Should the baseball MVP trophies honor a man who blocked integration?
The first MLB commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, known for having cleaned up baseball after the Black Sox gambling scandal, is also the guy who did the heavy lifting to keep the game lily-white.
Using the iron first given him to fix the game after the gambling scandal, the Ohio-born son of a Union Army doctor wounded at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain in Georgia in the Civil War famously broke up hot stove league exhibitions between black and white all-star teams that had been lucrative for all involved.
He also made a PR-driven move to get black newspaper publishers together with MLB team owners, which went nowhere, and toward the end of his tenure, he told owners that they were free to sign black players.
But no black player would play in the majors during his 25-year run as the head of MLB.
Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947, more than two years after Landis’ death.
Something you probably didn’t know about Landis: his name is on the two league most valuable player trophies.
Now there’s a movement to remove his name from the MVP trophies, and it’s gaining steam with support from a number of former league MVPs, black and white both.
“His name should not be represented on a plaque or award of honor, especially at this day and time,” 1995 National League MVP Barry Larkin, an African-American, told ESPN. “If his name was taken off, I would not be opposed to it at all.”
“Looking back to baseball in the early 1900s, this was the norm. It doesn’t make it right, though,” said three-time NL MVP Mike Schmidt, 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.”
“This is 2020 now, and things have changed all around the world. It can change for the better,” said 1991 NL MVP Terry Pendleton, an African-American. “Statues are coming down, people are looking at monuments and memorials. We need to get to the bottom of things, to do what’s right. Yes, maybe it is time to change the name.”
The MVP awards are awarded by the Baseball Writers Association of America, which would have to sign off on any change to be made to the design of the trophy.
Story by Chris Graham