Ranking the Commissioners, Pt. II

It's part two of a two part series on ranking the Commissioners of Major League Baseball. From the mediocre on down to the terrible, and you have to wonder where current Commissioner Bud Selig ranks?

The final countdown of the Commissioners of Major League Baseball, from the mediocre on down to the terrible:

4) Happy Chandler (1945-51)

Background: A Kentucky politician. Chandler was a compromise choice after six other candidates couldn't get the necessary support to succeed the previous Commish.

Resume: Chandler was best known for the fact that he did not actually oppose Jackie Robinson's desegregation of baseball- he stood aside as Walter O'Malley and Branch Rickey introduced Robinson in 1947, but wouldn't support a planned player boycott, either. Years after Robinson and Rickey had died, he claimed that he had been supporting the move all along, but Robinson's biographer described him as "a bit player" in the groundbreaking struggle to desegregate the National Pastime.

Chandler was routinely criticized for his capricious fines and for completely botching baseball's first network television agreement. After he sold off baseball's TV rights, the buyer turned around and re-sold them for four times Chandler's price. This, along with his sudden, loud renditions of ‘My Old Kentucky Home', were some of the reasons one team owner referred to Chandler as ‘the bluegrass jackass.'

Exit: Fired at the end of his single term.

Better than Selig?: No. Chandler was unimportant on his good days, disastrous on his bad days.

3) Peter Ueberroth (1984-89)

Background: Ueberroth was an organizer for the successful 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

Resume: Ueberroth's sarcastic, bullying leadership style was frequently deployed to encourage owners to curb their bidding on free agent player contracts. When the owners ended up conspiring to rig the market competition, the players' union sued. A neutral arbitrator ruled against the 1985 to 1987 racketeering conspiracy with a $280 million verdict, a gargantuan toll that wiped out many ‘80s profits from new licensing deals and TV money.

Despite a reluctance to go along with yet another destructive player strike, Ueberroth continuously poor-mouthed the game's surging finances. He once said that "the only person that can own small-market teams is some very rich semi-fool who doesn't mind losing a lot of money for five years of his life." Meanwhile, franchise prices soared across the board, to the point that windfall profits seemed to be the birthright of even the most incompetent smaller market owner.

Exit: Ueberroth resigned shortly after the team owners were hit with the $280 million tab for the racketeering conspiracy (‘collusion'). Ueberroth was known as a control freak, but his political ambitions fizzled in unsuccessful campaigns. He also tried to buy several teams. He was rejected every time.

Better than Selig?: No. Uebie was leagues more intelligent, handsome, and polished than Selig, but was he more effective at the end of the day? Nope.

2) Bowie Kuhn (1969-1983)

Background: Kuhn was a corporate lawyer. He helped defend Major League Baseball's antitrust shield in the face of Curt Flood's pioneering legal challenges.

Resume: Once in office, Kuhn continued to fight tooth and nail against the Flood case and the reserve clause's repeal. The star St. Louis outfielder once wrote to Kuhn that "I do not feel that I am a piece of property to be bought and sold." The Commissioner was kind enough to admit that Flood was actually a human being, but wrote that "I cannot see [that'> applicability to the situation at hand."

Once an owner-appointed mediator declared the reserve clause invalid, Kuhn fired him. Despite the fact that the free agency system later spurred record-breaking revenues and attendance surges, Kuhn frequently claimed that the system actually threatened organized baseball's very existence. He once claimed the game's economics would suffer "unless someone strikes oil behind second base," and enthusiastically led the game into the destructive 1981 strike.

The combative Kuhn banned living legends Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays from the game due to their community relations appearances on behalf Atlantic City casinos. He also derided promotional days for "prostituting" the National Pastime.

Exit: Fired at the end of his second term. After Kuhn left, Mantle and Mays were welcomed back to the game and the kids' giveaways continued. Kuhn's law firm then went bankrupt.

Better than Selig?: No. On the labor question, it's a push, but Selig's hunger for a buck has always been linked to his ability to adapt and innovate the game through measures like interleague scheduling and wild card playoffs.

1) Kenesaw Mountain Landis (1920-44)

Background: Landis was a Chicago political hack, appointed to a local judgeship through family connections despite his utter lack of legal training. Once on the bench, he was a shameless self-promoter whose outrageous, headline-chasing verdicts against the likes of Standard Oil and the Kaiser of Germany were promptly overturned by higher courts. He also imprisoned antiwar protesters. One contemporary journalist described him as the most arbitrary judge he'd ever seen.

Landis was an utter phony, an outspoken advocate for morality and Prohibition in public, but a profane racist and drinker in private. Even his name was false- it was a mis-spelling of the ‘Kennesaw' Mountain in Georgia.

The Judge first came to the attention of Major League Baseball's owners during the Federal League dispute in 1918. A would-be rival sued in order to challenge the Majors' bizarre anti-trust exemption. Landis presided over the upstarts' trial, but refused to hand over any verdict for over eleven months (!). The Federal League owners were, quite predictably, forced to give in. The grateful MLB owners hired Landis (for a hefty salary, of course) soon afterwards.

Resume: A biographer called the first Commissioner a "bigoted curmudgeon" who "seemed to rule by whim." Best known for exiling the would-be fixers of the 1919 World Series, Landis refused to stand up against big stars like Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, and Smokey Joe Wood when they were suspected of illegal gambling in the 1920s. Those allegations were all swept under the rug.

Landis answered to no one, and baseball's ‘czar', like czars of the Russian variety, wasn't a big fan of freedom or innovation.

Once in office, Landis was a staunch proponent of the segregation system that excluded even legendary Negro League ball players from the Majors. While publicly declaring that no ban was in place, he actively maneuvered behind the scenes to keep baseball all white.

Landis used his arbitrary power to oppose Rickey's Minor League investments in the 1920s, thereby delaying the development of a reliable talent pipelines for years. He fined Babe Ruth for conducting goodwill barnstorming tours during the off season and banned ball players from talking to the customers in the stands. He dragged his feet on radio broadcasting and strongly opposed the introduction of night baseball ("Not in my lifetime or yours will you see a baseball game at night").

Whitey Herzog and others have claimed that Landis "saved" baseball in the 1920s. In reality, Landis was the passive beneficiary of Ruth's popularity, the League-wide home run surge, and the improving post-war economy.

Exit: True to his word, Landis retained his lifetime appointment as czar. Then he dropped dead.

Better than Selig?: No. Landis looked, sounded, and acted like an ogre, but don't let that fool you. He really was an ogre.

Missed In Ranking the Commissioners, Pt. I- an Ivy Leaguer, an empty cab, a default, and an Unknown Soldier? You can check it out also here "In the House."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Peter Handrinos our special guest columnist is the webmaster of www.UnitedStatesOfBaseball.com and a regular contributor to www.All-Baseball.com.

You can write to at pch@UnitedStatesOfBaseball.com.


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