June 7, 2023

Was Lifetime Ban a Raw Deal For Benny Kauff?

April 22, 2022 by · Leave a Comment 

Banned For LifeBANNED FOR LIFE: The Benny Kauff Story

Benny Kauff was known as the “Ty Cobb of the Federal League.” The 5-foot-8, 175-pound, left-handed hitting outfield won the FL battling titles in 1914 and 1915, hitting .370 and .342.

The 24-year-old put together a sensational year in 1914 while playing for the Indianapolis Hoosiers. Besides hitting .370, he collected 211 hits, 44 doubles, 13 triples, and eight homers. He scored 120 runs, drove in 95 runs, and stole 75 bases.

Kauff was a shameless self-promoter, flashy dresser, and aggressive player, particularly on the bases (he once got picked off of first base 3 times in one game). Giants manager John McGraw said Kauff wanted to be a star but didn’t value the team.

After Indianapolis folded, Kauff played for the Brooklyn Tip-Tops, where he had a contract dispute. With the demise of the FL, Kauff signed with the New York Giants and was embroiled in another contract dispute. Kauff boasted that he would hit .370 for the New York Giants (he hit .264). He played full-time for John McGraw in 1916 and 1917.

He joined the military in 1918 and missed most of the season.

On Sept. 10, 1919, Heinie Zimmerman tried to bribe Kauff and teammate Fred Toney to throw a game. Kauff reported it immediately to Christy Mathewson, a Giants coach. Although Zimmerman was suspended, the incident put Kauff under scrutiny. A complex stolen car case that same year also raised questions about Kauff’s involvement.

The stolen car case didn’t come to trial until 1921. And, even though Kauff was found not guilty, Baseball Commissioner Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis felt justice hadn’t been served. He suspended Kauff and later put him on baseball’s ineligible list, essentially banning him for life.

Landis wrote that Kauff “could not return without impairing the morale of other players and doing further injury to the good name of Organized Baseball.”

Author Jimmy Keenan raises the question: Did accusations from two convicted car thieves get Kauff banned from baseball? Kauff seems to have gotten a raw deal from Landis.

Kauff’s major league baseball career was finished at age 30. After his playing days, he became a bootlegger and was arrested several times. He died on Nov. 17, 1961, at age 71.

This is a thoroughly researched and interesting book that sheds a lot of light on one of baseball’s lesser-known players and the complex incidents that affected his career.

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