Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Albert Benjamin "Happy" Chandler, June 9, 1976

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:02 - Becoming the commissioner of baseball

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Partial Transcript: --istory department. Uh, this--the date is, uh, June, uh, ninth--

Segment Synopsis: Chandler discusses how and why he became the commissioner of baseball. He received a call when he was a U.S. senator that informed him that the Major League club owners held a meeting that day deciding to offer him the job of baseball commissioner. He mentions that he had not sought out this position and that he didn't want to take the job until the war was over. He didn't want to be viewed as deserting his post in an important moment so he waited until the war ended. He discusses how he didn't get paid much as a politician and the commissioner job was a major pay raise, but he wouldn't have left the Senate for just any job with a higher salary. He took the job because of his lifelong love of baseball.

Keywords: Baseball commissioner; Second World War; WW2; WWII; World War 2; World War II

Subjects: Baseball commissioners; Baseball.; Major League Baseball (Organization); Politicians--Kentucky; Politics and government; Politics, Practical; World War, 1939-1945.

00:10:06 - Changes Chandler made as baseball commissioner

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Partial Transcript: I thought, I thought in that job that--I, I, I, I o--said to the owners the American--average American boy if he has something to play with and a place to play, he'll be a better boy.

Segment Synopsis: Chandler passed a rule to prevent boys from playing in the Major Leagues until they've graduated and are mature. He mentions he had a lot of cases where boys in high school were hired despite the rules. The owners wanted someone as commissioner who used less authority than the previous commissioner and would not agree to let black people play baseball, but he did not agree with these ideas. He fought for allowing black people to play baseball. He also fought to keep gambling out of the game. He discusses Leo Durocher, mentioning that he was known as a thief and was married multiple times. Chandler suspended Durocher for a season because of the controversy around him, which also included physical fights, bad conduct, and gambling. Chandler also reversed the rule against horse owners owning baseball clubs, including the case of Bing Crosby, who owned an interest in a baseball team. Chandler mentions not going to horse race tracks to avoid being associated with gambling while commissioner, recommending that the players also stay away.

Keywords: Baseball commissioner; Baseball commissioners; Commissioner of baseball; Commissioners of baseball; Integration

Subjects: African Americans--Segregation; African Americans--Social conditions; Baseball; Baseball commissioners; Crosby, Bing, 1903-1977; Discrimination in sports; Discrimination.; Durocher, Leo, 1905-1991; Racial integration in sports; Racism

00:27:40 - Discussion of various baseball players

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Partial Transcript: I know, you've told me, you've told me, uh, the story, or at least the essential parts of the story about, uh, Jackie Robinson--

Segment Synopsis: Chandler discusses his authority to overrule owners to allow black players in the game. He mentions how white fans thought all black players liked each other. He talks about various baseball players, including Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson, Don Newcombe, and Cal Hubbard. He discusses how Hubbard and Robinson hated each other, including a specific time when Robinson was a "smart aleck" towards Hubbard.

Keywords: Alcoholism; Baseball commissioner; Cal Hubbard; Commissioner of baseball; Commissioners of baseball; Robert Calvin Hubbard

Subjects: African Americans--Segregation; African Americans--Social conditions; Baseball; Baseball commissioners; Discrimination in sports; Discrimination.; Newcombe, Don, 1926-2019; Racism; Reese, Pee Wee, 1918-1999; Robinson, Jackie, 1919-1972

00:34:16 - Job as commissioner / Thoughts on Kentucky

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Partial Transcript: Where was your--you, you mentioned going to the games, going to many of the games, where was your headquarters?

Segment Synopsis: Chandler describes some of the logistics of the commissioner job, including changing his headquarters to Cincinnati. At the time, he wanted to return to Kentucky but did not know he would end up back in politics. He briefly praises Kentucky, which he considers his home base, including mentioning its large amount of navigable waters and natural parks. Chandler talks about being voted against for a renewal of the commissioner job, not attaining the 3/4 majority he needed to be approved for a new contract. The opposition claimed he brought "constant reprisals against anyone who differed." He describes making players free agents and describes the "Lorke case," whereby the Boston Braves lost Lorke to the New York Giants. He mentions Ty Cobb as his hero and as the greatest ever baseball player, briefly discussing his career. He admires Fred Hutchison and briefly discusses his career. As part of being commissioner, he talked to umpires and managers about being responsible for the conduct of their players on and off the field.

Keywords: Baseball commissioner; Baseball commissioners; Commissioner of baseball; Commissioners of baseball; Fred Hutchison; Free agents; Lorke

Subjects: Baseball; Baseball commissioners; Cobb, Ty, 1886-1961; Kentucky

00:52:45 - Various baseball experiences

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Partial Transcript: Uh, governor, uh wha--I'd, I'd be interested in your--what you'd think of this last World Series?

Segment Synopsis: Chandler discusses meeting Leo Durocher after having suspended him. Durocher thought about hitting Chandler. Chandler's friend Frank Hare was at this meeting and wrote Durocher a letter saying he would have hit Durocher back if he had hit Chandler. Chandler thought this World Series was outstanding and he wasn't sure that the Boston team was going to win the series. He wrote to Joe Morgan, who hit the winning run and four home runs in the series, and told him he thought he was the best player they currently have. In 1952, Chandler took the American Army team to Japan and discusses this experience. The interviewer asks Chandler about his having said it might be necessary to suspend baseball in case of a national emergency, specifically the Korean War. They discuss various mementos presented to him throughout his career as commissioner. He mentions that he thinks he was highly qualified for the job of commissioner because of his baseball experience.

Keywords: Baseball commissioner; Baseball commissioners; Commissioner of baseball; Commissioners of baseball; Joe Morgan

Subjects: Baseball; Baseball commissioners; Morgan, Joe, 1943-

01:07:22 - Chandler's legacy in baseball

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Partial Transcript: Let me ask you one more question, if I may.

Segment Synopsis: Chandler describes what he considers his legacy. He discusses how he is responsible for the pension funds for baseball players when he was the Commissioner of Baseball and responsible for the pension funds for teachers when he was governor. He also describes selling contracts for TV rights for baseball games and the World Series and put the money in the pension funds. He considers his reaction to the Mexican league as part of his legacy. He also thinks he gave the owners motivation to make sure the players were fairly paid. They conclude the interview by talking about some sports awards he's received.

Keywords: Baseball commissioner; Commissioner of Baseball; Pension funds

Subjects: Baseball; Baseball commissioners; Pensions