Former Senator Happy Chandler is Named MLB Commissioner: This Day in Sports History

Liam McKeone
Happy Chandler
Happy Chandler / Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images

In November 1944, baseball found itself without a commissioner following the death of Kenesaw Mountain Landis. While searching for a successor, owners were nervous their players would be made eligible for the military draft to help support World War II in Europe. Thus, they decided they needed someone with weight to throw around in Washington on their side. On April 24, 1945, former Kentucky Senator Albert "Happy" Chandler was named commissioner of baseball.

Of course, the war officially ended seven months after Chandler was named commissioner, so he didn't need to pull any strings to keep players from the war (that we know about). Much did happen under his watch, however. The Mexican Baseball League was offering big money to any MLB players who would come play down south. Chandler threatened anybody who took them up on that offer with a five-year ban from the league. While it didn't dissuade everyone, it may have kept people like Ted Williams from taking the cash and warmer climate over staying in the states; Williams, Stan Musial, and Phil Rizzuto were among the biggest names to decline Mexico's offer.

Chandler also oversaw the breaking of the color barrier in baseball. While he didn't appear to do much to push the matter, he approved Branch Rickey's contract signed by Jackie Robinson despite facing pressure from other owners to deny it. Once Robinson was in the league, Chandler took steps to defend him from the racism heading his way from within baseball itself; he threatened the Philadelphia Phillies and their manager with disciplinary action after they attacked Robinson with racist taunts and slurs in the midst of a game in the early days after he broke the color barrier. He also supported Cardinals owner Ford Frick's decision to suspend any Cardinals player who went on strike in protest of Robinson's presence in the league.

In addition, Chandler was in charge when the league sold its first broadcasting rights to World Series games. In 1947, he sold the Fall Classic's radio rights for $475,000 and used that money to create a pension fund for players. Two years later, he negotiated a longer rights contract, signing a seven-year deal with Gillette and the Mutual Broadcasting System worth $4.375 million for the rights to broadcast the World Series. He ensured, again, that all that money went to the players' pension fund. In 1950, he struck a six-year television deal with Gillette and the MBS worth $6 million. All proceeds were deposited in the fund.

Chandler ultimately resigned in 1950 after the owners refused to extend his contract. While his run as commissioner was relatively short, he presided over two of the biggest developments in baseball's long history: the breaking of the color barrier and the first big-money negotiations of broadcasting rights. Not too bad for a senator-turned-commissioner.