BBWAA removes former MLB commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis from name of MLB's MVP award

Jack Baer
·3 min read

In a year of surreal differences for MLB, one more will be coming when two players receive their MVP awards this winter.

The Baseball Writers’ Association of America announced Friday that it had voted to remove the name of former MLB commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis from its MVP award after multiple past recipients of the award spoke out against his presence.

Further discussions on how to rename the award have been tabled until after the 2020 season.

The change, officially proposed by The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, is effective immediately. Landis’ name has been part of the award since 1944, the year of Landis’ death.

Landis’ MLB tenure maintained color line

NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 8:  The Kenesaw Mountain Landis Memorial Baseball Award presented to the National League Most Valubale Player photographed at the Major League Baseball offices on November 8, 2006 in New York, New York.  (Photo by Rich Pilling/MLB via Getty Images)
The MLB MVP is no longer named after Kenesaw Mountain Landis. (Photo by Rich Pilling/MLB via Getty Images)

Landis holds an important place in baseball history as the first commissioner of baseball. Previously a federal judge, Landis was named MLB commissioner in 1920 after the league’s owners requested he step in. Soon after, Landis was banning all eight players involved in the infamous Black Sox scandal for life.

Landis’ personal opposition to integrating the sport is a point of contention among historians, but it’s a clear fact that no Black player stepped through MLB’s doors while he was commissioner. One year after Landis’ death, the Brooklyn Dodgers signed Jackie Robinson in 1945.

That place in history is uncomfortable enough that former MVPs Barry Larkin, Mike Schmidt and Terry Pendleton told the AP in June that they are in favor of removing Landis’ name from the award.

From the AP:

“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 of Philadelphia said.

“Looking back to baseball in the early 1900s, this was the norm. It doesn’t make it right, though,” said the Hall of Famer, 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.”

The BBWAA specifically cited Larkin and Pendleton in their decision.

Who could replace Kenesaw Mountain Landis as MVP’s namesake?

With no Landis on the MVP award anymore, the question now turns to who should replace him, or if anyone should at all.

The BBWAA issues four major awards each year: MVP, Cy Young, Manager of the Year and Rookie of the Year. The Rookie of the Year award has held Robinson’s name since 1987 and the Cy Young has obviously held the name of MLB’s all-time wins leader since its inception in 1956. The Manager of the Year award remains nameless.

If we wanted to name the award after a former player, there could be several candidates, but there could be drawbacks for plenty of them.

Barry Bonds has the all-time record for MVP awards with seven, but that’s obviously a no-go with the BBWAA given that he can’t even get in the Hall of Fame. Babe Ruth also stands out in baseball history, but he already has an award named after him. As do Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente and Hank Aaron. There are also guys like Ted Williams and Stan Musial, but you can’t argue they’re a clear choice.

One interesting idea might be Frank Robinson, who is the only player to ever win the award in both the AL and NL. However, a recent sexual discrimination lawsuit could diminish his appeal.

If there are no obvious candidates, the best way forward might be to keep the award nameless. Or they could just wait until Mike Trout retires.

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