Albert Benjamin "Happy" Chandler, Sr. (July 14, 1898 June 15, 1991) was twice governor of Kentucky, a U.S. Senator, the 2nd Commissioner of Major League Baseball, and a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. His jovial attitude earned him the nickname "Happy," which stuck for the remainder of his life.
Chandler's first term as governor is still regarded as one of the most productive of any Kentucky governor. Following on this success, he unsuccessfully tried to unseat Senate Majority Leader and fellow Kentuckian Alben Barkley, but was appointed to the Senate shortly after the election due to the death of the state's junior senator. He would later resign this position to become Commissioner of Baseball, steering it through the difficult period of integration, which many concede led to his not being offered a second contract for the position. Instead, twenty years after his first term as governor of Kentucky, Chandler returned to the Governor's Mansion using the slogan "Be Like Your Pappy and Vote For Happy.
Later in life, Chandler's commitment to civil rights was questioned as he supported Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond's bid for President. Having been elected to his first term at the age of 37, Kentucky's "Boy Governor" was both the last surviving governor of any U.S. state to serve before 1939 and the last living Senator to have served before 1940 by the time of his death in 1991.
Chandler graduated from high school in 1917, and, against his father's wishes, enrolled at Transylvania University in Lexington, with only "a red sweater, a five dollar bill, and a smile." During his matriculation, he starred in three sports, captaining the basketball and baseball teams, and playing quarterback on the football team. He also joined the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity after being denied membership in Kappa Alpha. Throughout his educational career, he worked odd jobs to support himself. In the fall semester of 1918, with his nation in the midst of World War I, Chandler volunteered to serve in the Student Army Training Corps, although the corps disbanded with the signing of an armistice in November.
Chandler graduated from Transylvania in 1921, taking with him both a bachelor's degree and his life-long nickname, "Happy," which he was given because of his jovial attitude. From there, Chandler studied at Harvard Law School, coaching high school athletics to earn money. He returned to Lexington in 1922, attaining a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Kentucky two years later. Again, he funded his education by coaching high school sports in nearby Versailles. For the next five years, Chandler was an assistant football coach at Centre College in Danville, simultaneously practicing law in Versailles.
While representing Margaret Hall, an Episcopal girls school, Chandler met Keysville, Virginia native Mildred Watkins. He eventually persuaded his new love to break her engagement to another man. Despite Watkins' eventual confession of having been married previously and being the mother of a two-year-old daughter, the two married on November 12, 1925. Chandler immediately adopted Watkins' daughter, Marcella, and the couple eventually had three children together: Mimi, Ben and Dan.
Laffoon had hand-picked Thomas Rhea to succeed him as governor, but Chandler had other ideas. Advised by political allies, Chandler made the boldest move of his political career. Acting as governor while Laffoon was out of the state as provided by the Kentucky Constitution at the time Chandler called the legislature into special session and pushed through a bill calling for candidates for governor to be chosen by primaries rather than elected at the party conventions. This bucking of the political machine made him a hero in the eyes of many voters.
Chandler increased spending on several projects and proposals throughout his term, however. He supported the state's Old Age Pension Law and created a pension fund for the state's teachers. In 1936, he allocated $2 million to improve the state's rural roads and led the state to participate in the federal Rural Electrification Act. He also provided for free textbooks for students in public schools, and dramatically increased funding for schools, colleges, and universities in the state. By the end of Chandler's first year in office, University of Kentucky president Frank L. McVey proclaimed that "much more has been accomplished than would have been thought possible."
Chandler's heroics continued during the Ohio River flood of 1937, when he personally supervised the evacuation of a partly-flooded penitentiary in Frankfort. Though he opposed the closed shop and sit-down strike tactics used by the state's labor unions, Chandler also earned a reputation as a friend of organized labor by creating a state Department of Industrial Relations and supporting the federal Child Labor Amendment, though it was never ratified. During his tenure as governor, he earned Doctor of Laws degrees from Transylvania in 1936 and the University of Kentucky College of Law in 1937.
Chandler would get his chance at the Senate soon enough, however. In 1939, the state's junior Senator, M. M. Logan, died. Under an arrangement with Lieutenant Governor Keen Johnson, Chandler resigned his position, elevating Johnson to the governorship. Johnson, in turn, appointed Chandler to fill Logan's seat in the Senate. Chandler retained the seat in a special election in 1940, and was re-elected to a full term in 1942, defeating former ally John Y. Brown.
During his tenure in the Senate, Chandler usually backed the policies of President Roosevelt. As a member of the Senate's Military Affairs Committee, he was vocal in his opposition to prioritizing the European front over defeating Japan in World War II. He and five other senators toured American military bases, successfully lobbying to strengthen those in the Aleutian Islands area. It was also during his time in the Senate that he developed a friendship with comedian Bob Hope.
Chandler clashed with Brooklyn Dodgers manager Leo "the Lip" Durocher over Durocher's association with gambling figures and his marriage to actress Laraine Day, which came amid allegations from Day's ex-husband that Durocher had stolen her away from him. Before the start of the 1947 season, Chandler suspended Durocher for the entire season, citing "conduct detrimental to baseball. The Dodgers went on to win the pennant that season under replacement manager Burt Shotton.
Chandler became known as "the players' commissioner" for his work on their behalf. During his service, he presided over the establishment of a pension fund for players, but his most significant contribution was overseeing the initial steps toward integration of the major leagues, beginning with the debut of Jackie Robinson with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. This move was controversial with some team owners, who voted 15-1 against integrating the sport in a secret January 1947 meeting. The Dodgers' Branch Rickey met with Chandler, who agreed to back the team's move. Chandler's stance was credited by many in the sports community with Chandler's failure to be selected for another term as Commissioner after the expiration of his first one in 1951.
Chandler was fully aware that he was jeopardizing his own commissionership by stewarding the integration process. Chandler's attitude was a simple one, which he conveyed to Branch Rickey, and later recounted in his autobiography:
Much had changed in the years since Chandler's first term as governor. In 1948, he had embraced the "Dixiecrats," a Southern faction that had broken from the national Democratic Party, and their segregationist presidential nominee, Strom Thurmond. This move had alienated him from some in his own party at the state level as well. Nevertheless, he was able to make positive changes in the state in his second term, continuing his themes of improving education and public works. He oversaw the establishment of the University of Kentucky Medical Center which bears his name. Having already integrated baseball, in 1956, Chandler used National Guard troops to enforce racial integration of schools in two Kentucky towns.
George Wallace considered Chandler as his running mate in his 1968 campaign for the Presidency as a third party candidate; as one of Wallace's aides put it, "We have all the nuts in the country, we could get some decent people you working one side of the street and he working the other side." Wallace invited Chandler, but when the press published the prospect, Wallace's supporters, especially the John Birch Society objected: Chandler had supported the hiring of Jackie Robinson by the Brooklyn Dodgers, and had protected black children from violence during the integration of the Kentucky schools. Wallace retracted the invitation, and chose Curtis LeMay instead.
In his last years, Chandler remained active as a member of the Boards of Trustees of both Transylvania University and the University of Kentucky. During a meeting of the University of Kentucky Board of Trustees finance committee on April 5, 1988, Chandler drew the ire of several student groups by using a racial epithet. During a discussion of the university's 1985 decision to dispose of its investments in South Africa, Chandler, a member of the Board, remarked "You know Zimbabwe's all nigger now. There aren't any whites." He later apologized for his comments.
Chandler was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982. At age 89, he collaborated with author Vance Trimble to pen his autobiography, Heroes, Plain Folks, and Skunks. Kentucky governors still host a breakfast at the Governor's Mansion on the morning of the Kentucky Derby, a tradition started by Governor and Mrs. Chandler in 1936.
Chandler died in Versailles, Kentucky on June 15, 1991. According to his family, he died of a heart attack. He was buried at the Pisgah Church Cemetery in Versailles. At the time of his death, Chandler was the earliest U.S. governor of any state still living; he had held that distinction since the death of Alfred M. Landon. He was also the last surviving U.S. Senator from the 1930s.
Happy's grandson, Ben Chandler, is currently a member of the United States House of Representatives and formerly served as Kentucky State Auditor and Attorney General of Kentucky. Ben Chandler ran for Governor of Kentucky in 2003 as the Democratic nominee but lost to Republican candidate Ernie Fletcher. According to Ben, until he was 13 he aspired to be a baseball player just as his grandfather.