Terry Pendleton, a star third baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves and 1991 National League MVP, is joining some other MVP winners who say it’s time to strip Kenesaw M. Landis’ name from the American and National League MVP awards.
Landis, who was instrumental in keeping Major League Baseball segregated during his 25 years as commissioner, still holds the honor of having his name on both MVP plaques.
“I’ve always thought about that: Why is that still on there?” Pendleton told the Associated Press. “No doubt, MVP stands on its own. It doesn’t need a name.”
Barry Larkin, former Cincinnati Reds shortstop, Hall of Fame member and 1995 NL MVP said, “His name should not be represented on a plaque or award of honor, especially at this day and time.”
Mike Schmidt, the former Philadelphia Phillies slugger who won the NL MVP Award three times, had a stronger statement than Larkin or Pendleton.
“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,” Schmidt, a Hall of Fame member, said.
Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker said Landis was part of baseball’s “dark history.”
MLB’s official historian, John Thorn, found no way to come to Landis’ defense.
“Landis is who he is. He was who he was,” he told the AP.
“I absolutely support the movement to remove Confederate monuments, and Landis was pretty damn near Confederate.”
Black publishers challenge Landis
In December 1943, during the height of World War II, a group of black newspaper publishers from the National Newspaper Publishers Association traveled to New York to meet with Landis during baseball’s winter meetings.
It was a shock to many whites in baseball that he even granted this delegation of distinguished black men an audience.
Their mission was to question Landis as to why black baseball players, many of them stars in the Negro Leagues, were not allowed to play on National or American League teams.
Landis, a retired federal judge hired to clean up baseball after the Black Sox scandal in 1920, scuttled all attempts to integrate baseball during his 24-year tenure as the game’s first commissioner. While there was never a written rule that blacks could not play, owners had a pact that it would not happen.
Landis not only supported them, he led them. Landis put an end to exhibition games between white Major League players and Negro League teams. Before that, he ruled that Major League players could not wear their team uniforms in these contests.
According to a Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) article by Doran Goldman, Landis ended a four-game series between the Kansas City Monarchs and white Major Leaguers after the Monarchs won the first three games. It was reported that Landis’ only concern was that the games were drawing more fans than Major League games.
Goldman detailed the meeting with Black publishers, what led to it and its aftermath.
“The prime participants in the battle to integrate baseball were the members of the black press, especially Sam Lacy and Wendell Smith. During his lengthy career (extending into the twenty-first century), Lacy wrote for several important black newspapers and was sports editor of the Baltimore Afro-American.
“Smith plied his trade during this time frame for the Pittsburgh Courier. The Courier was the leading black newspaper of the time, reaching a high of 350,000 in circulation in 1945 – in part because of the bold stands it took on the issues of the day.
The Courier, with Smith as its sports editor, stepped up its campaign to integrate baseball in 1942.
“In the summer of 1942, the black press reported that Bill Benswanger, owner of the Pirates, would be trying out Negro League stars Leon Day, Willie Wells, Josh Gibson, and Sam Bankhead. It never came to pass. At the end of 1943, the Negro Newspaper Publishers Association, politicians and respected actor Paul Robeson met with the American and National Leagues.
“Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw M. Landis, an ardent segregationist, went on record as not being against the move to place Negro players in the major leagues. Everyone knew otherwise. Yet Courier president Ira Lewis spoke at this meeting, and invoked the concept of national unity in suggesting that baseball integration would bring joy to 15 million black Americans and millions of white Americans as well.”
John Sengstacke, publisher of the Chicago Defender, also spoke at the meeting and asked Landis how black men could be fighting and dying in World War II and not allowed to play Major League Baseball.
Three seasons would pass before Jackie Robinson was allowed to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Landis had died in 1944.
Double V Campaign
I searched in vain to find a list of publishers who met with Landis in the Roosevelt Hotel that day in New York. I do not know if Nathaniel Sweets, the late owner and publisher of the St. Louis American, was in attendance. My guess is he was or offered much input – and it’s an educated guess.
Black publishers had championed the Double V Campaign during World War II. It was based on a letter published in the Courier on Jan. 31, 1942 by James G. Thompson, a 26-year-old cafeteria worker.
“Is the kind of America I know worth defending? The first V for victory over our enemies without, the second V for victory over our enemies within? For surely those who perpetrate those ugly prejudices here are seeking to destroy our democratic form of government just as surely as the Axis forces.”
In the June 13, 1942, issue the Courier carried an article reporting that thousands of fans in St. Louis were in the stands of Stars Field as the New York Black Yankees defeated the Birmingham Black Barons, 8-4 in a Double V game. They also saw a drum and bugle corps form a Double V on the mound, and a $50 Double V certificate being presented to the winner of a Miss Mid-West contest. (Note: $50 today was worth more than $780.00 in 1942.)
A nice tip
James “Cool Papa” Bell, a Hall of Famer and Negro League superstar with the St. Louis Stars, was among the Negro League players honored with a video “tip of the cap” by former presidents and celebrities this week in honor of the 100th Anniversary of the Negro Leagues.
President Barack Obama tipped a Chicago White Sox cap and saluted several players.
“Today I’m tipping my hat to everybody in the Negro Leagues who left a century-long legacy of talent, and spirit, and dignity, on our country,” Obama said in his video clip.
"So here”'s to Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, and everybody else, including three brave women, who did us all proud. There were some great team names too, like the Chicago American Giants. Couldn’t think of a more fitting label for everyone who suited up. Congratulations everybody.”
Former presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush also tipped caps in respective videos.
Rachel Robinson, Jackie Robinson’s widow, along with Henry Aaron, Michael Strahan, Michael Jordan, Billie Jean King, Bob Costas and Stephen Colbert also honored the centennial of the Negro League.
Astronaut Chris Cassidy, who is traveling miles above Earth in the International Space Station, also tipped his space suit helmet.
MLB and the Negro League Baseball Museum had planned events celebrating the centennial throughout the 2020 season. Most had to be cancelled because of the pandemic.
A Rocky rocks MLB
Ian Desmond grew up as a bi-racial kid in Sarasota, Florida, that starred in baseball and other youth sports. He grew into a Major League Baseball star who now patrols the outfield for the Colorado Rockies – and on Monday he joined a growing list of professional athletes to opt out of playing for their respective teams in 2020 because of the coronavirus.
He cited his responsibility as a father and husband, and noting that his wife is carrying their fifth child on Instagram. In a nation that is quick to criticize the number of fatherless homes in minority communities, Desmond’s impassioned support of his family is outstanding.
“With a pregnant wife and four young children who have lots of questions about what’s going on in the world, home is where I need to be right now,” Desmond wrote on Instagram.
“Home for my wife, Chelsey. Home to help. Home to guide. Home to answer my older three boys’ questions about Coronavirus and Civil Rights and life. Home to be their Dad.”
Desmond, who has earned millions of dollars in his career, is turning down a huge chunk of his $5.6 million salary to take this magnificent stand.
He didn’t stop there. Saying the George Floyd murder at the knee of a Minneapolis police officer profoundly shook up his life, Desmond called out fellow players and MLB for their respective roles in ignoring the plight of minority people in America.
“We’ve got rampant individualism on the field. In clubhouses we’ve got racist, sexist, homophobic jokes or flat-out problems. We've got cheating. We’ve got minority issues from the top down. One African American GM. Two African American managers. Less than 8% Black players. No Black majority team owners.”
“Why can’t we support teaching (baseball) to all kids — but especially those in underprivileged communities?” Desmond wrote.
“Why aren’t accessible, affordable youth sports viewed as an essential opportunity to affect kids’ development, as opposed to money-making propositions and recruiting chances? It’s hard to wrap your head around it.”
These are words and actions that MLB should heed or its future will be in more peril than it already is.
The Reid Roundup
In 2001, residents of Mississippi voted overwhelming to keep a state flag that carried a mini version of the Confederate flag. As pressure grew to change the flag in June, Gov. Tate Reeves cited that decision at the ballot box and mocked the effort to remove the despicable symbol from the state flag. However, when black players transferred or threatened to leave Mississippi collegiate teams and the SEC and NCAA threatened to not hold postseason tournaments and other events there – the legislature voted to change the flag with little debate. The change in the flag was signed by the governor on Tuesday… Brooklyn Nets center DeAndre Jordan announced Monday he contracted COVID-19 and will not participate in the 2020 season that begins in Orlando later this month. Teammate Spencer Dinwiddie has also tested positive and it is doubtful he will participate… ESPN first reported that the Denver Nuggets closed their practice facility on June 27 as a result of positive coronavirus tests within the team’s traveling party… Former Iowa running back Akrum Wadley called his experience playing for coach Kirk Ferentz “a living nightmare” and accused his son, offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, director of player development Broderick Binns and Chris Doyle, the former strength and conditioning coach for insulting him racially and/or being “bullies.” More than three dozen former Iowa players, most of them Black, say there is racial bias in the Hawkeye program.
Alvin A. Reid was honored as the 2017 “Best Sports Columnist – Weeklies” in the Missouri Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest and is a New York Times contributor. He is a panelist on the Nine Network program, Donnybrook, a weekly contributor to “The Charlie Tuna Show” on KFNS and appears monthly on “The Dave Glover Show” on 97.1 Talk. His Twitter handle is @aareid1.