The door to the office of the Commissioner of Baseball bears one word: BASEBALL. His letterhead bears the same word, in black-letter type: Baseball. There is no "Inc." after it, and that is significant. If Baseball were to incorporate, then it would be admitting it is a corporate individual.
But—business technicalities to one side—it is an individual, BASEBALL, on the commissioner's door, means the entire structure of major league baseball and a good deal, if not all, of minor league ball. Vast sums of money are received and distributed by this office. Myriad details relating to every major league player are handled by it. The 16 separate clubs in the major leagues are bound together by their common interest in it. The 16 clubs are 16 distinct corporations (the New York Yankees are actually a partnership rather than a corporation), each in business for itself, but they are also equal owners of this greater body. Mr. Wrigley has also said, "Baseball is the only business in which you compete with your partners."
The people of the country don't own baseball, as baseball likes to say. They buy its product, but they don't own it as they do, say, the Army and the Navy. By their vote the people have some say over the Army and the Navy, but they have nothing to say about baseball, except as their buying habits indicate. The Government doesn't own baseball. The players don't own it. The umpires don't. The sportswriters don't.
The owners of the 16 major league clubs own the business organization called Baseball. Rather than shy away from that truth, they should admit it, and indeed accept the responsibility proudly.
9 The Commissioner of Baseball is not, and has not been for about a decade now, the supreme authority over baseball.
Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who was Commissioner of Baseball from 1920 until his death in 1944, was often called the Czar of Baseball. He was an autocratic ruler with considerable power which he never hesitated to use. His successor, A. B. (Happy) Chandler, was occasionally referred to as the czar out of habit, but less and less frequently as time went on. Chandler was a far better commissioner than he has been given credit for, but his broad manner and flamboyant ways alienated the press, and his perhaps naive assumption that the club owners meant him to have the same power as Judge Landis alienated them.
Chandler's successor, Ford C. Frick, has never been called a czar. He has pursued a policy of wait-and-see. talk-things-over, compromise. For this he has often been severely criticized, but he has escaped the public censure that fell on Chandler because of the respect accorded him by the press, from whose ranks he rose.
Criticism of Frick is usually in the nature of a demand that he "declare" something wrong, or that he "ban" something else, or that he "pass" a new rule. That, of course, was Landis' way, but Landis, assuming power in time of crisis—major league baseball was in anarchy and on the verge of civil war in 1920, and the Black Sox Scandal was exploding into the headlines—held onto that power with both hands for the rest of his life. He exercised something very close to government by flat. This was not necessarily a good thing. When he was right, it was fine. When he was wrong, it hurt baseball. In the 1930s the owners would have very much preferred to have Landis retire, or relinquish much of his authority, but the old man had become a symbol of baseball and they did not dare to try to oust him. After he died in 1944, the owners wanted a man who could maintain Landis' symbolic stature—the good and the true, the honest and the pure—but who would be more an executive secretary than a president, a man who could bring dignity and stature to baseball publicity and also handle all the administrative details that are part of the baseball central office. They definitely did not want another policy maker. Somehow or other Happy Chandler gained the appointment. It was a poor choice. Chandler was too much the glad-handing politician to bring the desired dignity to the role, and too much the independent man of action to become the dutiful administrator of detail that baseball needed. When the time came for reappointment, no one could specify anything that Chandler had done that was grievously wrong, but his contract was not renewed. And in 1951 Ford Frick got the job.
Frick is a gentle, quiet man of considerable dignity. He is intelligent, considerate, cultured, well-educated and devoted to baseball. He understands full well that times have changed since Landis' day, that the 16 major league franchises now have huge monetary value, and that no $50,000-a-year man can tell someone else what he can or can't do with a $5 million property. Frick, though he has never said this, sees his job as an administrative one in which he prevents or punishes obvious floutings of established baseball law, as a promotional one in which he lends his person and his words to the exaltation of the game of baseball, as an advisory one in which he counsels his employers on matters in which he has specialized knowledge, and finally as a mediatory one in which he attempts to achieve a compromise when there is a pronounced difference of opinion among his employers.
But it is not an authoritarian job in which he can "declare" or "ban." The authority for the control of baseball lies entirely with the owners of the 16 major league clubs.