Kenesaw Landis

Kenesaw Mountain Landis
Inducted to the Hall of Fame in: 1944
Primary team:
Primary position: Executive

In the wake of the Black Sox scandal, in which players of the Chicago White Sox were accused of fixing the 1919 World Series, baseball was in need of a leader who could regain the public’s faith in the game.

“We want a man as chairman who will rule with an iron hand,” said National League President John Heydler. “Baseball has lacked a hand like that for years. It needs it now worse than ever. Therefore, it is our object to appoint a big man to lead the new commission.”

Heydler and his fellow executives got all that and more when they appointed baseball’s first commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, in 1920.

Formerly a federal judge who had built a reputation for fighting corporations, Landis exercised his power as commissioner frequently and to the fullest extent, beginning with the Black Sox scandal. In his first act as commissioner, Landis banned eight White Sox players from baseball for life for their involvement with New York gambler Arnold Rothstein – even after they were acquitted in a Chicago trial.

“Regardless of the verdict of juries, no player that throws a ball game, no player that entertains proposals or promises to throw a game, no player that sits in a conference with a bunch of crooked players and gamblers where the ways and means of throwing games are discussed, and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever again play professional baseball," Landis decreed.

Over the next several years, Landis made it his foremost task to rid baseball of the crooks and gamblers who had crept into the game. He banned a total of 18 players, along with Phillies president William D. Cox, indefinitely for varying levels of involvement with gambling.

“Before 1920 if one player approached another player to throw a contest, there was a very good chance he would not be informed upon,” wrote Landis biographer David Pietrusza. “Now, there was an excellent chance he would be turned in.”

While Landis finished sweeping the bad seeds from the game, he turned his attention to opening up opportunities for up and coming players. Up until the 1920s, baseball’s minor leagues operated separately from the major leagues, and minor league players were not always allowed to move up. Landis demanded that all minor leagues become associated with the major league draft, and then subsequently demanded that major league clubs disclose all transactions within their farm systems. The new rule prevented teams from concealing prospects and ultimately denying them a path to the majors.

Landis extended his absolute power to the Fall Classic in 1933 when he ruled that he alone had the authority to eject a player from a World Series game. He also introduced the first All-Star Game and the first big league games to be played at night.

Though critics called him ruthless, there is no question that Landis restore dignity and respect to baseball during his 24 years as the sport’s first commissioner. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in a special vote after his death in 1944.

“(Landis) may have been arbitrary, self-willed and even unfair, but he 'called 'em as he saw 'em' and he turned over to his successor and the future a game cleansed of the nasty spots which followed World War I,” wrote J.G. Taylor Spink, publisher of the Sporting News. “Kenesaw Mountain Landis put the fear of God into weak characters who might otherwise have been inclined to violate their trust. And for that, I, as a lifelong lover of baseball, am eternally grateful.”

"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 hear. "
Kenesaw Landis

Career stats

ESSENTIAL STATS
Year Inducted: 1944
Primary Team:
Position Played: Executive
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Birth place: Millville, Ohio
Birth year: 1866
Died: 1944, Chicago, Illinois