Cold Mountain

Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis has been in the Hall of Fame since 1944. For all the Hall's other problems, this says a lot.
Share |

It was a small thing, really. In a column at MLB.com explaining his still-inexplicable Jack Morris And Only Jack Morris Hall of Fame ballot, veteran baseball writer Marty Noble couched his vague cynicism with a light joke. "I'm not comfortable with the suspicions I have," Noble wrote. "So I'm voting for only Morris and hoping for a bolt of wisdom from Kenesaw Mountain Landis."

Again, it isn't a big deal. A ridiculous ballot is an enjoyable enough thing to get angry about, but also not worth the energy. Noble's invocation of Landis, the game's first commissioner and one of its most memorable names, seems just as harmless on the surface. But Noble's punchline reveals a lot about how and why the Baseball Hall of Fame now bears less resemblance to a museum and more to a litter-strewn moral battleground.

According to the third rule of MLB Hall of Fame voting, electors are to consider "General character, disposition, loyalty and effort" in weighing their votes. After some 70 years of hanging in the back of voters' minds, the rule is finally finding use—misplaced or sanctimonious use, perhaps, but use nonetheless—as the stars of the steroid era seek enshrinement.

This is the clause the 500-some strong contingent of BBWAA Hall of Fame voters will use to decide if the stars of the previous two decades are worthy of a plaque in the same halls as the game's forefathers. This is the clause that will determine which players have the right to stand next to those we must assume are not just the best players, but the moral giants of the Great Game of Baseball. And yet this clause is elastic enough, and maybe meaningless enough, to have allowed a Hall of Fame berth to Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the game's first commissioner.

***

Landis was already a snarling wisp of a man when he took up the post in 1920. We remember his title as commissioner, but from the official agreement establishing his post, "the title of Judge Landis, because of his increased powers, is raised to 'Director-General of Baseball.'" The agreement was for 25 years, and Landis was already 54 years old. As such, a proper title would have been Dictator For Life. Landis convinced the world to call him “commissioner.” Director-General, he thought, was “too high-falutin.”

The baseball media of the 1920s, '30s and '40s went with Czar. "Club Owners To Face Big Czar Of Baseball," was how the Painesville (Ohio) Telegraph put on a 1927 headline. "RULES BASEBALL WITH IRON HAND—Kenesaw Mountain Landis Undisputed Czar of Game At 72," The Rock Hill (South Carolina) Herald declared in 1939. There were a great many opportunities to write headlines about Landis, who served 24 seasons as Dictator-Czar-Director-Commissioner-General For Life. During that period, some 1,705 different men brought a bat to the plate and another 1,497 toed the pitching rubber. Of these 3,202 men, zero were black. This was not a coincidence.

During these same two-and-a-half decades, Josh Gibson was crushing home runs clear out of Yankee Stadium. Satchel Paige was pitching shutout after shutout in the Negro Leagues. Cool Papa Bell was setting basepaths on fire across America. Buck Leonard, Frank Grant, Ray Dandridge—29 Negro League stars have been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Surely many more—likely hundreds—were robbed of chances to play baseball at its highest professional level, all because of baseball's unwritten color line.

It's tough to ascribe authorship to something unwritten, but Landis was at the very least the foremost literary executor of baseball's most shameful unwritten rule. Landis never went on record declaring baseball as a game for whites and only whites, nor did he ever establish an official rule barring black players from the game. But his inaction and silence speak eloquently to his priorities.

Landis had the power to force the issue, and the power to enforce the color line. He opted for the second, without ever quite admitting to the choice. Instead, when pressed by Daily Worker reporter Conrad Komorowski in 1942, Landis repeatedly answered "No comment" to questions about the color line. As we see in Chris Lamb's Conspiracy of Silence: Sportswriters and the Long Campaign to Desegregate Baseball, Landis passed the buck:

"Why do you refuse to comment?" Komorowski asked.
"You fellows say I'm responsible," Landis said.
"Aren't you?" Komorowski responded.
"You fellows say I am," Landis answered.
"If you are not, why don't you defend yourself?" Komorowski said.

Landis's answer is the most damning of all. "There is no man living," Landis said, "who wants the friendship of the Negro people more than I."

If that were so, Komorowski persisted, why did he not end the color line? Landis responded by saying, "No comment."

***

Landis's inaction—or perhaps impotence—regarding the color line is more than enough to indict him in the eyes of history. But it was just the most egregious manifestation of a genuinely unpleasant, irritating man he was. Jack Lait, editor of New York's Daily Mirror, was a reporter in Landis's court before he moved on to baseball. He saw the real Landis on a daily basis. After Landis's death, Lait wrote, “He regarded his courtroom as his personal private preserve and even extended his autocracy to the corridors beyond.”

The representative tale from Lait, as retold in J.G. Taylor Spink's Judge Landis and twenty-five years of baseball, shows the lack of respect Landis showed for his fellow humans and the zeal with which he would abused his power:

“One extremely hot night, a group of reporters were awaiting a jury verdict in the famous Beef Trust trial. The court was not in session, and Landis was out getting a sandwich. The reporters sat down in the marble hallway, the nearest thing to a cool spot they could find. Landis came back and brusquely ordered the men off the floor. Lait didn't jump up, which exasperated the Judge. 'I told him that court wasn't in session, and that he was off base,' recalled Jack. 'What's more I told him I liked it where I was. Landis couldn't do anything about it at the time; he fumed and fussed, and next day he called up my boss and demanded I be fired.'”

Landis didn't limit these absurd breaches of power and overbearing intimidation tactics to private interactions with fellow court workers. He extended them to ordinary citizens, those whom his court was supposed to protect. “I have seen Landis send a federal marshal out to bring in the wife and children and minister of a witness and line them up and lecture them," Lait wrote. "He did not subpoena them, mind you. That would have been illegal. He merely 'sent for' them. What he said to them he kept off the record. They stood there, terrorized, in tears—simple people who had probably never been in a courtroom before—while he harangued them and the witness."

This was Landis's character as Judge. This was the character he brought to the Commissioner's Office in 1920. Landis embodied the smallest kind of greatness, the most blinkered and cowardly—and, most of all, fake—type of toughness. Landis died in 1944, and was elected to the Hall that very year.

Kenesaw Mountain Landis spent 24 bitter years standing at baseball's gates, with each passing day telling the greats of the Negro Leagues "You do not belong." True to form, he never quite said it aloud. Anyway, the quote on Landis' page at the Hall's website undermines it utterly. That quote reads: "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 head."

The destruction of the color line could have been Landis's great achievement. Instead, it remains the legacy of the racism of baseball's first commissioner, a man who thought that his lifelong defense of the indefensible preserved the game's sacred squareness and honesty. If there's a lesson in this for present-day Hall of Fame voters, it's that not every status quo deserves a vigorous defense. That and maybe that the Hall isn't nearly as sacred as they suspect. It's worth wondering what a bolt from such a being could have told Marty Noble, or any other Hall of Fame voter. Probably, "No comment."


Share |

Comments

Excellent post! I had been fed up for a long time searching lots of sites, but now I have come on the right place. Thanks
shopping

Fantastic article. Exceptionally fascinating to peruse. I truly love to peruse such a decent article. Much obliged! continue shaking. günstiger friseur düsseldorf

I have learnt the superb information through this blog which I never got anywhere.
https://hqessays.com/

I have as of late begun a web journal, the data you give on this website has helped me significantly. A debt of gratitude is in order for the majority of your time and work. mass mutual life insurance

Guys you did great work. I’m very pleased to say that these are wonderful articles and blogs. Thanks for this.
Chris Walker - top Denver SEO expert

Decent post. I was checking continually this website and I'm awed! Greatly valuable data exceptionally the last part I nurture such data a considerable measure. I was looking for this sure information for quite a while. Much obliged to you and good fortunes. navigate to this website

Hello, I have browsed most of your posts. This post is probably where I got the most useful information for my research. Thanks for posting, maybe we can see more on this. Are you aware of any other websites on this subject. Drohnen Versicherung

Totally awesome posting! Heaps of helpful data and motivation, both of which we all need!Relay welcome your work. wine decanter

Your work is totally enthusiastic and informative.
paper writing services online

Much obliged for setting aside an ideal opportunity to examine this, I feel firmly about it and affection adapting more on this subject. get more Information

He regarded his courtroom as his personal private preserve and even extended his autocracy to the corridors beyond.”thelendingmag.com/unsecured-debt-consolidation-loans

Thanks to share these details it’s truly nice.

canada merchant account

I have as of late begun a web journal, the data you give on this website has helped me significantly. A debt of gratitude is in order for the majority of your time and work. get more Information

This written piece gives fastidious understanding yet.
research paper writing services

Great info! I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have.
cooper

Hall of Fame berth to Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the game's first commissioner.iPhone repair nottingham

Hi to all! I would love to say something here that this is overall truly splendid blog.
type my essay

I'd be trampled if all sites gave articles like these awesome articles.

canada merchant services

Never found such informatory contents.
PPO plan quotes 2017

You have a real ability for writing unique content. I like how you think and the way you represent your views in this article. I agree with your way of thinking Vladislav Sirota

Very interesting blog. A lot of blogs I see these days don't really provide anything that I'm interested in, but I'm most definitely interested in this one. Just thought that I would post and let you known
web 2.0 backlinks

Keep it up on nice working, and I hope soon you will place some more information here, I’ll wait for that.
Chris Walker - best SEO company

I randomly read your articles. you write knowledgeable articles. i am new in the field of blogging and SEO. very useful for new bloggers. keep going i’ll visit frequently for such knowledge homepage

Much thanks to you for exceptionally usefull data.. buy fast YouTube views

I like viewing web sites which comprehend the price of delivering the excellent useful resource free of charge. I truly adored reading your posting. Thank you! XnXX

Extremely pleasant article, I appreciated perusing your post, exceptionally decent share, I need to twit this to my devotees. Much appreciated!. how to buy backlinks

I just like the valuable info you provide for your articles.I’ll bookmark your weblog and take a look at once more right here regularly. I am reasonably certain I’ll learn a lot of new stuff proper here ptcb board

I would also motivate just about every person to save this web page for any favorite assistance to assist posted the appearance Bike Storage Ideas

Wonderful blog post. This is absolute magic from you! I have never seen a more wonderful post than this one. You've really made my day today with this. I hope you keep this up! carolina panthers season tickets

Landis showed for his fellow humans and the zeal with which he would abused his power.car covers

طراحی سایت شرکت فروشگاه طراحی سایت ارزان, طراحی سایت حرفه ای,گرافیکی, بهترین شرکت طراحی سایت ایران, طراحی وب سایت

طراحی حرفه ای سایت

Buy backlinks I was very pleased to find this site.I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post Dofollow Blog Comments

I am happy to find this post Very useful for me, as it contains lot of information. I Always prefer to read The Quality and glad I found this thing in you post. Thanks
The EZ Battery Reconditioning

These articles and blogs are genuinely sufficiency for me for a day.Click this

I continuously continue coming to your website once more simply in case you have posted new contents.
Email Tools Bonus

It provides exercises to practice the stages as well as gives a list of typical IELTS essay topics.uk essay

I just like the valuable info you provide for your articles.I’ll bookmark your weblog and take a look at once more right here regularly. I am reasonably certain I’ll learn a lot of new stuff proper here afterdesign

I read this post fully concerning the difference of latest and former stuff, it is awesome article.
money dialogue

I appreciate this article for the all around examined substance and incredible wording. I got so included in this material that I couldn't quit perusing. I am inspired with your work and ability. Much thanks to you to such an extent
choline effects

You have done a great job on this article. It’s very readable and highly intelligent. You have even managed to make it understandable and easy to read. You have some real writing talent. Thank you.
Piano For All Download

Landis was at the very least the foremost literary executor of baseball's most shameful unwritten rule.ถุงฟอยด์

Your computer is rattling instructive and your articles are wonderful.Learn About it

Bundles of thanks for providing such kind of blogs with the informative and impressive articles.
this

This will be extremely helpful for me when I get an opportunity to begin my online journal.hay day

I appreciate this article for the all around examined substance and incredible wording. I got so included in this material that I couldn't quit perusing. I am inspired with your work and ability. Much thanks to you to such an extent
bonuses

This is extremely fascinating substance! I have completely delighted in perusing your focuses and have arrive at the conclusion that you are right about a number of them. You are incredible. werbemittel werbeträger

I appreciate this article for the all around examined substance and incredible wording. I got so included in this material that I couldn't quit perusing. I am inspired with your work and ability. Much thanks to you to such an extent
helpful hints

We could have a hyperlink change contract between us! elite tyres brighton

A debt of gratitude is in order For sharing this Superb article.I utilize this Article to demonstrate my task in college.it is helpful For me Great Work. wedding speeches

I appreciate this article for the all around examined substance and incredible wording. I got so included in this material that I couldn't quit perusing. I am inspired with your work and ability. Much thanks to you to such an extent Phil Shawe CEO