Good morning, it’s Wednesday, March 10, 2021. Seventy years ago today, J. Edgar Hoover revealed that he had taken himself out of the running to become the third commissioner of Major League Baseball.
Whether the job was formally offered to Hoover is unclear, but his name was definitely among 18 floated publicly for the job, and the New York Times reported that support for Hoover among the owners was strong. It seems a strange pairing to me. It’s true that Hoover was a true baseball fan and a popular figure in post-war America. But the FBI director was also an authoritarian, and the owners were seeking to replace Happy Chandler because they found him meddlesome. They wouldn’t have appreciated Hoover’s habit of conducting oppo research on his bosses, with the attendant possibility of blackmail.
Alas, it never came to be.
A month before J. Edgar Hoover took himself out of the running as commissioner of MLB, California Gov. Earl Warren, another name on the owners’ list, did the same thing. It’s fascinating to contemplate isn’t it? If Earl Warren had taken the job, it’s unlikely that Dwight Eisenhower would have appointed him chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Certainly, the future of American jurisprudence would have been different. Yes, we still would have had Brown v. Board of Education and Gideon v. Wainwright, as those two landmark cases were decided unanimously. But Miranda was a 5-4 decision, with Warren in the slim majority. And Warren was the justice setting the tone in a hundred other decisions as well.
J. Edgar Hoover’s possible career change in 1951 is also an intriguing thought experiment. If Hoover was no longer running the FBI, would that agency -- highly politicized since its founding -- still have spied on thousands of Americans in the 1950s and 1960s? The bureau’s targets ranged from black civil rights leaders and leftists of all stripes to members of Congress. Perhaps a new director would have altered an institutional culture that kept dossiers on people like Dorothy Parker (“a nervous type of person,” one overly dutiful agent noted) while engaging in truly vile psychological ops such as trying to persuade Martin Luther King to commit suicide.
It was far in the future, but this is the same environment that produced a director who, in the 21st century, grossly interfered in a presidential election and then, in a perverse form of penance, spent the next four years undermining the president he’d helped elect.
Harry Truman, who was president when Earl Warren and J. Edgar Hoover both decided to remain in government, apparently would have preferred it if either one had gone into baseball.
“The Courts should be strictly judicial and not dabble in policy -- except interpretation of the Constitution,” he wrote on May 12, 1945. “It is not at all proper for courts to try to make laws or to read law school theories into the law and policy laid down by the Congress.” Truman’s handwritten note, which was not made public while he was in office, next took aim at the FBI.
“We want no Gestapo or Secret Police. F.B.I. is tending in that direction,” Truman wrote. “They are dabbling in sex life scandals and plain blackmail when they should be catching criminals. They also have a habit of sneering at local law enforcement officers. This must stop.”
Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.