Late Innings: A Documentary History of Baseball, 1945-1972

By Dean A. Sullivan | Go to book overview
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Introduction

Major league baseball owners faced a dilemma after the death of Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis in November 1944. Following the shock of the Black Sox scandal of 1919, the owners hired Landis as the sport's first commissioner. They endowed his office with vast power and for the next quarter-century watched in silent horror as Landis wielded his authority with fierce abandon. Landis's death afforded owners an opportunity to reorganize the administrative structure of baseball to protect and enhance their influence while ensuring the prosperity of the game.

The owners realized that this opportunity arrived at a most propitious time. With the end of the war in sight, both players and fans would soon be returning en masse, restrictions on travel and on material used to construct top-quality balls and bats would be lifted, and the tension permeating American society would be replaced by euphoria. Baseball officials hoped their sport would serve as a primary recreational outlet for the nation. In order to capitalize on the situation, however, they had to act quickly to elect a new commissioner who would agree to assume Landis's office without Landis's power.

Landis's successor would be unable to unilaterally enact or reverse baseball policy based on his interpretation of "baseball's best interests, as Landis had on numerous occasions. The owners redefined this clause to indicate those decisions and strategies agreed to by a majority of owners. A successful commissioner would have to petition the owners to gain their approval on any particular issue. He would also have to earn at least three-quarters of the votes, rather than a simple majority, to retain his office. Post-Landis commissioners would have to be consummate politicians in order to survive, and their primary constituency would not be the baseball fan, but the ownership.

Given these conditions and their newfound power, the owners opted to award the commissionership to a career politician known for his personal eccentricities— U.S. senator Albert "Happy” Chandler. A detailed memo by Dodgers president Branch Rickey revealed the mistrust among the owners as the opportunity they had awaited for years finally presented itself. A primary source of resentment was the initial reluctance of the committee empowered with selecting candidates to reveal their top choices to the rest of the owners. According to Rickey, Rickey himself took the lead in gaining the release of the candidate list, only to see his accomplishment overshadowed by Yankees president Larry MacPhail, who nominated Chandler for the position and persuaded the others to vote for him.

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