Albert (Happy) Chandler, who resigned as the second commissioner of Major League Baseball (MLB) on this day in 1951, is remembered for some landmark developments in the sport. For one, he approved the move that made the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Jackie Robinson the first black player on an MLB team in the 20th century.
But on April 27, 1947, when Robinson was in uniform at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field for his ninth game as a Dodger, Chandler was on the field at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx being derided for another newsworthy decision. Boos, already known as “Bronx cheers,” rained down.
The reaction came during Babe Ruth Day ceremonies held to honor the dying Yankees legend. Chandler’s appearance and his introduction of teenager Larry Cutler, who then introduced Babe Ruth, are part of an original film reel recently discovered by New York Sports Tours.
Below is a brief clip of Chandler hearing the boos, taken from exclusive footage of Babe Ruth Day now available in this original New York Sports Tours virtual tour experience.
Two weeks before Babe Ruth Day, Leo Durocher was on the cover of Time magazine. Durocher, 41, the combative manager of the National League’s Dodgers and a former Yankees teammate of Ruth, had been suspended from professional baseball for a year by Chandler, starting in early April.
Chandler, a former U.S. senator from Kentucky, didn’t like that Durocher was seen in the company of gambling types and other behavior considered less severe. There were also rumors that before the suspension, the Yankees were flirting with Durocher to manage the Yankees.
On the same day he announced his Durocher decision, Chandler suspended Yankees aide Chuck Dressen for 30 days for breaking a verbal agreement to remain as a Dodgers coach.
In a front-page New York Times story on the suspensions, sportswriter Louis Effrat called Durocher’s departure “the most drastic action ever taken against a Major League Baseball pilot.” After the Dodgers relocated to Los Angeles, Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray concluded that Durocher “got set down one whole year just for standing next to a gambler.”
The Babe Ruth Day audio feed was played the same day to fans in many other stadiums. The Associated Press reported that day, “Thirty thousand fans at Ebbets Field for the finale of the Brooklyn Dodgers-New York Giants series raised a chorus of boos today as the transcribed voice of Commissioner A.B. Chandler was heard in ceremonies for Babe Ruth at Yankee Stadium. Chandler’s speech was almost drowned out by the whistles and jeers. Fans haven’t forgiven the commissioner for sticking a one-year suspension on Leo Durocher.”
Among those who unsuccessfully appealed for a lighter sentence for Durocher was Ford Frick, the National League president and a former Yankees beat writer for the New York American and New York Evening Journal. On July 15, 1951, after Chandler resigned because MLB owners would not renew his contract that was due to expire, Frick became the new MLB commissioner.
Dressen became the Brooklyn Dodgers manager starting in 1951. After returning as Dodgers manager in 1948, Durocher served as manager of the New York Giants for several seasons, including when the National League team won the 1954 World Series.