Monday, April 24, 2023

Happy Chandler Plays the Populist Card

The April 26, 1971 issue of Sports Illustrated featured an article by Happy Chandler and John Underwood, in which Chandler commented on his career as the Commissioner of Baseball.  At one point he tells the following story to explain his negative press coverage:

This happened at a banquet in my honor in Newark, N.J.  I spoke of my beloved Kentucky, the good fishing, the barefoot days at school, my career as a minor league ballplayer and as an umpire in the old Blue Grass League and of my family and my home.  Then, on an impulse, I said I would wind up the dinner with a song.  I have always loved to sing, and I have sung on the campaign trails, often accompanied by the beautiful soprano, Mrs. Mildred Chandler.  My choice that night was My Old Kentucky Home.

Can you see the effect of that on the assembled New York writers that night in 1945 -- the Red Smiths and Arthur Daleys and Dan Parkers, that sharp-eyed group?  It was immediately evident that I was a Southern country fellow, and New York writers look down their noses at Southern country fellows.  New York writers know, of course, that milk comes from wagons and that anything west of the Alleghenies is Indian territory and that only a clown would sing at his inauguration.  Can you imagine Judge Landis doing such a thing?

They never let me forget it.  They called me "Sappy" and "Playboy," and when I said I loved baseball they saw fit to ridicule that, too, and when I had to chasten some of their heroes, people like {Dan} Webb and Leo Durocher, they never failed to take their side.  But I don't embarrass easily.  If you are sober and diligent and forthright, there is no reason to be embarrassed.  The record will show that the reflection was on them.  And I know -- now -- that they just didn't understand country boys.

Two further observations here.  First, in 1971, Happy Chandler was 73 years old.  That year, he ran for governor as an independent.  But Chandler only received 4.24 percent of the votes, and Wendell Ford rolled to a 6-point victory over Thomas Emberton.  By 1971, Chandler was too socially conservative for Democrats and too hostile to Big Business for Republicans.  And so that particular version of populism faded from the American scene.

Second, Happy Chandler was Commissioner of Baseball from 1945 to 1951.  Six years after he was pushed out, the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants announced that they were leaving for the West Coast.  Lots of sportswriters in New York bemoaned this event.  Of course they didn't have a Commissioner who was willing to take on the owners and fight for the fans, and so nothing was done to stop the move.  And lots of Dodger and Giant fans never got over it.  But at least the reporters in Brooklyn and Manhattan didn't have to put up with a Commissioner who sang.

No comments:

Post a Comment