NEW YORK – The baseball organization that presents the annual MVP awards will consider whether the name of former commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis should be pulled from future plaques.
“The issue is being addressed,” Jack O’Connell, longtime secretary-treasurer of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, said Wednesday. “It will definitely be put up for discussion.”
Former NL Most Valuable Players Barry Larkin, Mike Schmidt and Terry Pendleton this week told The Associated Press they would favor removing Landis’ name because of concerns over his handling of Black players.
“I could not agree more,” decorated writer and broadcaster Peter Gammons tweeted.
Meanwhile, a lively debate has popped up on social media about whose name should be on the plaque, if anyone at all. Among those being suggested are Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, the only player to win the MVP in both leagues, Negro Leagues star Josh Gibson and Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey, who signed Jackie Robinson.
Landis was hired in 1920 as MLB’s first commissioner. No Blacks played in the majors during his tenure that ended with his death in late 1944 — Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947 and Larry Doby followed later that season.
Landis’ legacy is “always a complicated story” that includes “documented racism,” official MLB historian John Thorn said.
The only living relative of Landis who personally knew him said he'd be sorry to see the name come off the plaque.
“I would be devastated because my uncle had already started the difficult task of desegregating baseball by pressuring the owners and using his well-known popularity with the fans,” 97-year-old Lincoln Landis said Thursday in a statement relayed by his son, Timothy.
“In my judgment, he would have been totally supportive of Jackie Robinson’s entry into the Brooklyn Dodgers organization, while seriously concerned about the challenges that Jackie would have faced,” he said. “He would have been convinced that the entry of Blacks in the major leagues promised ‘what’s good for baseball,’ which happened to be his signature requirement for the national pastime."
Every AL and NL MVP plaque since Landis’ death has carried his name -- in letters twice as big as the winner -- and an imprint of his face. Landis gave the BBWAA control of picking and presenting the MVPs in 1931.
“We are trying to work out the mechanics of dealing with the topic amid a pandemic,” O’Connell said. “It will just be a matter of what form.”
“It is safe to say that we would prefer to settle this matter before the winter meetings,” he said.
The BBWAA’s next scheduled meeting is at the winter meetings in Dallas in December. The MVP winners are usually announced in November.
Landis’ name has been on the plaques for 75 years, but it is not pledged to remain there under the BBWAA constitution. A vote by the membership could lead to a redesign by the end of the coronavirus-delayed, 60-game season set to start in three weeks.
“I don’t know that it needs a name,” Larkin said. “MVP says it all.”
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