Kenesaw Mountain Landis

The Judge Who Loved Baseball

No, it isn't a nickname, it was given at birth. And that happened to be on November 20, 1866, in Midville, Ohio. Yes, it is misspelled, but that too happened at birth. Kenesaw Mountain Landis was named in honor of his father, Dr. Abraham Landis, who was wounded at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, in the Civil War. The senior Landis suggested the name and the misspelling just came with it. The name suggests largeness, but Landis was not a large man, except, when it came to his own special brand of integrity; that he was full of.

Fate was kind to Mr. Landis. Destined for baseball, fate took him on a long and circuitous road there, but one well-paved with preperation. Seemingly aimless after dropping out of high school, Landis tried various ventures, including a stint as a reporter for the Logansport (Indiana) Journal. Covering court cases, would be Landis' entry into a world he would someday almost reign, it seemed. Inspired, he entered law school, and in 1891, graduated from Chicago's Union Law School, now part of Northwestern. He practiced law in Chicago and Colorado, attended state department cabinet briefings,and became secretary to the Secretary of State under President Grover Cleveland. In 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Landis to a federal judgeship in the District Of Northern Illinois. It was here that his star would begin to rise.

In 1907, Kenesaw Mountain Landis had the audacity to impose a $29,240,000 fine on the Standard Oil Company of Indiana. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the decision, one of many they would reverse of Landis' decisions. As in the case of labor leader, William D. Haywood, who Landis handed a twenty year prison sentence for sedition (impeding the war effort). This too was reversed but Landis was successful at sentencing Victor Berger and six other socialists on the same charge. And then along came baseball. In 1915, the Federal League, a new and somewhat anxious baseball league, brought suit against the existing major leagues to overturn baseball's reserve clause (Restricting a player who refuses a contract from playing with another team). The case landed in Judge Landis' court and Kenesaw, basically, just sat on it. Issuing no decision in months, Landis warned, Both sides must understand that any blows at this thing called baseball would be regarded by this court as a blow to a national institution. The three leagues finally reached a settlement and Landis was credited by many, with saving baseball. It wouldn't be the last time he would be given such credit; he would soon have an all-baseball-encompassing job.

Baseball is something more than a game to an American boy. It is his training field for life work. Destroy his faith in its squareness and honesty and you have destroyed something more; you have planted suspicion of all things in his heart....Kenesaw Landis

The Chicago White Sox were a heavy favorite to win the 1919 World Series. But the White Sox were not a happy team. One of the best teams to ever play the game, they were also at the bottom of baseball's pay scale, or should we say, Charles Comiskey's pay scale, after all, it was his team. Eight members of that team entered into a conspiracy to fix the 1919 World Series. The White Sox Series became the Black Sox scandel, after rumors and innuendos seemed to solidify an already popular feeling of suspicion. And when one of the involved eight felt shorted, money wise, he went straight to the press. At a winter baseball meeting, Hugh Fullerton, a Chicago sportswriter demanded baseball address its gambling problem, and suggested that Judge Landis be appointed to head an investigation. On November 12, 1920, every major league owner except one, met with Landis and offered him a new three-member "Board of Control" over major league Baseball. Again, Landis stalled. He wanted absolute power. He got it. He became the very first Commissioner of Major League Baseball.

The game needed a touch of class and distinction, and somebody said, 'Get that old guy who sits behind first base all the time. He's out here everyday anyway.' So they offered him a season pass and he grabbed it....Will Rogers
Ironically enough, an Illinois Grand Jury had already convened to determine the facts behind another proposed fix in a previous Cubs-Phillies game. When some of that evidence reached the "Black Sox" inquiry, subpoenas were on their way. Eventually, indictments were handed down against the Chicago Eight for conspiracy to defraud various individuals and institutions. A trial was held in the summer of 1921 and regardless of seemingly concrete evidence, the "Black Sox" were acquitted. Baseball needed help.
Regardless of the verdict of juries, no player who throws a ballgame, no player that undertakes or promises to throw a ballgame, no player that sits in conference with a bunch of crooked players and gamblers where the ways and means of throwing a game are discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever play professional baseball.....kenesaw Landis

Having had many decisions reversed by the higher courts, Kenesaw Landis now had an opportunity to reverse that process. Found innocent in the courtroom, the "Black Sox" now entered Landis' domain of baseball, and he was judge and jury. In his eyes, all eight were guilty of conduct "atrociously detrimental" to baseball and would be banned for life. This was just the beginning of an iron fist that through the years restored public faith in professional baseball. He would send a clear message that crooks and cheats would not be tolerated, at least when it came to the game of baseball. He believed the farm system would kill major league ball and fought hard to abolish it. He failed in this effort and alienated many owners by trying.

"Capricious, high-handed, and profane", Landis had indeed become a national institution. A friend of the players as well as the public, he vowed to protect player's rights and cracked down on cover-ups by management that impeded a players progress. He worked tirelessly to rid the game of a negative image and keep it honest. One of his last acts was the expulsion of Philadelphia Phillies owner William D. Cox, for betting, on his own team, nonetheless. Baseball's first Commissioner ruled until his death at age 78 in 1944 and has since been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

..the only successful dictator in United States history..anonymous


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