The Baseball Writers’ Association of America has voted to remove former MLB Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis’ name from the plaques given to the American and National League MVP Awards, the association announced Friday. The league MVP plaques will be nameless in 2020, and the BBWAA will discuss renaming them in 2021.
"This past summer, two Most Valuable Player award winners, Barry Larkin and Terry Pendleton, spoke of their discomfort with the name of Kenesaw Mountain Landis attached to their awards," BBWAA president Paul Sullivan said in a statement. "Landis, baseball's first commissioner, served from 1920-44 and notably failed to integrate the game during his tenure. A motion was made in July by longtime member Ken Rosenthal, and after an online discussion of the issue the BBWAA membership voted this week to remove the name, beginning in 2020. Whether the award will be renamed has been tabled until after the 2020 season."
Landis’ namesake was called into question earlier this summer, when former NL MVP Award winners Larkin, Pendleton and Mike Schmidt told the Associated Press that they would be in favor of removing Landis’ name from the plaques. Landis was MLB’s first commissioner beginning in 1920, and he is among the more than 300 names represented in the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s plaque gallery after his election to the Hall in 1944. But his legacy includes a long history of “documented racism,” in the words of official MLB historian John Thorn, and the Major Leagues remained segregated across his tenure as commissioner. Landis died in 1944, one month after the BBWAA voted to add his name to the MVP plaques. Jackie Robinson broke the Major Leagues’ color barrier three years later.
“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,” Larkin told AP in June.
Added the three-time NL MVP Award winner Schmidt, “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.”
Several prominent names were suggested on social media following Larkin, Schmidt and Pendleton’s comments in June, including Frank Robinson (the only player to win the MVP in both leagues), Negro Leagues star Josh Gibson or Jackie Robinson himself.