Kenesaw Mountain Landis (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.
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 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, an ardent patriot, 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.