An Appreciation of Chandler

Westbrook Pegler

The Dothan Eagle/December 20, 1950

NEW YORK Happy Chandler’s curbstone opinion that baseball might fold up for the duration of the war between the two worlds was the honest, brave expression of a patriot. Whatever Happy may have done in the past, and I do not forget his acceptance of a swimming pool as a personal gift from a contractor, this was a rallying cry comparable to Governor Dewey’s great speech which came several days later. The Governor called on us to give up all frivolity and luxury and get ready to fight with all our might for survival.

Happy Chandler, an old-time, routine Democratic hack who had served both as Governor of Kentucky and as United States Senator, rose to a height that, frankly, I never expected him to reach. I should have known better, for I faintly recall his having faced Franklin D. Roosevelt across his desk in the White House to tell him that no man could forbid Happy Chandler to run for any office. Roosevelt had an imperious way of deciding such matters as head of the Democratic party. Almost any other Democrat would have mumbled, “Yes, sir,” and slunk away.

I met Happy in the great plaza in front of the Capitol and asked him what had happened? I didn’t expect the truth except, perhaps, “off the record,” nor did I anticipate the brash candor of Happy’s challenge to the Great Man. Happy said Roosevelt had called him in to admonish him, in that supercilious, patronizing way, to be a good boy, and bide his time in which case, of course, he would be taken care of. For the time being, Alben Barkley had to be the people’s choice. Barkley, who later was to show a spark of manhood and resign the leadership only to tuck his tail between his legs and come to heel at a snap of the master’s fingers.

Happy said he had looked Roosevelt in the eye and told him to mind his own business. The quote that I remember, perhaps with a slight inaccuracy of phrase, was: “Mr. President, neither you nor any other man can tell Happy Chandler not to run for any office. I done made my way so far and if I can’t go any farther without asking your permission I won’t go any farther. But I will still be Happy Chandler.”

Roosevelt couldn’t stand back-talk from anyone. Only Huey Long had ever talked back to him before. He had threatened to cut off Huey’s patronage and Louisiana’s share of the disgraceful graft that was being sluiced out of the national treasury to the devouring Democratic machines all over the country to build concrete roads paralleling concrete roads already in existence, to build the Quoddy dam and tailored stone walls along the property of local leaders. Satan took Huey to the mountain top and Huey, out of no virtue but by force of his mischievous spunk, told him to go to hell. He would start his own dictatorship with his own WPA and his own FBI and carry the fight back to Roosevelt. He did and he was gaining and he would have beaten Roosevelt surely in 1940 if his own thug-men, as he called them, had not cut him down in a mysterious assassination which was not explained by the brutal murder of Doctor Weiss, the innocent scapegoat and sacrifice.

Remembering this and the off-with-his-head dismissal of Admiral Richardson for telling the great sissy naval expert that it was suicidal to anchor the fleet in rows at Pearl Harbor, one comes to an appreciation of Happy Chandler’s fibre. Happy was no man to keep his mouth shut about a flagrant case of organized slackerism just to keep his job, if the crisis was as bad as everyone thought it was. . . ,

Knowing some of the current owners of major league ball-clubs and knowing the magnate type of old, I bespeak patience and kind judgment for them in this bad mistake of theirs. They are not less patriotic than other men. But they have put themselves in a very bad light by firing their “commissioner” for contemplating the possibility that war this time will need all our might and a great spiritual and psychological concentration, and that organized baseball would have to fold up without date. They sometimes forget that their industry is not a national institution but a trust of sixteen commercial corporations fostered by a naively cooperative press and supported by a public whose intelligence in this regard, frankly, is not a compliment to the American breed of cats.

The obsession of thousands of qualified voters with absurd trivialities of baseball is not a dignified expression of the American mind and character. The continued absurd over-emphasis on trades of players from one corporation to another during the terrible sacrifice of American soldiers in Korea has put baseball in a bad light, although the editorial judgment of the press may be excused as a concession to habit and public curiosity.

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