MLB MVPs want Kenesaw Mountain Landis’ name removed from plaques

Kenesaw Mountain Landis was the first Major League Baseball commissioner and his name is on the league’s MVP award. But, according to an interview MLB’s official historian gave to the Associated Press, there was “documented racism” during Landis’ tenure. That’s why Cincinnati Reds legend Barry Larkin believes Landis’ name should be taken off of the award.

“Why is it on there,?” Larkin told the AP. “I was always aware of his name and what that meant to slowing the color line in Major League Baseball, of the racial injustice and inequality that Black players had to go through.”

During Landis’ tenure from 1920 to 1944, not a single black player was in the majors. It wasn’t until April 1947 that Brooklyn Dodgers second baseman Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. That took place nearly three years after Landis’ death in 1944.

Landis’ name appears on both the American and National League MVP plaques and has been there since 1944. The award is named the Kenesaw Mountain Landis Memorial Baseball Award.

“His name should not be represented on a plaque or award of honor, especially at this day and time,” Larkin said. “If his name was taken off, I would not be opposed to it at all.”

Landis was hired in 1920 as the league’s first commissioner and his first task was to rid the sport of gambling. This came after eight members of the Chicago White Sox, including “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, were accused of fixing the 1919 World Series. Despite all eight players being acquitted in a public trial, Landis banned them from professional baseball for life.

“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,” former Philadelphia Phillies star third baseman Mike Schmidt told the AP, backing up Larkin’s idea that the commissioner’s name should be removed from the award. “Looking back to baseball in the early 1900s, this was the norm. It doesn’t make it right, though. Removing his name from the MVP trophy would expose the injustice of that era. I’d gladly replace the engraving on my trophies.”

Former Atlanta Braves star and 1991 NL MVP Terry Pendleton also believes that a change is desperately needed.

“I’ve always thought about that, why is that still on there?” Pendleton said. “No doubt, MVP stands on its own. It doesn’t need a name.”

In 1931, Landis came up with the idea that the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) would pick the MVP award winners. In coordination with establishing that system, the MVP awards were named in his honor. According to the Associated Press, any BBWAA member can object to Landis’ presence on the MVP plaques at the annual MLB winter meetings in December. The plaque would just have to be redesigned if there’s an objection.

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