Oh, Look! More Baseball Ethics Dunces! This Time, It’s the Baseball Writers’ Association of America

mlb-mvp

Yesterday, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) announced that group will remove the name of Kenesaw Mountain Landis from the American League and National League Most Valuable Player plaques presented each year to the MVP winners.. Landis has been honored with having the plaques bear his name since 1944, the year of his death. He didn’t do much: he only probably saved the National Pastime at its darkest hour.

It was Landis, a famously tough and uncorruptible federal judge, whom the baseball owners turned to in 1920 in the midst of the Black Sox scandal. The scandal involving the Chicago White Sox throwing the World Series in 1919 under the influence of bribes from gamblers to some key players, including star Shoeless Joe Jackson. Even though the eight accused players were acquitted in their trial, Landis, who remained a judge for two years while serving as Commissioner, banned them all from baseball, laying down a rule that participating in efforts to corrupt the game through gambling or having knowledge of other players doing so and not acting to stop it were grounds for permanent exile. Eighteen players in all, like the infamous Hal Chase, were banned by Landis, who remained commissioner for the rest of his life.

Landis had a memorable career as a judge before coming to baseball’s rescue: in 1907, he thrilled the man who appointed him, Teddy Roosevelt when he fined Standard Oil of Indiana more than $29 million (about $800 million in 2020) for violating federal laws forbidding rebates on railroad freight tariffs.

Why, then, is Landis suddenly the victim of metaphorical statue-toppling? That was a clue: in the wake of the George Floyd Freakout and The Great Stupid, the baseball writers, which are thoroughly infested with self-righteous and semi-ignorant would-be social justice warriors like this guy, blame Landis for not “doing more” to desegregate baseball before Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey finally did the trick, three years after Landis died. In other words, he’s being punished for not seeing clearly what everyone sees almost 80 years later, and not actively fighting for a cause that neither baseball nor American society may have been ready for.

Over the years, Landis has been accused of being complicit in maintaining the color line in baseball, the justification being mostly through rumor and innuendo, in part pushed by misguided advocates of lifting Joe Jackson’s  ineligibility for election to the hall of Fame. Some owners used Landis to deflect their own culpability for keeping baseball white: In his 1961 memoir, “Veeck as in Wreck,” rebel owner Bill Veeck said he planned to buy the Philadelphia Phillies in 1942 and stock the team with Negro league stars. Veeck claimed that he told Landis about his intentions, and that the Commissioner moved to block the purchase. Veeck accused Landis of racism, stating in a subsequent interview, “[a]fter all, a man who is named Kenesaw Mountain was not born and raised in the state of Maine.”

Landis was born and raised in Ohio.

 When Veeck was asked for proof of his accusations,  he stated, “I have no proof of that. I can only surmise.”  Baseball historian David Jordan has concluded, “Veeck, nothing if not a storyteller, seems to have added these embellishments, sticking in some guys in black hats, simply to juice up his tale.”

In the same year Veeck claimed he was stopped from integrating baseball, Landis said, in a public statement,

“Negroes are not barred from organized baseball by the commissioner and never have been in the 21 years I have served. There is no rule in organized baseball prohibiting their participation and never has been to my knowledge. If … any other manager, or all of them, want to sign one, or twenty-five Negro players, it is all right with me. That is the business of the managers and the club owners. The business of the commissioner is to interpret the rules of baseball, and to enforce them.”

Never mind. After a motion by sportswriter Ken Rosenthal, the membership of the BBWAA, most of whom have the depth of historical perspective on the Jim Crow era as your average  middle school drop-out, voted 89% in favor of removing the name of the judge who saved baseball.

BBWAA president Paul Sullivan said,

“This past summer, two Most Valuable Player award winners, Barry Larkin and Terry Pendleton, spoke of their discomfort with the name of Kenesaw Mountain Landis attached to their awards. Landis, baseball’s first commissioner, served from 1920-44 and notably failed to integrate the game during his tenure. A motion to remove Landis’ name from the MVP award was made in July by longtime member Ken Rosenthal, and after an online discussion of the issue the BBWAA membership voted this week to remove the name, beginning in 2020. Whether the award will be renamed has been tabled until after the 2020 season.”

Ah, yes, those noted historians Barry Larkin and Terry Pendleton. Virtually nobody believes Landis had the power to integrate baseball beyond stating that nothing was stopping the owners from hiring black players.

Baseball’s “official historian”, John Thorn has said. “I absolutely support the movement to remove Confederate monuments, and Landis was pretty damn near Confederate.” Right. Landis was a loyal Republican at a time when the ex-Confederates were almost all Democrats, he was raised in Ohio and spent the bulk of his career in Indiana and Chicago. That’s some historian you have there, MLB!

Landis was a man of his time, and I doubt that any of those who are self-righteously dishonoring him now would have thought or acted any differently than he did at a time when all of America, not just baseball and not just the South, was segregated.

This is one more despicable example of baseball and its culture choosing to virtue-signal and bow to the biases of its players rather than stand up for its founders, champions and others to whom the game owes debts of gratitude.

16 thoughts on “Oh, Look! More Baseball Ethics Dunces! This Time, It’s the Baseball Writers’ Association of America

  1. Well, the WordPress “upgrade” finally forced me to do what people have been recommending: compose everything on Word and paste it into the blog. It takes more time, but since using WordPress directly was taking up more time anyway, it was the best option. That also permits spellcheck (which WordPress stopped providing for some reason) and to get the word count, which the new improved process also hid somewhere I haven’t been able to find.

  2. I do believe reading that Landis’s father and grandfather were abolitionists and he also had a brother that had defeated a KKK-backed member for Congress.

  3. I doubt Veeck’s story about trying to buy the Phillies and use black players. There was a long article 20-25 years ago published by the Society of American Baseball research, debunking the claims made in Veeck’s memoir. A subsequent article is now portrayed (e.g., see Veeck’s Wikipedia article) as debunking the first article. A close reading of the second article, though, only debunks that Veeck had never publicly spoken of the matter before he wrote of it in his memoir, but doesn’t deny that all of the details of the alleged plan itself remain uncorroborated. The rebuttal article concedes, “The overall assessment of Jordan, et al. – that Veeck’s notion of buying the Phillies and fielding a team of Negro League stars never quite moved as far from the drawing board as Veeck claimed – may still be true. We still lack any solid evidence that confirms that Veeck had not only conceptualized this action, but made a firm offer to buy the Phillies and met a rebuff by Landis and Frick.”

    I’ll make sure this gets into the Wikipedia article.

    • Great. It appears. once all the crap is cleared away, is that Landis is being tarred as a racist based on nothing but gossip and rumor, and being an easy and cheap target for current baseball player, executives and sportswriters to smear in order to prove they are taking a stand against “systemic racism, and if a good and important man has his reputation harmed, it’s worth it to them.

      I have never seen so many people behave like assholes all at once. Never.

      • The killer is that you go into Veeck’s article to add the material. Then you look into the Phillies history article – the same misinformation has been entered there. Landis, Frick, Negro Leagues, subarticles for all the different topics – there might be dozens of articles with the same bad information.

  4. No, someone named Kennesaw Mountain would not be presumed to be from Maine. But, it can’t be that the name is so off-putting, can it? After all, Landis’s father fought in the 1864 Battle of Kennesaw Mountain (Georgia), against the Confederacy, and that’s how the commissioner got his name.
    And, it couldn’t be the action by Landis when he suspended Yankees’ outfielder Jake Powell, who said that in an off-season job as a policeman, he used his nightstick on niggers. Landis suspended Powell for 10 days.
    And, it couldn’t be that the press of the time was all against him, either, could it? In 1941, The Chicago Defender, a Black newspaper, printed a letter suggesting that the Negro Leagues could use a strong commissioner like Landis.
    His crime, essentially, was that he, in the first half of the 20th century, did not possess 21st century views and insights. A view that has currency now, thanks in part to Ibram X. Kendi’s best-selling book, “How to Be an Anti-Racist,” is that, in the moment, everyone is either a racist or an anti-racist. There is no neutral or middle ground. If the ‘moment’ is tenure as commissioner, then on that basis it could be said that Landis was not anti-racist, that he did not actively promote policies for equity, and that therefore he was a racist.
    A counter point comes from an article in the summer 2009 edition of The Baseball Research Journal, in which Norman L. Wacht wrote: “A historian who judges a man in the context of today’s time and standards and not the standards and conditions of the time in which the subject lived commits a scholarly sin. The attempt to understand people in their context and on their terms requires that we temporarily suspend judgment. Understanding the America of the 1920s and ’30s and ’40s obliges us to make the effort of not judging it by the standards and values of today.”

      • Thanks, Jack. But, I’m thinking that while we cut a little slack for those who were living in their time, should we content ourselves with living in our time, or should we look more to the future? Despite my general dislike for the Kennedys, they could inspire, as with this quote from Robert Kennedy: “Some men see things as they are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask why not.” Suppose Landis early in his tenure had envisioned integration?

      • That quote Here’s Johnny provided, by Wacht, still leaves me unsettled. I do think we need to recognize clearly the prevailing Groupthink or Zeitgeist of earlier times, and thus not fail to better understand the similar prevalences (for better or worse) of current times.

  5. A most welcomed correctional post and threads of comments – as if they had all been written just for me! Seriously, thanks, everyone. I had long thought without doubt that Landis was an implacable segregationist, at least. Now I know better, and Ken Burns and his historical revisionist crew at PBS be DAMNED! I can’t wait for the opportunity to show the truth that had been hidden from me for DECADES, ever since Burns made the video series on baseball history.

    Current race-hustling hucksters like Rosenthal be damned, too.

    • I am told by my baseball writer friend of many years that Rosenthal is a nice guy, but you couldn’t prove it by me. I had a set-to with him a long while back, in which I challenged his analysis of some matter relating to the Red Sox. Rather than discuss the issue fairly, he defaulted to accusing me and all Boston fans of being incapable of appreciating expert analysis—you know, like his—when it was unfavorable to their hometown team.

      It turned out that I was 100% right and he was wrong, and a year later, when the facts were in, I reminded him of our argument. Unlike my current writer friend, who proved his character by conceding that my criticism was valid in the dispute that introduced us, Rosenthal proved his character by not having the class to respond, “Yup, you were right, I was wrong, you knew what you were talking about, and I should not have been such a jerk at the time.”

  6. There has been much research done on this very topic by SABR. David Pietruza and especially Norman Macht (I have his book) have researched this to the nth degree. The BBWAA members love their metrics, but they run into a wall with the inability to look at valid research by accomplished baseball historians. Much better to toss fresh meat to the hyenas.

  7. Steve Witherspoon
    OCTOBER 4, 2020 AT 10:11 AM
    As a side note to my fellow Ethics Alarms commenters…

    Ethics Alarms has been a staple of reading for many of us over the years. The blogger Jack Marshall has never asked a thing from any of us over the years. Now it’s time that we give something back that shows the value that his efforts have been and continue to be. Jack inspires discussion about the ethical lessons that can be learned by looking at current events. Other than the automatic fees that GoFundMe charges, 100% of the gifted dollars will be sent directly to Jack Marshall for the purpose of getting a new laptop blogging computer of his choice.

    Ethics Alarms New Laptop Fundraiser

  8. As a side note to my fellow Ethics Alarms commenters…

    Ethics Alarms has been a staple of reading for many of us over the years. The blogger Jack Marshall has never asked a thing from any of us over the years. Now it’s time that we give something back that shows the value that his efforts have been and continue to be. Jack inspires discussion about the ethical lessons that can be learned by looking at current events. Other than the automatic fees that GoFundMe charges, 100% of the gifted dollars will be sent directly to Jack Marshall for the purpose of getting a new laptop blogging computer of his choice.


    Ethics Alarms New Laptop Fundraiser

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