The Baseball Store
Hall of Fame Baseball
World Series History
All-Star Game History
The Ballplayers
Baseball Radio History
Post Cereal Cards
T205 Reprint Cards
T206 Reprint Cards
1915 CrackerJack Cards
1933 Goudey Reprints
1949 Bowman Cards
1950 Bowman Cards
1951 Bowman Cards
1952 Bowman Cards
Contact Us
Support Us

Kenesaw Mountain Landis was the first Commissioner of Baseball

Kenesaw Mountain Landis (November 20, 1866 November 25, 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 grew up in Logansport, Indiana where, at the age of 17, he played on and managed the Logansport High School baseball team. He later dropped out of school to take a job at the courthouse in South Bend, Indiana. He died in Chicago in 1944. His name comes from a variant spelling of Kennesaw Mountain in Georgia, where his father, a physician, fought on the Union side and lost a leg during the American Civil War at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain. Two of his brothers, Charles Beary Landis (1858-1922) and Frederick Landis (1872-1934), served in the United States Congress.

While serving as a federal judge, Landis was selected as chairman of a new National Commission of baseball. The owners decided to appoint a commission made up entirely of non-baseball men to restore confidence in the sport following the 1919 Black Sox Scandal, perhaps the worst of a number of incidents that jeopardized the integrity of the game.

But Kenesaw Mountain Landis hated the game so much that he declared that he would only accept an appointment as its sole commissioner. He also demanded unlimited authority over all aspects of the organized game. The owners, still reeling from the perception that the sport was crooked, readily agreed. Some historians believe he extorted and intimidated them into that agreement; however, that accusation that has not been proven.

Landis' first act was to deal with the Black Sox Scandal. He banned eight players suspected of involvement in the fix for life, including Buck Weaver and superstar Shoeless Joe Jackson. Although they had been acquitted in court, Landis argued that the need to clean up baseball's reputation took precedence over any legal judgments. He dealt harshly with others proven to have thrown individual games or consorted with gamblers. Among the others he banned were New York Giants players Phil Douglas, Benny Kauff and Jimmy O'Connell, Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Gene Paulette, Giants coach Cozy Dolan, and (in 1943) Phillies owner William D. Cox. He also formalized the unofficial banishments of Hal Chase and Heinie Zimmerman.

Kenesaw Mountain Landis perpetuated the color line and prolonged the segregation of organized baseball. His successor Happy Chandler said, "For twenty-four years Judge Landis wouldn't let a black man play. I had his records, and I read them, and for twenty-four years Landis consistently blocked any attempts to put blacks and whites together on a big league field." Club owner Bill Veeck claimed Landis prevented him from purchasing the Phillies when Landis learned of Veeck's plan to integrate the team. 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. Eleven weeks after Robinson's debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Veeck became the first American League owner to break the color line.

Kenesaw Mountain Landis tried to curb the growth of minor league farm systems by innovators such as Rickey, in the name of protecting the lower levels of professional 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 stopped Pants Rowland from upgrading the Pacific Coast League in the 1940s.

One of the schemes he fought was the effort by major-league teams to "cover up" players they were hiding in their farm systems. The term, not used in formal communications by league or team officials, referred to players clandestinely signed by a major-league team to a minor-league contract. Occasionally one team would serendipitously find such a player in the off-season draft, as in this occasion recorded in the book Dodger Daze and Knights:

All the clubowners and managers, and Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, were assembled to conduct the draft. One team representative said he "claim[s] Player [Paul] Richards of Brooklyn."

"You can't do that!" barked a surprised Wilbert Robinson, manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

"Why not?" asked Landis.

"Because Brooklyn has him covered up," sputtered Robbie.

Most of the others broke down laughing. Even Landis smirked.

Tyrannical though he might have been as commissioner, Landis was not without a sense of humor. He showed it at the start of the fifth game of the 1929 World Series, under the oddest of circumstances. The Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Athletics had been trading vile invective during the first four games, and Landis called managers Joe McCarthy and Connie Mack to his office and said the culprits would forfeit a full Series share. Mack told his team, but hot-headed Mickey Cochrane, the A's' catcher, hollered to the Cubs, "After the game we'll serve tea in the clubhouse."

Mack warned Cochrane that he risked a fine or suspension for the remark. After the game, however, Kenesaw Mountain Landis visited the A's clubhouse. He approached Cochrane, shook his hand and asked, "Now, where's the tea?"

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, and 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 in Chicago, Illinois.

Kenesaw Mountain Landis

Kenesaw Mountain Landis

Special SiteSell Promotion

footer for Kenesaw Mountain Landis page