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Is the MVP award racist?

Nov 30, 2009, 9:00 PM EDT

Not the way its given out or anything. Just its name.  Blogger Tom Tango asks the question:

Well, the writers DO have an official name for the MVP, and if wikipedia is to be trusted, it is named Kenesaw Mountain Landis Memorial Baseball Award
For those not big on history, Landis was MLB’s first commissioner, a
former federal judge brought in to clean up the game after the Black
Sox scandal.  But, he was also a racist . . . It’s not that Landis was a racist like Ty Cobb.  He was a racist that
actually prevented the best players in the game from playing.  That
brings it to a whole new level.

I wasn’t sure if I could believe Wikipedia in this case actually, but some Googling does show that the MVP plaques do say “Kennesaw Mountain Landis Award” right on them, and they have since at least 1944.  And there’s no mistaking the fact that Landis was the prime mover between baseball remaining segregated until the 1947.

But should we care? Even I — a guy who takes every opportunity he can to advocate for the removal of Chief Wahoo from Indians’ uniforms and merchandise — am having a hard time caring about this. Did any of you even know that the award was named for Landis?  I didn’t. I think the reason we didn’t is that, unlike Cy Young, no one ever felt any gusto about popularizing the award’s official name in this case, probably for the specific reason that Landis was a sonofabitch.  Pointing out the name of the award and getting worked up over it is like pointing out a lone racist standing alongside the road. Even if we knew his sort existed, no one ever noticed him and no one gave a damn about him until someone took the time to tell us he was there.

Officially, sure, the BBWAA or Major League Baseball or whoever sanctions the pressing of the plaques should probably take his name off it, in the interests of eliminating superfluity if nothing else.  But I see little cause to get worked up over it.

  1. Dan Novick - Nov 30, 2009 at 9:58 PM

    Well that title is one way to draw attention to your article.

  2. Old Gator - Nov 30, 2009 at 10:35 PM

    I say leave the title alone. Every time they give the award to a ballplayer of color, they’re rubbing Landis’ nose in it. Goody, say I.
    As far as Chief Wahoo, I agree. He looked ridiculous on the side of that DC-3 in Major Leagues as well. I think it would be funny, though, if they ever finally do figure out how to make a movie of Blood Meridian, if one of the Comanche warriors in the filibuster massacre scene wore a Cleveland Indians uniform top.

  3. Roger Moore - Nov 30, 2009 at 11:54 PM

    There’s another good reason that nobody mentions that the award is named after Landis: nobody likes renaming an existing thing. The modern version of the award was established in 1931, with slightly different versions going back for some time before that. When there’s 20+ years of tradition behind the MVP award, nobody is going to like renaming it. They could have named it after somebody who was universally loved and they still would have had an uphill battle getting the new name accepted. Instead, they named it after an autocrat who had 25 years worth of enemies in the game; there was no real chance the name change was going to stick.

  4. Kenny L - Dec 1, 2009 at 12:55 AM

    The best way to through life is with your head buried in the sand. Or wherever you have your head stuck.

  5. Kenny L - Dec 1, 2009 at 12:55 AM

    The best way to through life is with your head buried in the sand. Or wherever you have your head stuck.

  6. Kenny L - Dec 1, 2009 at 12:57 AM

    The best way to go through life is with your head buried in the sand. Or wherever you have your head stuck.

  7. smsetnor - Dec 1, 2009 at 1:27 AM

    Do I get bonus points for know it was named after Landis? No? Well, you’re a jerk then, Craig. Freaking Yankee lover.

  8. Mark Armour - Dec 1, 2009 at 2:40 AM

    There is disagreement as to what role, if any, Landis played in maintaining the color barrier. See SABR’s 2008 Baseball Research Journal, for example.

  9. billybill - Dec 1, 2009 at 4:23 AM

    The name proves the award is racist.Thanks for your brilliant reporting.You definitely deserve a Pulitzer for this one.Before accepting it you should check to see if that award is racist too.

  10. Jon - Dec 1, 2009 at 6:52 AM

    Tom Tango just doesn’t like the BBWAA. He constantly calls them the Holy Writers.

  11. GBSimons - Dec 1, 2009 at 8:44 AM

    The article’s title got my attention, smsetnor’s comment made me laugh, and billybill’s comment made me sigh. Oh, the emotional roller coaster of a Craig Calcaterra reader.

  12. Wooden U. Lykteneau - Dec 1, 2009 at 9:45 AM

    Well, if Tom Tango says it might be, don’t bother arguing to the contrary on his site. He welcomes dissent like Josef Stalin.

  13. Jon - Dec 1, 2009 at 4:21 PM

    Quick question: How active are the threads here? Do I have to comment right away before they die or do they have a longer shelf life, like at BTF? I believe that this is the first thread I’ve posted in here.

  14. Craig Calcaterra - Dec 1, 2009 at 4:22 PM

    I see every comment, Jon, no matter how old. I think most folks move on after not too terribly long, however. We’re looking into working out some sort of “bumping” system a la BTF for more active threads.

  15. Jon - Dec 1, 2009 at 4:43 PM

    OK. I do see you have some of the bigger threads on a sidebar. Does Gleeman steal stuff from the office fridge?

  16. Craig Calcaterra - Dec 1, 2009 at 4:50 PM

    Always. I have to put little post-its with my name on them on my Coke Zeros.

  17. Chris W - Mar 18, 2010 at 7:45 PM

    Landis was undeniably a racist who did much to damage the game of baseball by working to keep blacks out of the game.
    But on the other hand, he did a lot to help bring the game of baseball into the twentieth century. His hardline stance on gambling was essential to baseball retaining much of its respect in the eyes of the public. And he really did kind of bring to the end the good ol’ boying between the league presidents and faltering team owners who had the interests in their league placed above the interests of MLB as a whole.
    Is that a zero sum or a negative sum thing? Maybe. But it’s important to remember that even though people were racist (even hugely racist) in the context of their time, that that didn’t mean their positive contributions were nonexistent. Right?
    I mean, we wouldn’t choose to name an award after Landis in this day in age. Heck, given the climate of public consensus we’d be more likely to name an award after Joe Jackson. But given that the award already has this name, is this really even something worth getting upset about? Landis did a lot of good things and although he was an insidious part of segregation, it’s not like he wasn’t doing it as a representative of what the owners wanted. This seems kind of kneejerk–and this is coming from a guy (viz. me) who thinks that people who say “must we find racism in EVERYTHING” are being willfully obtuse.

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