1904 – The National Commission Rules!

Jan 2 – 5, 1904

Not much baseball news on these days. On the 5th there’s an article about the National Baseball Commission meeting in Cincinnati and making some decisions about some players, and, as I didn’t know anything about this Commission, and as it was mentioned earlier in the year, and seems to be kind of important, I thought I’d investigate a bit.

The National Commission was created by the National Agreement of 1903, which brought “peace” between the National and American Leagues. (I suppose this means the owners in the rival leagues stopped raiding each other’s players, which was probably getting expensive for them.) The Commission basically runs baseball from 1903-1920, mediating disputes, sorting out who owned particular players when there were conflicting opinions about that, and doing whatever else needed doing. (i.e. holding meetings.) There were three people on the Commission – the Chairperson, the AL President, and the NL President, and the Chairperson was nominally “in charge” of baseball, though that person, in turn, was nominated by Ban Johnson, who was President of the American League. So there was sort of a balance of power, with all the power being balanced in Ban Johnson.

The obvious problem with the National Commission was that the members were also club owners, and so one could possibly get the impression that there might be occasionally an element of self-interest in their decisions. Not that anything like that ever happened. Of course not. But the scurrilous scandal sheets, I suppose, the Yellow Press, could certainly make a lot of noise and sell a lot of newspapers by saying otherwise.

Despite this small flaw, the National Baseball Commission lasted quite awhile. (Possibly because it didn’t really need to do very much, and perhaps did even less than that.) Eventually it was replaced by the establishment of a Baseball Commissioner, following the 1919 Black Sox scandal, when there was hue and cry in the muckraking press about “cleaning up the game.” At this point the National League owners were fed up with Ban Johnson. They supported a plan to have a National Commission made up on non-baseball men, (the Lasker Plan, after Albert Lasker, a Chicago Cubs shareholder,) while a majority of American League owners supported Ban Johnson and opposed the Lasker plan.

The situation was deadlocked throughout the 1920 season, and the National League made plans to invite the White Sox, the Red Sox, and the Yankees (whose owners also supported the Lasker plan) into the National League, while adding another team in Detroit. The Tiger’s owner, Frank Navin, a Ban Johnson loyalist, was thus fairly well motivated to come up with some other option, and he brokered a compromise among all the owners that would install only non-baseball men as National Commissioners. The club owners then asked the widely-known-and-respected Federal Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis to be the new Chairperson of the Commission. Landis responded that he would only serve if he was the sole Commissioner, with nearly unlimited authority to act “in the best interests of baseball.” And he wanted a lifetime contract.

Judge Landis and owners 1920 b2

The owners, (somewhat surprisingly to me, and maybe to Landis) agreed to all of this. They must have been weary of the whole thing, and Landis probably had a lot of regrets later on that he had not asked for more perks, a valet, one of those Hot Spot Chalmers, twenty weeks paid vacation. Perhaps this explains why he is generally looking so glum all the time.

The Many Moods of Landis b fr

The owners did agree to pay him $42,500 a year, on top of the $7,500 he was making as a Federal Judge, and they also agreed that they couldn’t fire him, cut his pay, or criticize him in public. (Judge Landis was the one who wrote up the agreement, coincidentally.)

Anyway – in 1904 the National Commission is pretty brand new and making all the calls. They are probably still in the honeymoon period, but how long can that last?

Johnson, Brush, Herrmann, and Pulliam - National Baseball Commission 1904 d


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