“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 told the Associated Press.
Landis has long been accused of dragging his feet on eradicating baseball’s color line. The commissioner publicly stated that major league teams were free to sign African American players, but he has been accused of maintaining an unspoken ban and refusing to push for integration.
“Landis is who he is. He was who he was,” John Thorn, MLB’s official baseball historian, told the AP. “I absolutely support the movement to remove Confederate monuments, and Landis was pretty damn near Confederate.”
Not a single black player joined the major leagues in Landis’s 24 years at the helm. Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier for the Brooklyn Dodgers three years later.
“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,” three-time NL MVP Mike Schmidt told the AP.
Landis took over as commissioner at a time when baseball was struggling with gambling issues. Formerly a federal judge, he has been described as an “autocratic” leader. One of his first and most notable actions was banning Chicago White Sox star “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and seven others for their roles in throwing the 1919 World Series.
“Landis is a part of history, even though it was a dark history,” Houston Astros Manager Dusty Baker told the AP.
Landis had been the one to decide that the Baseball Writers’ Association of America would vote on and decide the MVP. In 1944, shortly before Landis’s death, the group voted to put his name on the award.
Landis, hardly a household name even to baseball fans, is not widely connected with the trophy, and the BBWAA said it has not heard complaints about the name until now.
But at a time when institutions across the country are reckoning with their connections to certain historical figures, the BBWAA could make what some see as an easy fix.
“I’ve always thought about that: Why is that still on there?” 1991 NL MVP Terry Pendleton told the AP. “No doubt, MVP stands on its own. It doesn’t need a name.”