Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who enforced the MLB color line, name removed from MVP plaques
The former baseball commissioner refused to let Black baseball players join the majors during his reign
NEW YORK (AP) — The name of the former baseball commissioner who never had a Black player in the majors during his long reign is being pulled off all future MVP plaques after more than 75 years.
Kenesaw Mountain Landis won’t be depicted on the annual awards presented by the Baseball Writers’ Association of the America, the group said Friday. The decision came after 89% of its membership voted this week for removal.
“We will no longer will be associated with the Landis name, and the MVP plaques will be nameless in 2020,” BBWAA president Paul Sullivan wrote.
“Hopefully when some sense of normalcy returns in 2021 we can have a healthy debate over whether to add a new name or just leave it as the BBWAA MVP award,” he said.
In a story by The Associated Press in late June, former MVP winners Barry Larkin, Mike Schmidt and Terry Pendleton said they favored pulling Landis’ name because of concerns over his handling of Black players.
Larkin, the Black shortstop voted NL MVP in 1995 with Cincinnati, applauded the decision.
“To me, the MVP award should be something that’s all positive,” Larkin told the AP on Friday. “There shouldn’t be a cloud over it.”
“I was always aware of the Landis name and what it meant to slow down the color line in Major League Baseball,” he said, adding, “I think the MVP honor stands on its own. It doesn’t need a name.”
Told of the BBWAA’s ruling, Pendleton, the Black third baseman who won the 1991 NL honor with Atlanta, texted: “It’s the right thing to do!!!”
MLB will redesign the trophies, said Jack O’Connell, BBWAA secretary-treasurer. The AL and NL winners awards in this virus-shortened season will be announced on Nov. 12.
Landis became MLB’s first commissioner in 1920 and no Blacks played in the majors during his control that ended with his death in 1944. Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947 and Larry Doby followed later that year.
Landis’ legacy is “always a complicated story” that includes “documented racism,” official MLB historian John Thorn has said.
A federal judge in Chicago when he was hired, Landis banned Shoeless Joe Jackson and the Black Sox for throwing the 1919 World Series and helped rid baseball of gambling problems that were plaguing the game.
But Landis “notably failed to integrate the game during his tenure,” Sullivan said in a statement.
The only living relative of Landis who personally knew him is nephew Lincoln Landis.
“Now at the age of 98, I am duly puzzled to learn that the baseball writers would have agreed to eliminate my uncle’s name and picture from the Most Valuable Player award,” he said Saturday. “I must say that if today’s MVP winners truly understood the role Judge Landis played in preserving the game of baseball, they would support putting his image back on their award plaques.”
In 1931, Landis had given the BBWAA control of picking and presenting the MVPs. During the 1944 World Series, the BBWAA voted to add Landis’ name to the plaque as “an acknowledgement of his relationship with the writers,” O’Connell said.
Landis died a month later at 78 and soon was elected to the Hall of Fame.
Every AL and NL MVP plaque since then has carried his name — emblazoned with shiny, gold letters twice as big as the actual winner — as the Kenesaw Mountain Landis Memorial Baseball Award, plus a sizable imprint of his face.
“This is 2020 now and things have changed all around the world. It can change for the better,” Pendleton said earlier. “Statues are coming down, people are looking at monuments and memorials.”
Schmidt, the three-time NL MVP with Philadelphia, previously said: “If you’re looking to expose individuals in baseball’s history who promoted racism by continuing to close baseball’s doors to men of color, Kenesaw Landis would be a candidate.”
“Looking back to baseball in the early 1900s, this was the norm. It doesn’t make it right, though,” said the Hall of Famer, who is white. “Removing his name from the MVP trophy would expose the injustice of that era. I’d gladly replace the engraving on my trophies.”
After the BBWAA decision, he wrote in an email: “Should stand alone … NLMVP 2021”
In August, U.S. Reps. Gil Cisneros of California and Cedric Richmond of Louisiana sent a letter signed by 28 House Democrats to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and Sullivan calling for Landis’ name to be pulled. All of the members had played in the Congressional Baseball Game, an annual charity matchup at Nationals Park.
“The BBWAA made the right decision, and it better reflects the sport we all know and love,” Cisneros tweeted.
There has been a lot of debate on social media in recent months over whose name should be on MVP plaques, if anybody at all. Among those getting support were Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, the only player to win the MVP award in both leagues, Negro Leagues great Josh Gibson and Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey, who signed Robinson.
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