After 60 years of working in minor league baseball, Lee Landers is going out in style. The Appalachian League will pay tribute to its longtime president by passing out Lee Landers bobbleheads at its ballparks this season.
Landers, who has worked tirelessly behind the scenes since 1996 to keep the Appalachian League running, will step into the spotlight during a farewell tour of sorts. Nine Appy League teams plan to honor Landers when he visits their ballpark this summer, including giving away “King of Baseball” bobbleheads that depict Landers in royal attire in recognition of him being named the King of Baseball at last December’s winter meetings.
“I guess my head bobbles around enough they could do it without much trouble,” Landers joked when discussing the giveaway. “It’s an honor and I appreciate the group thinking about doing something. Anytime they think of you in a good vein, it’s a good thing.”
Landers is certainly thought highly of by his peers. Several praised him in news articles after Landers announced he would step down following the 2018 season and will be succeeded his longtime protege Dan Moushon, vice president of the Appy League’s Burlington Royals.
“As a man of great faith and character, Lee Landers has fulfilled the role of Appalachian League president with dignity and class and the respect that I, and my fellow league presidents, have for him is immeasurable,” said Randy Mobley, the International League president and chairman of Minor League Baseball’s Council of League Presidents, in a press release from Minor League Baseball last January. “Lee has been a great role model for all league presidents as he has been a passionate advocate for his Appalachian League teams and there has been no one around the table at our meetings with greater integrity and love for the game than Lee Landers. He is a true friend and mentor for us all, and we look forward to celebrating his final year in office with him.”
Landers has indeed been the Appalachian League’s biggest defender and supporter. On a personal note, I spent my first winter meetings trailing Landers around Disney’s Swan and Dolphin resort in 2006 as he desperately tried to find an affiliate for Pulaski after the Mariners left town unexpectedly following the season. Landers may have been roughly twice my age, but he wore me out pounding the pavement as he went from team meeting to team meeting trying to fill a hole in the league. I had only been at BA for six weeks and knew few people around the industry, but Landers took the time to school me on the ways of minor league baseball and introduce me to his colleagues. In the end, no team would bite and Pulaski would remain dark for the 2009 campaign, but it wasn’t due to a lack of effort by Landers.
Landers’ hard work comes from a genuine passion for the game, a requirement of the job if you’re to last 60 years grinding through minor league baseball seasons. “I love it. I’ve been in it since 1959. It’s the only thing I know. It’s going to be tough to step away, but the timing is right.”
Part of that timing for Landers is being able to pass the Appy League torch to Dan Moushon, whom Landers first hired in 1988 to serve as his assistant while operating the Springfield Cardinals in the Texas League. The job turned out to be more than just a good career move for Moushon. At the following winter meetings in Nashville, he hired a recent graduate from the University of Texas to serve as PR director. A few years later, Moushon married her.
“He’s a special person to our family,” Moushon said of Landers. “My children refer to him as Grandpa Lee.”
Landers, who will serve in an emeritus role with the Appy League following this season, speaks humbly about his career and awards, but it certainly has been quite a journey. According to the Minor League Baseball release:
“Landers’ career in professional baseball began in 1959 in Fresno, and has included stops in Modesto, Twin Falls, Little Rock, Tulsa, New Orleans and Springfield (Ill.), where he was named general manager of the Springfield Cardinals after the 1981 season. In 1982, Landers-led Springfield Cardinals became the first team owned by their major league affiliate to win the prestigious Bob Freitas Award for excellence. During his 12-year tenure with Springfield, he received Executive of the Year honors and the Promotional Award of Excellence, and was a nine-time winner of the Midwest League’s Gold Award for excellence in operations. Landers was named vice president of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1986.
“Since taking the reins of the Appalachian League in 1996, Landers was honored with the Warren Giles Award for outstanding service as a minor league president in 2001, was presented the first annual Bowie Kuhn Award from Baseball Chapel in 2008 and has had four of his Appalachian League teams (Bluefield, Burlington, Greeneville and Pulaski) honored with the Bob Freitas Award for the short-season classification. Landers currently serves on MiLB’s prestigious Game Operations and Umpire Development committees. He was inducted into the Springfield Sports Hall of Fame in 1994.”
Moushon said he is honored to take over for Landers, but jokes that it is a position he never wanted to be in. “I always said that I never wanted to follow in Lee’s footsteps in Springfield. He was Mr. Springfield. I always said that I don’t want to follow that act, and now here I am, following in his footsteps in the Appalachian League.”