Though he served just one six-year term as commissioner of Major League Baseball, Albert Benjamin “Happy” Chandler oversaw significant changes in the game.
A U.S. Senator and former governor of Kentucky, Chandler succeeded Kennesaw Mountain Landis as baseball’s second commissioner in 1945. Chandler became a leading candidate for the job after advocating for the continuation of play during World War II.
The following year, Chandler faced his first test when multi-millionaire Jorge Pasquel began offering major league players up to three times their annual salary to play in the newly formed Mexican League. Chandler acted quickly by threatening to impose a five-year ban on any player who defected to Mexico.
Chandler served as Commissioner for Jackie Robinson's historic breaking of the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Later that season, Chandler threatened to suspend Philadelphia Phillies manager Ben Chapman for his racially insensitive taunts toward Robinson. He also supported National League president Ford Frick’s threat to indefinitely suspend St. Louis Cardinals players who had proposed sitting out games against the Dodgers.
"Some of the things he did for Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella and [myself] when he was commissioner of baseball – those are the kinds of things we never forget,” said Dodgers pitcher Don Newcombe, who added that Chandler had cared for black players in baseball “when it wasn't fashionable.”
The year 1947 also saw a feud develop between Chandler and Brooklyn Dodgers manager Leo Durocher. Continuing the authoritarian efforts of his predecessor, Landis, Chandler suspended Durocher for one year prior to the season for “the accumulation of unpleasant incidents” that included suspected ties with gamblers.
During the 1947 World Series, Chandler moved the two alternate umpires in each crew from the sidelines to the foul lines, a positioning that is still used today.
Chandler used the money raised from the league’s radio broadcasting contract for that Fall Classic to establish a players’ pension fund. Two years later, Chandler negotiated a new seven-year, $4,370,000 contract with the Gillette Safety Razor Company and the Mutual Broadcasting System for radio rights to the World Series, and funneled the proceeds directly into the pension fund. He would repeat that donation again in 1950.
“He was very much known as the players' commissioner, probably the last one who was thought of in that way," said baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn. "He was instrumental in creating the great pension that players benefit from today.”
Chandler became the third commissioner elected to the Hall of Fame in 1982. He passed away on June 15, 1991.