The career of Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis had already been very controversial before he ever assumed the title of Commissioner of Baseball. His actions after appointment as commissioner only added to the polemic reputation of the man. He had accepted the position under the condition that he was to have absolute power with no recourse by the owners. His appointment was for life with no means of removing him. He was in every sense a true Czar of baseball with the final authority in all matters. Unlike his previous position as Judge, there was no court of appeal. This authority extended to all organized baseball as he held the power to outlaw not only players but also teams and even leagues if they did not conform to his sometimes ill-defined standards.141
In spite of Landis’ hopes that his actions, in banning the eight White Sox, would halt problems with players participating in illegal gambling activities, controversies continued to surface. In addition to the unfortunate events leading up to the banning of Jimmie O’Connell and Cozy Dolan, Landis also had to deal with a strange set of circumstances surrounding a pitcher named Phil “Shuffler” Douglas. Douglas was a star pitcher for the New York Giants who also suffered from serious problems with alcohol abuse. A series of disputes between the Giants and Douglas let to a number of controversial actions by both sides that ultimately led Landis to ban Douglas from organized baseball for life.142
Judge Landis had banned the original eight Black Sox for life. However he appeared to need to not just ban these players from organized baseball, but also to stop all contact between recognized players and the outlaw players. In the spring of 1922 a Chicago investment broker named George Miller put together a semi-pro team with Joe Jackson, Chick Gandil, Hap Felsch, Swede Risberg, Lefty Williams and Eddie Cicotte and called the team the Major Stars. The second baseman on the team was young twenty three year old coach from Mount Carmel Junior College named Darby Rathman. He had planned to sign with the Triple-A Newark team of the international league as soon as his contract at the college was completed. In the meantime a spot on the Major Stars meant an extra hundred dollars a week. According to Rathman, when he returned from is tour with the Major Stars he called the Newark team. They informed him that Landis had barred him from ever playing in organized baseball. Rathman stated that not only did Landis bar him from organized baseball but that Landis thought he was doing Rathman a favor as no one would ever trust him after he had played with the banned players.143
Landis continued to punish players who associated with the ineligible players. The next player to feel Landis’ wrath was a most unlikely candidate. During the 1919 World Series, the White Sox won three games, one with Eddie Cicotte pitching and other two games pitched by a player called Richard Henry (Dickie) Kerr. Kerr had a record of thirteen wins and eight losses during the regular year but became a hero as one of the honest players. During the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds he pitched and won two of the three victories won by the White Sox. During the 1920 season he won twenty one games and lost only nine. During the 1921 season with half of the championship team gone, Kerr still managed a record of nineteen wins and seventeen losses. In spite of his loyalty and his strong pitching, owner Charles Comisky offered Kerr only $4500 in 1920 and gave him no raise in 1921 in spite of twenty one wins. Kerr refused to sign his contract for the 1922 season. Because he also played against some of the ineligible players during the course of the season, Landis placed Kerr on the ineligible list for the 1923 season. Kerr eventually was reinstated and returned for the 1925 season with the White Sox but pitched in only twelve games and had an undistinguished record of zero wins and one loss.144
In the winter of 1926-27, Landis faced the most serious challenge since the Black Sox scandal. In the fall of 1926, as soon as the baseball season had ended, rumors started circulating regarding two of baseball’s most famous players, Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker. The rumors stated that neither player would be with their respective teams, the Detroit Tigers and the Cleveland Indians, the following year and might not even be in organized baseball.145
The rumors began to have substance when on November 2, 1926 it was reported that Cobb had resigned as manager of the Tigers and then had been released by the team. On December 2, 1926 it was further reported that Speaker had resigned his position as manager of the Cleveland Indians and then had also been given his release. The furor over why these players were released finally led Landis to break the story on December 21, 1926.
The report distributed by Landis included accusations, supported by two letters, that these two players had participated in the betting on a game in 1919. The game was also one in which they had played.146 American League President Ban Johnson had felt that the evidence against the two was conclusive and had forced the two teams to release the two players. When he sent the evidence to Landis, Johnson had apparently expected the Commissioner to back up his finding. Instead, Landis announced that he would withhold his judgment until later in the winter. He understood that his decision would be a critical one as it concerned two the top stars of the game who had otherwise clean records. Whatever decision he made this time, would have long term implications for the future of professional baseball.
Into the controversy a new element was added when Swede Risberg, one of the original eight Black Sox, broke into the news on December 30, 1926. He announced through The Chicago Tribune newspaper “I can give baseball’s bosses information that will implicate twenty big leaguers who never before have been mentioned in connection with crookedness,….”147 He alleged that during the 1917 season, when the Chicago team was fighting for the pennant, the Detroit team “sloughed off” two games to the White Sox. Then the White Sox returned the favor by throwing two games to the tigers in September of 1919 after the Sox had clinched the pennant. He also alleged that in 1917 the White Sox had raised $45 from each player to pay off the Tigers for sloughing the games.
Landis reacted quickly and called Risberg to his office just two days later, New Years Day, 1927. On January 5 he called an open meeting of Risberg and all of the accused players. This day of testimony was followed on January 7 with testimony by Chick Gandil who was working a winter job for the Chino Mines. Lefty Williams, working a winter job at Fort Bayard, had also been invited to return to Chicago to testify, but Williams had no interest and stated that he was perfectly happy just where he was.148
After listening to the testimony Landis sided with the players against the Risberg-Gandil testimony. He did however, agree that “If the Risberg-Gandil version be correct it was act of criminality. If the other versions be true, it was an act of impropriety, reprehensible and censurable, but not corrupt.149 Landis then established the first clear, publicly stated guidelines that outlined what a player could and could not do and what punishment they could expect to receive. He also once and for all put everything that had occurred before 1920 out of consideration by declaring a moratorium through a statute of limitations.
On January 23 Landis held a secret meeting with the baseball owners that completely removed all power from Ban Johnson. After six years of sparring for power between these two moguls, Landis finally assumed full command.150 Just four days later, now in full command, he released his announcement that Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker had been cleared of any wrong doing were free to resume their careers. What is not commonly known is that when this announcement was released, Landis was not in Chicago but was actually in El Paso, Texas.
Landis had apparently left Chicago shortly after the January 13 meeting, for on January 25 Landis was in El Paso and was talking to the officials of the Copper League. Landis quickly made his intentions clear when he stated that
“El Paso is a revelation to me and I am also pleasantly surprised at the people of Juarez.
With the two cities working in harmony, there is no reason why El Paso and Juarez shouldn’t
both have Class D ball teams. You will never have good baseball until you get in organized
ball. The outlaws problem created by the Frontier league (sic) will haunt you until you
enter the fold.”151
If the purpose of Landis’ visit was not clear enough he met with Dr. McCamant, president of the Copper League the following day.
“(Landis) expressed the willingness of organized baseball to make almost any concession in
order to stamp out outlawry on southwestern diamonds, these considerations included forming
a four team class D. league made up of El Paso, Juarez, Santa Rita/Hurley, and Fort Bayard.
Later perhaps Bisbee and Douglas could join.”152
That Landis could deliver on his promise was backed up by the assertion that Landis had done this type of intervention before with the Blue Ridge League.153
Landis was well known for his attitude of carrying a big stick as earlier related by the outlawing of Darby Rathman and of Dickie Kerr. This is the first time that evidence has come forward that Landis could also use a carrot approach. While El Paso and possibly even Juarez would certainly seem like logical sites for baseball franchises, one can only speculate on the feelings that would drive Landis to advocate the granting of a franchise to a hospital community with only 500 to 600 residents. Rather than just driving the players out of organized baseball he seemed almost possessed by a vendetta to stop these individuals from ever earning a living from playing baseball anywhere in the United States.
While this visit by Landis generated a great deal of publicity in the El Paso area, both Fort Bayard and Chino gave no reaction and moved ahead with former plans. On March 2, Fort Bayard organized their association.154 This was followed four days later when Chino formed their baseball association with Gandil as the manager.155
141 J. G. Taylor Spink, Judge Landis and Twenty Five Years of Baseball, (Thomas Y. Crowell, 1947). Spink’s account is the most comprehensive account of Landis’ life. It is drawn from the author’s remembrances and information from the journal, Sporting News. Landis’ personal papers are still in private hands and have not been published.
142 Tom Clark, One Last Round for the Shuffler, (New York: Pomerica, 1979). This very sympathetic account about Douglas still raises many valid questions about the nature of organized baseball during the 1920′s.
143 Peter Dexter, “Black Sox Blues, in 1919 Scandal Touched the White Sox. Then it Touched Darby Rathman and it Never Went Away.” Esquire, October, 1984, pp. 265-67.
144 Harold Seymour, Baseball: the Golden Age, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971), p. 334.
145 Spink, pp. 154-85. All of the events occurring in Chicago during the winter of 1926-27 are taken from this book unless otherwise footnoted.
146 ibid., pp. 157-9, Copies of these letters are reprinted in Spink’s account.
147 ibid., p. 164.
148 El Paso Times, January 3, 1927. The same paper also announced that Weaver, who was also testifying at the hearings would play in 1927 for the Chino team.
149 Spink, p. 170.
150 The power struggle between these two giants of baseball was a factor in almost every controversy during the 1920′s. The power struggle viewed from the side of Landis can be found in J. G. Taylor Spink, Judge Landis and Twenty Five Years of Baseball, (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1947). A version more favorable to Johnson can be found in Eugene C. Murdock, Ban Johnson: Czar of Baseball, (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1982).
151 El Paso Times, January 26, 1927
152 Slam Marshall, “Slam Bangs,” El Paso Times, January 28, 1927,
153 No more information is given on this cryptic message. The Blue Ridge League was formed before Landis came to power and it is unclear just exactly what action, if any, Landis might have taken.
154 El Paso Times, March 3, 1927.
155 ibid., March 7, 1927.