Landis, Kenesaw Mountain

Also found in: Encyclopedia.

Landis, Kenesaw Mountain

Kenesaw Mountain Landis. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
Kenesaw Mountain Landis.

Kenesaw Mountain Landis is remembered by some as the trust-busting federal judge who in 1907 imposed a whopping fine against millionaire John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil. More often, sports fans remember Landis as the first and, arguably, most powerful commissioner of U.S. Baseball.

Landis earned a reputation as a stern, highly principled baseball commissioner who ran a tight ship and disapproved of gambling. He antagonized many team owners with his dictatorial style, yet was reelected several times during his twenty-four-year reign.

Although Landis is criticized for maintaining racially segregated major league teams, he is credited with restoring the integrity of the sport after the Black Sox cheating scandal—in which eight members of the Chicago White Sox were accused of throwing the 1919 World Series—nearly ruined baseball. Surprisingly popular with the public, the former judge was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1944.

Landis was born November 20, 1866, in the small Ohio town of Millville. He was named after the mountaintop near Atlanta where his father, a Union Army surgeon, was wounded in battle during the U.S. Civil War. Although Landis did not finish high school, he attended the University of Cincinnati and the Union College of Law in Chicago. He practiced law in Chicago until 1905 when he was appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt to serve as U.S. district judge for northern Illinois. Landis made headlines in 1907 when he fined Standard Oil of Indiana a record $29.24 million for illegal freight rebates. The decision was applauded by the public but thrown out on appeal. Landis remained on the federal bench from 1905 to 1922, also gaining national attention for his Sedition trials of labor leaders and socialists during World War I. After becoming the first baseball commissioner in 1921, Landis retained his judgeship for one year, until members of Congress complained about conflict of interest in matters pertaining to the sport.

In 1921, Landis replaced the three-person national commission set up in 1903 to oversee the sport of baseball. Although his official title was commissioner for the American and National Leagues of Professional Baseball Clubs and for the National Association of Professional Baseball, Landis was often called simply the czar of baseball.

Landis was asked to do nothing less than save professional baseball. The game suffered a public relations disaster after the White Sox conspiracy and Bribery scandal. To cleanse the sport of corruption or the mere appearance of cheating, Landis imposed lifetime bans on the eight White Sox players who had collaborated with gamblers during the 1919 World Series. He also did not hesitate to ban other ballplayers for gambling offenses.

"Regardless of the verdict of juries, no player that throws a ball game, … sits in conference with a bunch of crooked players and gamblers where the ways and means of throwing a game are discussed, and does not promptly tell his club … will ever again play professional baseball."
—Kenesaw Mountain Landis

Landis died in Chicago, at age seventy-eight, on November 25, 1944.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.