Kenesaw Mountain Landis

Kenesaw Mountain Landis
Kenesaw Mountain Landis (ca. 1922).jpg
1st Commissioner of Baseball
In office
November 12, 1920 – November 25, 1944
Preceded byOffice established
Succeeded byHappy Chandler
Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois
In office
March 18, 1905 – February 28, 1922
Appointed byTheodore Roosevelt
Preceded byChristian Cecil Kohlsaat
Succeeded byJames Herbert Wilkerson
Personal details
Born(1866-11-20)November 20, 1866
Millville, Ohio, U.S.
DiedNovember 25, 1944(1944-11-25) (aged 78)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Resting placeOak Woods Cemetery, Chicago.
Spouse(s)Winifred Reed (1895–1944, survived as widow)
RelationsCharles Beary Landis (brother)
Frederick Landis (brother)
Children3, including Reed
Alma materUnion College of Law
Nickname(s)"The Judge", "The Squire"

Baseball career
Member of the National
Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg Baseball Hall of Fame Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg
Election MethodOld Timers’ Committee

Kenesaw Mountain Landis (s/; November 20, 1866 – November 25, 1944) was an American jurist who served as a federal judge from 1905 to 1922 and as the first Commissioner of Baseball from 1920 until his death. He is remembered for his handling of the Black Sox scandal, in which he expelled eight members of the Chicago White Sox from organized baseball for conspiring to lose the 1919 World Series and repeatedly refused their reinstatement requests.[1] His firm actions and iron rule over baseball in the near quarter-century of his commissionership are generally credited with restoring public confidence in the game.

Landis was born in Millville, Ohio, in 1866. His name was a spelling variation on the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain in the American Civil War, where his father was wounded in 1864. Landis spent much of his youth in Indiana; he left school at fifteen and worked in a series of positions in that state. His involvement in politics led to a civil service job. At age 21, Landis applied to become a lawyer—there were then no educational or examination requirements for the Indiana bar. Following a year of unprofitable practice, he went to law school. After his graduation, he opened an office in Chicago, but left it when Walter Q. Gresham, the new United States Secretary of State, named him his personal secretary in 1893. After Gresham's death in 1895, Landis refused an offer of an ambassadorship, and returned to Chicago to practice law and marry.

President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Landis a federal judge in 1905. Landis received national attention in 1907 when he fined Standard Oil of Indiana more than $29 million for violating federal laws forbidding rebates on railroad freight tariffs. Though Landis was reversed on appeal, he was seen as a judge determined to rein in big business. During and after World War I, Landis presided over several high-profile trials of draft resisters and others whom he saw as opposing the war effort. He imposed heavy sentences on those who were convicted; some of the convictions were reversed on appeal, and other sentences were commuted.

In 1920, Judge Landis was a leading candidate when American League and National League team owners, embarrassed by the Black Sox scandal and other instances of players throwing games, sought someone to rule over baseball. Landis was given full power to act in the sport's best interest, and used that power extensively over the next quarter-century. Landis was widely praised for cleaning up the game, although some of his decisions in the Black Sox matter remain controversial: supporters of "Shoeless Joe" Jackson and Buck Weaver contend that he was overly harsh with those players. Others blame Landis for, in their view, delaying the racial integration of baseball. Landis was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame by a special vote shortly after he died in 1944.

Early life and pre-judicial career (1866–1905)

Boyhood and early career (1866–93)

The five Landis boys in November 1882; Kenesaw (second from left) was almost sixteen years old.

Kenesaw Mountain Landis was born in Millville, Ohio, the sixth child and fourth son of Abraham Hoch Landis, a physician, and Mary Kumler Landis, on November 20, 1866. The Landises descended from Swiss Mennonites who had emigrated to Alsace before coming to the United States. Abraham Landis had been wounded fighting on the Union side at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain in Georgia, and when his parents proved unable to agree on a name for the new baby, Mary Landis proposed that they call him Kenesaw Mountain. At the time, both spellings of "Kenesaw" were used, but in the course of time, "Kennesaw Mountain" became the accepted spelling of the battle site.[2]

Abraham Landis worked in Millville as a country physician. When Kenesaw was eight, the elder Landis moved his family to Delphi, Indiana and subsequently to Logansport, Indiana where the doctor purchased and ran several local farms—his war injury had caused him to scale back his medical practice.[3] Two of Kenesaw's four brothers, Charles Beary Landis and Frederick Landis, became members of Congress.[4]

Kenesaw Mountain Landis (at left) and his four brothers, two of whom served in Congress, as illustrated in 1908.

As "Kenny", as he was sometimes known, grew, he did an increasing share of the farm work, later stating, "I did my share—and it was a substantial share—in taking care of the 13 acres ... I do not remember that I particularly liked to get up at 3:30 in the morning."[5] Kenesaw began his off-farm career at age ten as a news delivery boy.[5] He left school at 15 after an unsuccessful attempt to master algebra; he then worked at the local general store. He left that job for a position as errand boy with the Vandalia Railroad. Landis applied for a job as a brakeman, but was laughingly dismissed as too small. He then worked for the Logansport Journal, and taught himself shorthand reporting, becoming in 1883 official court reporter for the Cass County Circuit Court.[6] Landis later wrote, "I may not have been much of a judge, nor baseball official, but I do pride myself on having been a real shorthand reporter."[7] He served in that capacity until 1886.[7] In his spare time, he became a prize-winning bicycle racer and played on and managed a baseball team.[6] Offered a professional contract as a ballplayer, he turned it down, stating that he preferred to play for the love of the game.[8]

In 1886, Landis first ventured into Republican Party politics, supporting a friend, Charles F. Griffin, for Indiana Secretary of State. Griffin won, and Landis was rewarded with a civil service job in the Indiana Department of State. While employed there, he applied to be an attorney. At that time, in Indiana, an applicant needed only to prove that he was 21 and of good moral character, and Landis was admitted. Landis opened a practice in Marion, Indiana but attracted few clients in his year of work there. Realizing that an uneducated lawyer was unlikely to build a lucrative practice, Landis enrolled at Cincinnati's YMCA Law School (now part of Northern Kentucky University) in 1889. Landis transferred to Union Law School (now part of Northwestern University) the following year, and in 1891, he took his law degree from Union and was admitted to the Illinois Bar.[9] He began a practice in Chicago, served as an assistant instructor at Union and with fellow attorney Clarence Darrow helped found the nonpartisan Chicago Civic Centre Club, devoted to municipal reform.[10] Landis practiced with college friend Frank O. Lowden; the future commissioner and his law partner went into debt to impress potential clients, buying a law library secondhand.[11]

Washington years and aftermath (1893–1905)

Executive and State Department listings from 1894, showing Landis's salary of $2,000.

In March 1893, President Grover Cleveland appointed federal judge Walter Q. Gresham as his Secretary of State, and Gresham hired Landis as his personal secretary. Gresham had a long career as a political appointee in the latter part of the 19th century; though he lost his only two bids for elective office, he served in three Cabinet positions and was twice a dark horse candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. Although Gresham was a Republican, he had supported Cleveland (a Democrat) in the 1892 election because of his intense dislike for the Republican nominee, President Benjamin Harrison.[12] Kenesaw Landis had appeared before Judge Gresham in court. According to Landis biographer J.G. Taylor Spink, Gresham thought Landis "had something on the ball" and believed that Landis's shorthand skills would be of use.[13]

In Washington, Landis worked hard to protect Gresham's interests in the State Department, making friends with many members of the press. He was less popular among many of the Department's senior career officials, who saw him as brash. When word leaked concerning President Cleveland's Hawaiian policy, the President was convinced Landis was the source of the information and demanded his dismissal. Gresham defended Landis, stating that Cleveland would have to fire both of them, and the President relented, later finding out that he was mistaken in accusing Landis.[14] President Cleveland grew to like Landis, and when Gresham died in 1895, offered Landis the post of United States Ambassador to Venezuela. Landis declined the diplomatic post, preferring to return to Chicago to begin a law practice[15] and to marry Winifred Reed, daughter of the Ottawa, Illinois postmaster. The two married July 25, 1895; they had two surviving children, a boy, Reed, and a girl, Susanne—a third child, Winifred, died almost immediately after being born.[16]

Landis built a corporate law practice in Chicago; with the practice doing well, he deeply involved himself in Republican Party politics.[17] He built a close association with his friend Lowden and served as his campaign manager for governor of Illinois in 1904. Lowden was defeated, but would later serve two terms in the office and be a major contender for the 1920 Republican presidential nomination.[18] A seat on the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois was vacant; President Theodore Roosevelt offered it to Lowden, who declined it and recommended Landis. Other recommendations from Illinois politicians followed, and Roosevelt nominated Landis for the seat.[19] According to Spink, President Roosevelt wanted "a tough judge and a man sympathetic with his viewpoint in that important court"; Lowden and Landis were, like Roosevelt, on the progressive left of the Republican Party.[20] On March 18, 1905, Roosevelt transmitted the nomination to the Senate, which confirmed Landis the same afternoon, without any committee hearing.[21]