Childhood & Early Life
Born Kenesaw Mountain Landis was born on November 20, 1866, in Millville, Ohio. He was the sixth child and the fourth son of Millville physician Abraham Hoch Landis and Mary Kumler Landis. His birth name is a modified version of the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, in which his father was wounded.
Landis worked on farms for much of his childhood and adolescence. He began working as a news delivery boy at the age of 10 and dropped out of school at 15. He later worked as an errand boy for the 'Vandalia Railroad.'
He ventured into politics in 1886, joining the 'Republican Party.' He was rewarded with a job in the 'Indiana Department of State' for supporting his friend Charles F. Griffin in his victorious Indiana Secretary of State campaign.
At age 21, Landis applied to become an attorney. Back then, no academic credentials were required to be able to practice law. He started his practice in Marion, Indiana, but it was not too profitable. Thus, he joined Cincinnati's 'YMCA Law School' (now part of the 'Northern Kentucky University') in 1889.
Landis joined the 'Union Law School' (now part of the 'Northwestern University') the following year and graduated in 1891. Following this, he was admitted to the ‘Illinois Bar.’
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Landis started practicing law professionally in Chicago and subsequently worked as an assistant instructor at ‘Union.’ Along with fellow attorney Clarence Darrow, he established the non-partisan 'Chicago Civic Centre Club.'
In 1893, the newly appointed United States secretary of state Walter Q. Gresham hired Landis as his secretary. He diligently protected several of Gresham's interests in the ‘State Department.’
Landis was not liked by most of the department's senior officials. In one instance, President Grover Cleveland demanded Landis's dismissal, as he believed the attorney had leaked information regarding his policy to oppose the treaty of Hawaiian annexation. However, Gresham defended Landis in the case.
Landis refused the post of the United States ambassador to Venezuela, which was offered to him after Gresham died in 1895. Instead, he returned to Chicago to continue his career as an attorney and to start his marital life.
He was doing well as a corporate lawyer in Chicago and simultaneously continued to participate in 'Republican Party' politics.
Landis managed his friend Lowden's 1904 campaign for the governor of Illinois. Unfortunately, Lowden lost the election.
Later, when President Theodore Roosevelt offered Lowden a vacant seat at the ‘United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois,’ he declined. However, he recommended Landis for the post.
In March 1905, Roosevelt appointed Landis as a judge of the ‘United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.’
In one of his first cases, Landis imposed a fine on the 'Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company' for importing workers illegally. It brought him national prominence, as he passed an unbiased verdict, even though his brother-in-law served on the corporate board of the accused company.
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In another case, Landis allowed the jurisdiction of the 'Interstate Commerce Commission' (ICC) to take action against railroads, which offered rebates, which was illegal according to the 'Elkins Act' of 1903.
Landis's nationwide popularity soared with the 1907 case, in which he fined 'Standard Oil of Indiana' for applying rebates on railroad freight tariffs. The fine amounted to $29,240,000, which was the highest fine amount imposed until then.
The 'United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit' reversed the 'Standard Oil of Indiana' verdict on July 22, 1908. After Landis recused himself, in a new ‘Supreme Court’ trial in January 1909, 'Standard Oil' was acquitted.
In 1915, Landis took up a case where the American professional baseball league known as the 'Federal League' (FL) challenged the reserve clause of major ‘American League’ and ‘National League’ teams that provided lifetime rights to a player's services. He, however, delayed his decision until a frustrated ‘FL’ agreed on a buyout, with terms and conditions that all the three leagues accepted.
In early 1917, Landis contemplated retirement as a judge and decided to restart his private practice. During World War I, he issued several harsh verdicts. He judged alleged sedition rebels trials involving Socialist and labor leaders. He also imposed fines on the ‘International Workers of the World’ members for draft evasion and sentenced them to up to 20 years in prison. The sentences were later commuted.
By 1919, the sport baseball was heavily under the influence of gambling. The following year, Landis was appointed as the first commissioner of 'Major League Baseball' (MLB), a position he served until he died in 1944.
As the ‘MLB’ commissioner, it was his responsibility to retain the integrity of the sport among the public. One of his major verdicts was the one on the 1919 ‘MLB’ game-fixing scandal, popularly known as the “Black Sox Scandal.”
In 1921, Landis issued a verdict on the scandal, permanently banning all the eight 'Chicago White Sox' members accused of fixing a game against the 'Cincinnati Reds' in the 1919 'World Series.'
In his first 5 years as the ‘MLB’ commissioner, he permanently banned seven more players and suspended 38 others, including the biggest star-player of the time, Babe Ruth.
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While serving as the commissioner, Landis stirred a huge controversy, as not a single black player had played during his tenure, due to a continuation of the ban on black ballplayers since 1884. It was assumed that Landis did nothing to lift the ban and bring in a revolutionary change. The ban, popularly known as the “color line,” ended when Rickey of the 'Brooklyn Dodgers' signed Jackie Robinson for the minor league 'Montreal Royals' in 1946, long after Landis's death.
Landis fully controlled the 'World Series.' Hence, he was blamed for sparing the umpire who had called a tie because of darkness during the 1922 'World Series,' while there was still enough light. Landis then announced that such decisions would be taken by him in future and that the proceeds from such tied games would go to charity.
On September 1, 1921, the 'American Bar Association' criticized Landis. However, the matter fizzled out by the end of the year. Landis saw this as an opportunity to resign, as it was less likely to appear as a forced decision. On February 18, 1922, he announced his resignation as a judge.
When the United States joined World War II in late 1941, Landis communicated with President Franklin D. Roosevelt through letters to inquire about the wartime status of baseball. The president urged Landis to keep organizing baseball games, so that it could serve as entertainment for those who had participated in the war.
In early October 1944, just 2 days before the 'World Series,' Landis had a heart attack and was taken to the 'St. Luke's Hospital' in Chicago, the same hospital where his wife had been hospitalized with a severe cold. He, for the first time in his tenure as a commissioner, missed a 'World Series.'
However, even at the hospital, he kept himself updated and also signed the 'World Series' share checks to players.
His contract was to expire in January 1946, but on November 17, 1944, as a gesture of tribute to him, baseball authorities extended his term by 7 years. However, he died shortly after.
Family, Personal Life & Death
Landis got married to Winifred Reed on July 25, 1895. She was daughter of the postmaster of Ottawa. They had a son, Reed, and a daughter, Susanne. Their third child, Winifred, died soon after being born.
Landis died on November 25, 1944. His last wish was to not have a funeral. Hence, he was cremated and had a modest burial ceremony in Chicago.
Two weeks after his death, a special committee voted Landis to be inducted into the ‘National Baseball Hall of Fame' in Cooperstown, New York.
The 'Baseball Writers' Association of America' honored Landis by renaming its 'Most Valuable Player Award' after him.