We’re Contacted by A Relative of Dead Ball Era Star, Bennie Kauff!

We’re Contacted by A Relative of Dead Ball Era Star, Bennie Kauff!

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Benny Kauff and the 1917 World Series Photo Gallery
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 We’re Contacted by A Relative of Dead Ball Era Star, Bennie Kauff!

“I’ll make them all forget that a guy named Ty Cobb ever pulled on a baseball shoe” – Quote from brash, 26-year old, Benny Kauff

We’re happy to report one of our readers, Tricia Sturgeon, is a distant relation of Benny Kauff, the Federal League star who also played in the 1917 World Series with John McGraw’s Giants.

Benny Kauff was one of the most heralded young player of his generation: a five-tool star possessing a combination of speed and power packed into a 5’8″ Hack Wilson-like body; and with an oversized ego to match his enormous ability. Kauff acquired his strength in the coal mines of his youth: “Seven years I worked in the dust and grime of the mines, and baseball proved my way of escape.” Though Benny was a standout player with some excellent seasons, he never quite lived up to the hype; and his career came to an abrupt end in 1921 when he was banned for life by Commissioner Landis.  

Tricia told me that her father, Roy Kauff, born in 1899, was most likely a cousin of Benny. Tricia distinctly remembers her dad telling her that “We have a major league ball player in the family.” Tricia also recalls her dad telling her that “Benny was the black sheep of the family. Dad said that Benny couldn’t stay out of trouble. If had, he would have been one of the greats. Dad told me Benny originally wanted to play ball to help support his family, but the family thought baseball was just a game and not anything you should get paid to do. They wanted Benny to have a more ‘respectable’ profession.” When we see how Benny’s baseball career ended, her dad proved to be prophetic.

Benny Kauff played eight season in the major leagues (1912-1920). Over his career, the Pomeroy, Ohio native hit .311, with 49 home runs, 454 RBIs, and a career on-base percentage of .389. His best years were his two seasons with the Federal League (1914-1915), when he became known as the “Ty Cobb of the Feds.” It’s not hard to see why. He dominated the league during its two-year existence. In 1914, with the champion Indianapolis Hoosiers, he led the league in batting average (.370), on-base percentage (.447), runs (120), hits (211), total bases (305), doubles (44) and stolen bases (75). Traded to the Brooklyn Tip-Tops for the 1915 season, he followed with an equally impressive year. He again led the league in batting average (.342), on-base percentage (.446), slugging average (.509) and steals (55).

When the Federal League folded, the Giants purchased his contract. Although he had some solid years with the Giants from 1916 to ’20, he never exhibited the dominance of his Federal League years. In the 1917 World Series, his best performance came in Game 4, with two home runs and three RBI in the Giants’ 5–0 win.

In December, 1919 Kauff was implicated in a car thief ring. Athough he adamantly denied the charges, his name was also turning up with alarming frequency in various gambling scandals. The shadowy Billy Maharg told investigators Kauff had been involved with the 1919 World Series fix. Banned ballplayer Heinie Zimmerman was spreading the word that Kauff had accepted “dirty money” to throw ballgames; and said he was willing to tell the grand jury what he knew about Kauff and the auto thief ring. After a trade to Toronto early in the 1920 season, Commissioner Landis suspended him until the issue was resolved. The case was heard on May 10, 1921, with the jury acquitting Kauff after a short deliberation.

Echoing his Black Sox decision, Landis refused to reinstate Kauff, saying that “even though you were acquitted, the trial revealed serious questions about your character that would raise questions about baseball’s integrity if you were ever allowed to play again.” Judge Landis also said the acquittal “smelled to high heaven” and was “one of the worst miscarriages of justice that ever came under my observation.” Kauff appealed his banishment in court on the basis of his acquittal, but to no avail.

Maybe Tricia Sturgeon’s father was on to something about his cousin Bennie Kauff!

Gary Livacari

Do you need copy writing for your web page? Contact me: Livac2@aol.com 

Photo Credits: All from Google search; Featured photo colorized by Don Stokes: https://www.facebook.com/Don-Stokes-Old-Time-Baseball-Colorizations-923346241033508/

Information: Excerpts edited from the Benny Kauff Wikipedia page; and from the SABR biography on Benny Kauff by David Jones: http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/4a224847 

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I’m a baseball historian who also loves to write. My forte is identifying ballplayers in old photos, and my specail interest is the Dead Ball Era.

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