by Cameron Strause
Few Kentuckians have compiled a longer list of accolades and achievements than Happy Chandler. Governor, senator, baseball commissioner, and athlete were some of the many labels Chandler earned during his lifetime. To fully appreciate Chandler’s contributions, it’s important to look at his early life and education to see what helped guide him to success.
Happy Chandler was born in the small farming community of Corydon, Kentucky. When he grew up, Happy attended Transylvania College as a multi-sport athlete. Chandler served as captain for the basketball and baseball teams, while also playing Quarterback for the football team. This led him to consider a career in professional baseball, before turning his sights toward a law degree. He earned his law degree from Harvard Law School. This put him on the fast track to a prosperous political career. Shortly after graduation Chandler was elected as a Democrat to the KY Senate. In just two more years, Chandler was elected as lieutenant governor. After serving as lieutenant governor, Chandler was elected as the governor of Kentucky in a landslide vote.
Following a successful term as governor, Happy Chandler believed he was destined to be the president. After an unsuccessful campaign, Chandler returned to his role as governor before being appointed as a Senator. Eventually, Happy resigned to pursue a different career path. In 1945, Happy Chandler became the new commissioner of baseball. In a move that would be etched into history, Happy Chandler approved Jackie Robinsons contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers. The effects of this were monumental as it effectively integrated baseball. Chandler’s courageous move was not well received by all though and his contract was not renewed in 1951. After this disappointment, Happy returned to Kentucky and was again elected as governor. He used this platform to continue his mission of integration (this time in schools!)
Happy Chandlers’ contributions are wide ranging. He was devoted to serving his home state in the form of politics and enacting monumental change in the sporting world. As can be seen with plenty of other successful Kentuckians, an education in law served as the foundation and catalyst for a thriving political career.