- Series: 1919 Black Sox Scandal
- Hall: National Baseball Hall of Fame
Kenesaw Mountain Landis (1866-1944) grew up in an era when a man could become a lawyer before going to law school; go to school later, turn down an ambassadorship, and be appointed to the Federal bench by Teddy Roosevelt all before the age of 40. He would soon vindicate TR’s eye for legal talent by hitting Standard Oil with a huge judgment in the “trust-busting” era. The young jurist thus displayed a boldness to tackle the biggest of business interests in a day when big business was a colossus bestriding America. Small wonder then, that in 1920, when major league owners recognized that their sport had a problem, they looked to Judge Landis to solve it for them.
Landis, named for the Civil War battle where his Ohio father was wounded, would live up to his name as a man who would make a massive impact on America’s Pastime and, since baseball “was America” as so many pundits often said, upon the nation itself. It wasn’t just Landis’ early political and legal accomplishments that foreshadowed his later role as baseball’s first commissioner. As District Judge in Chicago, KML cut a striking figure: “The Judge was always headline news. He was a great showman, theatrical in appearance, with his sharp jaw and shock of white hair, and people always crowded into his courtroom, knowing there would be something going on. There were few dull moments,” per friend and journalist A.L. Sloan.
Landis, a lifelong fan, and ardent White Sox supporter, heard a case brought in the Federal League uprising in which many baseball insiders feared he would rule against the reserve clause. He held hearings in January 1915, but never issued a ruling. KML outlasted the parties who eventually settled the case with reserve clause intact. Nevertheless, Landis was destined for far greater involvement with the game. Gambling and bribery of players had been an open secret for many years and reached a crisis in 1920 in the aftermath of the Runyanesque comedy of errors known as the Black Sox Scandal.
Baseball was ruled then by the “National Commission,” a triumvirate of both league presidents and Reds owner Garry Herrmann. Herrmann stepped aside, leaving a deadlock, and into that void stepped Kenesaw Mountain Landis. “We want a chairman who will rule with an iron hand…” said NL president John Heydler. (Translation: Please save us from ourselves.) The owners went hat in hand to KML’s courtroom and waited for him to finish his docket. They pitched and he caught, accepting the job of first Baseball Commissioner.
- Landis was an immediate hit with the public when he stepped into a seven-year term while continuing his day job
- “If I catch any crook in baseball, the rest of his life is going to be a pretty hot one” was KML’s vow and he made good, ousting the eight accused White Sox for life despite their acquittal in court. He forced owners to divorce themselves from horse racing and cracked down on all instances of gambling that he encountered, true to his word
- Elected to Hall of Fame: 1944
- Series: Mort's Reserve
- City: Louisville
- Team: Grays (NL)
- League: National League
George Warren Latham (1852-1914) came out of Utica, NY to become his hometown’s first player to make the major leagues. He began his career with a pretty good club, Harry Wright’s National Association champion Boston Red Stockings. They captured the pennant in 1875 with a 71-8 record. Juice (also known as Jumbo) got into only 16 of those games in ‘75, but he hit a solid .269 with 13 RBI. Latham also played for the New Haven Elm Citys that year, but hit only .197 as a utility infielder. Perhaps his stint with Wright gave him baseball smarts that quickly paid off as Jumbo also managed the Elm Citys for 18 of their games despite his rookie status. Latham fared much better with his next big league team, the Louisville Grays in the National League’s second season, 1877. He hit a fine .291 as a regular first baseman and had the most plate appearances on the club. A four year hiatus ensued before Juice revived his big league career in the American Association. He played for the Philadelphia Athletics in ‘82 and again had a solid season, batting .285, and was the team’s RBI leader with 38. The veteran moved back to Louisville with the AA’s Eclipse in 1883 and saw a drop-off in his stats, hitting .250 as the everyday first sacker. The following year would close-out his tenure in the majors, again with the Eclipse, where Juice slumped to .169 in his final summer at the top of his profession.
- Latham was far from through with baseball when he left Louisville. He enjoyed a minor league career that continued through the decade of the 1880s. He had played for Utica in the International League back in 1878 and would play for his hometown in 1886 and ‘87, as well as other Eastern League and International League teams
- Juice had shown further managerial skills with the London Tecumsehs of the International Association of Professional Base Ball Players back in 1877-78, a would-be rival to the new NL in the States. The Tecumsehs have been called the finest team in all of Canada in the early decades of the game
- Per the New York Times, Latham made a final appearance with the Richfield Springs, NY squad in 1894, just a short drive from Cooperstown - perhaps the closest Jumbo got to the Hall
- Series: Beginnings: 1880's
- City: Philadelphia
- Team: Athletics (AA)
- League: American Association
Dennis Patrick Aloysius Lyons (1866-1929) was a strong hitting third-baseman over a thirteen year career in the major leagues from 1885 with Providence to 1897 with the Pirates. His lifetime batting average was .310. In 1890 he led the American Association in on-base percentage and slugging, and was second to Chicken Wolf in BA. He hit 62 home runs in the Deadball Era and was known as a formidable fielder in the no-glove era. Lyons’ era was also a time of rapid evolution in the game. In 1887, the year Denny “hit” safely in 52 straight, the pitcher’s box had been tightened and the pitcher’s delivery shortened to one step. Walks were also considered hits that year which has caused most modern students of the game to dismiss his “streak,” second only to Joltin’ Joe. But DiMaggio didn’t have to hit a fastball hurled from fifty feet. Only two of the 52 games was affected by walks but they were in the middle of the run. Despite such quibbles, Lyons was clearly a very accomplished player both offensively and afield.
- Consistently ranked among batting leaders in both leagues he starred in: AA and NL
- An Amos Rusie fastball broke two fingers and ended Denny’s ML tenure. He continued in the minors and hit .274 for the Beaumont Oil Gushers in 1903
- Series: 1880s: Loving Paupers
- City: Chicago
- Team: Maroons
- League: Western Association
Frederick W. Lange began his pro ball career as a teenager (how young is in dispute). He was from the San Francisco Bay Area and played in 1886 for the Greenhood and Morans team of oakland, a charter member of the California State League. The owners were haberdashers in Oakland who sponsored the club for three years. In 1887 the team floundered in last place despite having a lot of talent. The loss of star pitcher George Van Haltren, who went east to begin a long major league career, was a big blow. Fred Lange was a pal of Van Haltren’s and followed him to NY.
There is a fair degree of uncertainty and confusion surrounding Lange’s career, some of which appears to have been instigated by Lange himself. He had changed his surname to "Dolan" to sign with the G & Ms in Oakland so his parents wouldn’t know of his unworthy occupational choice. (Anyone familiar with the American Association’s reputation as the “beer and whiskey league” can sympathize with Fred’s folks as the 1880s were an era of free-wheeling debauchery in big time baseball.) But there is a reference by authors Dick Dobbins and Jon Twichell in their book Nuggets on the Diamond:Professional Baseball in the Bay Area from the Gold Rush to the Present, published in 1994, to the effect that Fred Lange was also “Willard Brown,” who went on to play for the NY Giants after leaving Oakland in 1886. Catcher William "California" Brown did play for the Giants from 1887-1889 and, perhaps not coincidentally, had played for Greenhood and Morans as well. Adding to the confusion, the editors of The Photographic Baseball Cards of Goodwin & Co mistakenly list William Brown as "Willard" in that seminal encyclopedia on the Old Judge universe. One possible theory to the confusion, however unlikely, is still intriguing: In moving East to pursue his big league dreams, might Fred Lange have adopted the name "Willard Brown" as a sort of hopeful and opportunistic nominal doppelganger to William Brown?
The truth is, most likely, that the mystery and confusion around Fred Lange's name and identity is the result of a more modern human error and that there is no mystery at all. Fred Lange & William Brown are clearly different people, perhaps even friends, who look nothing alike and appear together in a Greenhood & Morans team photo from 1886, thereby dispelling the notion that Brown was Lange's alter ego. Furthermore, there is no record of a "Willard Brown" playing professional baseball in the 19th century and the Old Judge folks were unconfused on the players' identities, with each player getting five unique poses in the series with no misspellings, overlay or confusion between them. Given that Van Haltren knew both Lange and Brown and that Van Haltren and Brown had quickly established themselves as bone fide big leaguers, it seems unlikely that Lange would attempt to perpetrate such a thinly veiled con while striving to join his friends on the big stage.
- Further adding to the confusion around Lange's name, the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art mistakenly lists Lange as "Lance" for the two Old Judge cards of Lange that reside in the museum's collection.
- Lange later authored an influential tome of his own: History of Baseball in California and Pacific Coast Leagues (1847-1938)
Old Judge Pose: 272-4
- Series: Beginnings: 1880's
- City: Milwaukee
- Team: Creams
- League: Western Association
Robert Lincoln Lowe (1865-1951) played a dozen years for the Boston Beaneaters, then a half dozen more for Chicago, Pittsburgh and Detroit. He could play every position and set several batting records in a long and illustrious major league career. Upon his retirement he held the best fielding average of all-time at second base, proving his value in all aspects of the game. Orphaned at 15, Lowe was a hard-working young man supporting his family in the Pittsburgh area. Friends convinced his employers to give Bobby time to play the game he clearly excelled at, leading to a chance with Eau Claire of the Northwestern League in 1887. After a couple seasons in the Western Associaton, Boston bought his contract, a deal once called “one of baseball's biggest bargains.” Lowe established himself as perhaps the best second-baseman of the 19th century and helped lead the team to five pennants. As the starter at second for eight straight seasons, Lowe formed a great double-play combo with Herman Long. With Fred Tenney at first and Jimmy Collins at third, the infield was touted by some as the best ever. When he moved to the Orphans (Cubs) in 1902, manager Frank Selee knew he had a leader and made Bobby the captain. Relegated to backing up Johnny Evers in '03, Lowe moved on to Detroit via a one-game stint with the Pirates and was named manager of the Tigers in '04. Upon his retirement from the majors, the Detroit News lauded Bobby's character: “There is no better type of the gentleman in baseball and no one ever heard ought but words of praise for him.”
- Among Lowe's batting accomplishments: first to hit four home runs in a game, first to hit for 17 total bases in a game, went six-for-six in another game, scored six times in yet another, batted over .300 five straight seasons
- Hit a solid .273 lifetime, with 74 home runs