Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Integrity in Baseball is an Oxymoron

On the tombstone of Kenesaw Mountain Landis reads: His integrity and leadership established baseball in the respect, esteem and affection of the American people.

Here are a few astute recollections from Writersbloc.blog
It is hard to say which Landis harmed more- America's National Pastime, or its Common Decency.
He was ghoulish even to look at, "a wasted man," wrote John Reed, "with untidy white hair and emaciated face in which two burning eyes (were) set like jewels, (his) parchment skin split by a crack for a mouth- the face of Andrew Jackson three years dead.

Virtually every hateful outrage in baseball history can be ascribed, in some measure, to Landis' integrity and leadership. It started around 1915, when competition from the upstart Federal League threatened to undo the notorious "reserve clause," which bound each player to his team like an indentured servant. The clause was laughably illegal, an obvious violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act, but Landis took care of that. First, he arranged a backroom deal in which the Federals were paid off and the monopoly restored; the, in a breathtaking masterstroke, Landis almost certainly used his influence to obtain baseball's antitrust exemption from the Supreme Court. With competition gone and players stripped of all legal protection, he was soon able to suspend Babe Ruth for having the audacity to play ball in the off-season. (All the sordid details can be found in a marvelous scholarly paper called "Larceny and Old Leather" by Prof. Eldon Ham of Chicago-Kent Law School.

Landis is best known for imposing a lifetime ban on eight members of the Chicago "Black Sox" who accepted bribes from gamblers to throw the 1919 World Series.

By far the most scandalous aspect of the Black Sox scandal was not the fix, but the legal proceedings that followed it. Three players confessed and eight were indicted, but before the case went to trial, the grand jury records, complete with confessions, went a-missing. They turned up four years later in the possession of one George Hudnall, who just happened to be Charles Comiskey's lawyer. Apparently, someone, or several someones, had decided that a public trial would be bad for the baseball business. So the players were acquitted; but Landis, in a final insult to American justice, banned them from baseball for life, as he put it, "regardless of the verdict of juries."

Examining Judge Landis' actions as a judge is helpful towards understanding his decisions as commissioner of baseball. As Federal judge his decisions could be overruled by both the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court of the United States, whereas in baseball, Landis himself was the ultimate decision maker on any matter- the court of last, and only, resort.

It was Landis' handling of the federal League case, which may not have been a prominent legal issue at the time, introduced organized Baseball to the federal judge. But I say it may have been the other way around. Have you ever seen pictures or a picture of Kenesaw Mountain Landis? And then teaming that with his antics on the bench must have caught a couple owners' attention.

A contemporary Chicago Herald article on one Landis' cases noted that the judge "did the prosecuting, the defending, the questioning...he even bullied when necessary to get information out of a witness."

At a time when the owners decided it was best for a commissioner to have all the power to rule on incidents in the league because all they cared about was making money it did not matter what the commissioner's tactics were as long as he got the desired results, which was what the owner's considered to be establishing the league of integrity. The owners weren't about to nitpick since they were sullied, despicable sorts who happened to fall ass backwards into their fortunes which allowed them to own their franchise. (Exhibit A: Bud Selig)

It was Landis' harsh treatment of and willingness to stand up to powerful defendants that made his reputation among the public. And even though Landis saw most of his major judgments being overruled on appeal and the popular courtroom consensus considered the scary looking bully as a "showboat judge" and derided him as the "kind of guy who gets a lot of headlines and then all of his decisions are overturned."

What I would like to know is who did their homework on this judge? And then, are there actual records of that particular owner presenting "his case" for Kenesaw Mountain Landis? Landis, a man who upon learning that President Woodrow Wilson had commuted a maximum sentence of a millionaire cattle rancher convected of selling diseased cattle, Landis responded by placing no penalty whatsoever upon a man convicted of stealing sugar, rationalizing that selling diseased cattle was not subject to punishment then why should stealing sugar?

Isn't the definition of commutation, in Law, a change of punishment or sentence to one that is less severe? Sounds to me like the cattle rancher still got penalized where Landis interpreted it wrongly. Stealing vs. selling is different. Only because the seller probably wasn't aware his livestock was poisoned or that his goods were damaged but once that was known a price of some kind was paid. Meanwhile the sugar thief got off merely on the technicality that he/she was not a millionaire. And this is the guy those owners wanted as their commissioner.

Kevin J. Marquez