Kenesaw Mountain Landis

Landis was granted absolute power over the game as commissioner in 1920 after the Black Sox scandal had tainted the game. He exercised his authority tyrannically until his death in 1944, with no recourse from his decisions available or public criticism of them permitted. Although he was harsh and narrow-minded, and often arbitrary and inconsistent, he persuaded most Americans that the integrity of the national pastime had been restored.
Landis was a judge in an Illinois federal district court when he came to the attention of baseball’s establishment during the Federal League‘s antitrust suit, which was heard in his court. A Federal League victory would have destroyed baseball’s unique monopoly status, and Landis won the owners’ gratitude by stalling his decision until the Feds had collapsed and their suit was withdrawn. The three-man National Commission, which had ruled baseball since 1903 under the leadership of Ban Johnson, had been weakened by owner disputes and grievances and collapsed in the aftermath of the Series scandal. Judge Landis was the first and only choice for commissioner.

Named after a Civil War battle, young Kenesaw was meagerly educated and minimally trained for the law. Still, his craggy face, shock of white hair, and flamboyant style were captivating. In his first years as commissioner he banished 15 players, including the eight Black Sox, and at one time had 53 players ineligible. Though he did not treat his victims equally or, in some cases, fairly, the numerous bribe offers, thrown games, and betting plots that arose showed baseball’s corruption to be far deeper than once believed, and his no-mercy stance was accepted, if not applauded.

Landis was opposed to the development of farm systems and made free agents of numerous players he decreed to have been “covered up” in the minor leagues, but he was unable to eradicate the practice, which preserved many of the faltering leagues. He loved the World Series, conducted it personally, and was constantly photographed at games with his chin on the railing of a front row box. He was also a strong supporter of both the Hall of Fame and the All-Star Game, pushing hard to continue the mid-summer exhibitions during WWII. Landis was inducted to the Hall of Fame himself in 1939, and no commissioner since has enjoyed such power.

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