Kenesaw Mountain Landis - Commissioner (1920–1944) - Policies As Commissioner - Major-minor League Relations; Development of The Farm System

Major-minor League Relations; Development of The Farm System

At the start of Landis's commissionership, the minor league teams were for the most part autonomous of the major leagues; in fact the minor leagues independently chose to accept Landis's rule. To ensure players did not become mired in the minor leagues without a chance to earn their way out, major league teams were able to draft players who played two consecutive years with the same minor league team. Several minor leagues were not subject to the draft; Landis fought for the inclusion of these leagues, feeling that the non-draft leagues could prevent players from advancing as they became more skilled. By 1924, he had succeeded, as the International League, the final holdout, accepted the draft.

By the mid-1920s, major league clubs were beginning to develop "farm systems", that is, minor league teams owned or controlled by them, at which they could develop young prospects without the risk of the players being acquired by major league rivals. The pioneer in this development was Branch Rickey, who then ran the St. Louis Cardinals. As the 1921 National Agreement among the major and minor leagues which implemented Landis's hiring lifted a ban on major league teams owning minor league ones, Landis was limited in his avenues of attack on Rickey's schemes. Developing talent at little cost thanks to Rickey, the Cardinals dominated the National League, winning nine league titles in the years from 1926 to 1946.

Soon after Landis's appointment, he surprised the major league owners by requiring that they disclose their minor league interests. Landis fought against the practice of "covering up", using transfers between two teams controlled by the same major league team to make players ineligible for the draft. His first formal act as commissioner was to declare infielder Phil Todt a free agent, dissolving his contract with the St. Louis Browns (at the time run by Rickey, who soon thereafter moved across town to run the Cardinals); in 1928 he ruled future Hall of Famer Chuck Klein a free agent as he held the Cardinals had tried to cover Klein up. The following year, he freed Detroit Tigers prospect and future Hall of Famer Rick Ferrell, who attracted a significant signing bonus with the Browns. In 1936, Landis found that teenage pitching prospect Bob Feller's signing by minor league club Fargo-Moorhead had been a charade; the young pitcher was for all intents and purposes property of the Cleveland Indians. However, Feller indicated that he wanted to play for Cleveland and Landis issued a ruling which required the Indians to pay damages to minor league clubs, but allowed them to retain Feller, who went on to a Hall of Fame career with the Indians.

Landis's attempts to crack down on "covering up" provoked the only time he was ever sued by one of his owners. After the 1930 season, minor leaguer Fred Bennett, convinced he was being covered up by the Browns, petitioned Landis for his release. Landis ruled that the Browns could either keep Bennett on their roster for the entire 1931 season, trade him, or release him. Instead, Browns owner Phil Ball brought suit against Landis in his old court in Chicago. Federal Judge Walter Lindley ruled for Landis, noting that the agreements and rules were intended to "endow the Commissioner with all the attributes of a benevolent but absolute despot and all the disciplinary powers of the proverbial pater familias ". Ball intended to appeal, but after a meeting between team owners and Landis in which the commissioner reminded owners of their agreement not to sue, agreed to drop the case.

Landis had hoped that the large Cardinal farm system would become economically unfeasible; when it proved successful for the Cardinals, he had tolerated it for several years and was in a poor position to abolish it. In 1938, however, finding that the Cardinals effectively controlled multiple teams in the same league (a practice disliked by Landis), he freed 70 players from their farm system. As few of the players were likely prospects for the major leagues, Landis's actions generated headlines, but had little effect on the Cardinals organization, and the development of the modern farm system, whereby each major league club has several minor league teams which it uses to develop talent, proceeded apace. Rob Neyer describes Landis's effort as "a noble effort in a good cause, but it was also doomed to fail."

Read more about this topic:  Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Commissioner (1920–1944), Policies As Commissioner

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