Happy Chandler’s tenure as commissioner of baseball, from 1945 to 1951, was marked by wide extremes of strong action, inaction, and questionable action, all of which helped lead to his ouster at the end of his single term. His were difficult times in baseball, but he left a rich legacy of his stewardship.
One of Happy Chandler's top
accomplishments was his approval
of the integration of baseball.
Albert B. Chandler (1898-1991) was born in Corydon, Kentucky. He attended Transylvania University in Lexington, where he played baseball, and earned a law degree from the University of Kentucky. The former governor was serving in the U.S. Senate at the time of Kenesaw Mountain Landis’s death, and Happy felt that World War II was all but over and that he could in good conscience leave his legislative duties to take over the reins of baseball.
At the top of the list of Chandler’s accomplishments stands the integration of baseball. Without his approval, Branch Rickey may not have been able to proceed with his plan to open the doors to black players. Landis had stopped Bill Veeck’s earlier plans to hire African Americans. Chandler defied all 15 other owners and made sure that there would be no more talk about “when the time is ripe.”
When some players jumped to the Mexican League in 1946, Chandler suspended them for five years. It was a strong action, but it also opened the door for successful challenges to the reserve clause, a result that could not please the owners. He gave a blanket amnesty in 1949. A lawsuit filed by one of the players was successfully appealed, and baseball had to settle out of court. The court challenge may have led to Chandler’s undoing as commissioner.
Chandler served the players in many ways. He supported the Players Association, helped fund the pension plan by allowing them to share in broadcast revenues, and worked toward a minimum salary. He suspended Leo Durocher from baseball for one year for alleged association with gamblers and “conduct detrimental to baseball.” Some felt Chandler was only trying to bolster his image as a strong leader.
In the end, Chandler was sent packing. Only nine of the required 12 owners voted for his reinstatement as commissioner. Red Smith wrote: “Chandler operated so effectively as a regulatory agency over the owners that the owners marked him incompetent and kicked him, bawling for just one more chance, into the street.” Happy was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1982.
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