Kenesaw Mountain Landis

The headline in The New York Times in 1920 stated “BASEBALL PEACE DECLARED; LANDIS NAMED DICTATOR.” Over a decade later, in legal court documents, he was called “legally an absolute despot.” Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis (1866-1944) was everything and more than what the owners who hired him bargained for, a tough, uncompromising man who trusted his own opinion beyond any other.

Kenesaw Mountain Landis's seemed to know his word was meant to be law.
Kenesaw Mountain Landis's overall
demeanor was that of a
man who seemed to know his
word was meant to be law.

Landis was born in Millville, Ohio, in 1866. He received his name from a major Civil War battle in which his father had been wounded, at Kennesaw Mountain, Georgia. “Ken” became nationally known in his capacity as a District Judge starting in 1907 when he levied a $29,240,000 fine against Standard Oil in a freight rebate case (the ruling was overturned, but it helped draw attention to the violations).

He was a passionate baseball fan, and when called upon to rule in legal battles arising from the challenge of the Federal League to major-league baseball, his handling of the affair allowed the Federal League to be absorbed, and worked to the satisfaction of most parties.

Landis is best known for his rulings concerning the 1919 Black Sox, when he banned the eight players accused of throwing World Series games from baseball despite the lack of evidence to convict them in a court of law. He also put an end to barnstorming by making an example of Babe Ruth. Landis suspended Ruth and two others for 40 days in 1922.

Landis was keenly aware of the relationship between baseball and America. He gave himself a pay cut during the Depression and limited travel, particularly for spring training, during the war years.

Landis never saw eye to eye with American League founder Ban Johnson, and eventually usurped most of Johnson’s considerable power. There was also ongoing friction between Landis and Branch Rickey.

The Judge foresaw the effect that Rickey’s farm system would have on the competitive nature of the minor leagues, which he believed were as entitled to compete to their full powers as were the major leagues. This was one of the few battles he was destined to lose. He championed the collective good of the players in most things, and honesty and square dealings in all things.

Landis was rarely photographed smiling, and the stern, craggy eccentric that his photos portray seem to have been a true picture of the man. When he died in 1944 at the age of 78, he had a year to go on his contract, and had just been voted to a new, seven-year term.

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