Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Great Sports Name Hall of Fame Nominee - Kenesaw Mountain Landis

As I was doing my write up for ex PCL commissioner Pants Rowland, I came across a potentially better name that is actually birth given, which I am sort of surprised I wasn't aware of. Because, after all, Kenesaw Mountain Landis was the first commissioner of Major League Baseball.

Ah, what's in a name? Well in Kenesaw's case, his father was a Union soldier in the army during the Civil War. The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain took place on, fittingly, Kennesaw Mountain (in Georgia). Kenesaw's father, a physician in the war, nearly lost his leg during this battle. As a tribute to the battle and all it meant to him, he named his son Kenesaw Mountain (a variant spelling), further supporting my hypothesis that most great names are the result of ridiculous fathers.

After going to Law School, Kenesaw lawyered for the Northern District of Illinois (Teddy Roosevelt appointed) and took on many famous trials. In fact, he's the guy who charged heavyweight boxer Jack Johnson for transporting a white prostitute over state lines, which was imperative in Johnson's later lifetime ban from boxing (and also a huge racial issue).

In 1920, Landis became the first commissioner of the MLB, and he ruled with an iron fist. He hated gambling apparently, and was the man who handed down the punishment for the 1919 Black Sox Scandal. In fact, in his first 5 years as commissioner, Landis banned 15 players for life and suspended 38 others, which is impressive, if not insane. He even banned Babe Ruth at one point (40 games for "barnstorming without permission"), so the man certainly had cajones.

As revered as he was for his iron will and some advancements he made otherwise (better broadcasters, league involved in contract negotiations), Landis wasn't the nicest of guys. Kenesaw did all he could to perpetuate the color barrier, and it was not coincidence that Jackie Robinson was signed by the Dodgers less than a year after Kenesaw died. Kenesaw also prevented other leagues (such as the PCL or other leagues) from having power. Part of this was because he wanted these leagues to have good championships and be competitive, but part of it was also certainly because MLB was the major show in town and he wanted it to stay that way, which it obviously did, so good job there Kenesaw.

Some people like to look upon Kenesaw as a shrewd lawyer who did his best to clean up Major League Baseball and push it further into the limelight of American Sports. Others see him as a huge racist. I sort of see both, but either way there's no denying his importance to the history of the game, something which MLB apparently noted when they renamed the MVP award the Kenesaw Mountain Landis Award, which it has been called since 1944.

So Kenesaw, I may not agree with your actions (SHOELESS JOE BELONGS IN THE HALL!), but I do think you had a truly Great Name. I've nominated you today, let's see if it's good enough to get you into the Hall.

To see the best sports names of all time, visit the Truly Great Names page.
To see some good sports names that were voted out, visit the Good Names page.
To see the current voting ballot, visit the Ballot page.

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