October 30, 1945: On this day, baseball’s second commissioner, A.B. “Happy” Chandler resigns from the Senate and announces he will move the Commissioner’s office to Cincinnati. He had been serving in both positions since being selected as baseball’s second commissioner in April of 1945. He had been elected to the Senate in 1939.
Chandler was commissioner when baseball integrated with Jackie Robinson joining the Brooklyn Dodgers. Chandler was from Kentucky and served as governor of Kentucky both before and after his time as baseball commissioner. Cincinnati was the site of one of the great scenes in baseball history when Dodger shortstop Pee Wee Reese, also from Kentucky, quietly, but effectively, showed his support for Robinson. From Wikipedia:
Reese refused to sign a petition that threatened a boycott if Robinson joined the team. When Robinson joined the Dodgers in 1947 and traveled with them during their first road trip, he was heckled by fans in Cincinnati, Ohio. During pre-game infield practice, Reese, the captain of the team, went over to Robinson, engaged him in conversation, and put his arm around his shoulder in a gesture of support which silenced the crowd. This gesture is depicted in a bronze sculpture of Reese and Robinson, created by sculptor William Behrends, that was placed at KeySpan Park in Brooklyn and unveiled on November 1, 2005.
Chandler later wrote about his greatest contribution to baseball. Again, from Wikipedia:
Chandler was fully aware that he was jeopardizing his own commissionership by stewarding the integration process. Chandler’s attitude was a simple one, which he conveyed to Branch Rickey, and later recounted in his autobiography:
“I’ve already done a lot of thinking about this whole racial situation in our country. As a member of the Senate Military Affairs Committee, I got to know a lot about our casualties during the war. Plenty of Negro boys were willing to go out and fight and die for this country. Is it right when they came back to tell them they can’t play the national pastime? You know, Branch, I’m going to have to meet my Maker some day. And if He asks me why I didn’t let this boy play, and I say it’s because he’s black, that might not be a satisfactory answer.
If the Lord made some people black, and some white, and some red or yellow, he must have had a pretty good reason. It isn’t my job to decide which colors can play big league baseball. It is my job to see that the game is fairly played and that everybody has an equal chance. I think if I do that, I can face my Maker with a clear conscience.”
Chandler also once suspended Brooklyn Dodger manager Leo Durocher for the entire 1947 season for “conduct detrimental to baseball.” Durocher had been found to associating with gamblers. The Dodgers won the pennant that year with Burt Shotton serving as manager and Robinson winning baseball’s first Rookie of the Year Award.
Durocher, though, apparently was still a supporter of Robinson in what was later called “The Noble Experiment.” Referring to the petition as mentioned in the Reese comment above, Wikipedia and baseball-reference.com’s bullpen have similar descriptions:
Robinson’s promotion met a generally positive, although mixed, reception among newspapers and white major league players. Manager Leo Durocher informed his team, “I do not care if the guy is yellow or black…I’m the manager of this team, and I say he plays. What’s more, I say he can make us all rich. And if any of you cannot use the money, I will see that you are all traded.” After a strike threat by some players, National League President Ford Frick and Baseball Commissioner Happy Chandler let it be known that any striking players would be suspended.