Newcombe

1947 marked a very special year for baseball, as it saw Jackie Robinson break the longstanding color barrier. Chandler was an important part of the process ensuring Robinson's safety at games as well as smoothing out relations with other owners who were outraged at the decision.

Making Enemies

In 1948, Chandler made two very important decisions that would affect baseball for years to come. First, he fined several teams for signing high school players - he believed a man's education was more important than baseball, and wasn't afraid to say so. Even more importantly, after the end of the season, he freed ten minor league players from contracts with the Detroit Tigers for failure to inform the commissioner's office of the deals. It would be a first major step toward ridding baseball of the virtual slavery the reserve clause had created. This caused major ripples in the major league owners, who spent the rest of their days trying to rid themselves of this uppity Senator whom they thought would be on their side.

In 1950, Chandler again tested the reserve clause laws by nullifying a trade between the Chicago White Sox and the New York Yankees. The Yankees had promised the outgoing player a World Series share, and when they failed to deliver, he sued them in court. They attempted to trade him, but Chandler refused to let the trade happen until the lawsuit had been settled. The Yankees paid him the equivalent of a World Series share - and then benched him for the rest of the season.

The Final Straw

In 1951, Chandler upset the owners again when he signed a 6-year, $6 million deal with Gilette for the rights to broadcast the All-Star Game. The owners felt that the television rights to the game would be much higher in 6 years. This proved to be the final straw, and on May 7, 1951, the owners voted 9-7 not to renew Chandler's contract as commissioner. Chandler politicked for days to remedy the situation, but to no avail. In August of that same year, Chandler testified before his old friends in the Senate, complaining that some of the owners actually saw sports as only a business, rather than a pastime.

After Baseball

After leaving baseball, Chandler continued to work in Kentucky politics, regaining his governorship in 1955. He even stumped hard to win the United States Presidency, but never got further than the early primaries in the 1960s. He fully retired from politics in 1959. He was given a tremendous honor when the University of Kentucky named their medical center after Chandler for his generous contributions to the school that same year. Not quite done with sports, he became the commissioner of the Continental Professional Football League in 1965, and continued to work as an executive for the Coastal States Life Insurance Company until his retirement in 1977. He was frequently spotted singing "My Old Kentucky Home" at UK football games.

In 1982, Happy Chandler was elected to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee as a non-player. He passed away June 15, 1991 in Versailles, Kentucky.


  • (a large collection of his papers)

Frank Chance | Oscar Charleston

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