January 5, 1890|
|Died: November 17, 1961
|Batted: Left||Threw: Left|
|April 20, 1912 for the New York Highlanders|
|Last MLB appearance|
|July 2, 1920 for the New York Giants|
|Runs batted in||454|
|Career highlights and awards|
Benjamin Michael Kauff (January 5, 1890 – November 17, 1961) was a professional baseball player, who played centerfield and batted and threw left-handed. Kauff was known as the “Ty Cobb of the Feds.” Though he appears on many lists of Jewish baseball players, such as Harry Stein's 1976 Esquire magazine article "All Time All-Star Argument Starter," Kauff was not Jewish. Kauff was banned from baseball in 1921 amid charges of auto theft; despite his acquittal, baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis refused to overturn the ban.
Early career (1912–15)
After spending the 1913 season in the minors, he appeared with the Indianapolis Hoosiers of the short-lived third major league, the Federal League. Indianapolis rode his league-leading bat to the first league crown in 1914, but traded him to the Brooklyn Tip-Tops before the 1915 season. The Tip-Tops, unable to capitalize on Kauff’s hitting, finished seventh in the Federal League’s second, and last, season.
Kauff was called “Ty Cobb of the Feds” for his dominant hitting during both years of the Federal League’s existence. In 1914, he led the league in batting average (.370; still the rookie record for league-leading batting average), on-base percentage (.447), runs (120), hits (211), total bases (305), doubles (44) and stolen bases (75, which remained the rookie record until Vince Coleman broke it with 110 bases for the pennant-winning St. Louis Cardinals in 1985), while finishing 2nd in slugging percentage (.534) and 3rd in RBIs (95) and walks (72).
He followed with an almost equally impressive season in 1915. That year he led the Federal League in batting average (.342), obp (.446), slugging percentage (.509) and steals (55) while finishing 2nd in walks (85), 3rd in home runs (12) and 4th in RBIs (83), runs (92) and hits (165).
New York Giants (1916–20)
When the Federal League folded after just two seasons, the National League New York Giants purchased his contract from Brooklyn for $35,000 ($751,000 today). Kauff was a Giant from 1916 to 1920, winning the pennant in 1917, but never regained his Federal League hitting prowess.
On May 26, 1916, he earned the dubious distinction of being the only player in the 20th century to be picked off first base three times in one game.
But also in his first year as a Giant, he was 2nd in the NL in stolen bases (40) and triples (16), 4th in RBIs (74), home runs (9) and walks (68), and 9th in slugging percentage (.408).
His best season in the National League was 1917, when he was 3rd in runs (89) and stolen bases (30), 4th in batting average (.308), 5th in OBP (.479), 6th in hits (172), and 7th in RBIs (68) and walks (59). That year the Giants made it to the World Series, but lost to the Chicago White Sox 4-2, in Chicago’s last World Series victory until 2005. His best Series performance was in Game 4, with two home runs and three RBI in the Giants’ 5–0 victory.
Kauff was both a high-living dandy and a trash-talking hothead. He made a name for himself among his teammates for chewing tobacco, smoking a cigar and drinking a beer all at the same time without stopping.
In 1919, he led the NL in extra-base hits (44) and was 2nd in home runs (10), 4th in RBIs (67) and doubles (27), 5th in runs (73) and 7th in slugging percentage (.422).
In December of that year, however, Kauff and his brother were implicated in a car theft. According to the criminal complaint, Kauff and two of his employees, James Shields and James Whalen, sold a car to Ignatz Engel after stealing it and giving it a new paint job. Kauff adamantly denied the charges, claiming he didn't know the car was stolen. Specifically, he claimed that Shields and Whalen had given him what turned out to be a false bill of sale, thus leading him to believe the car had been acquired legally. After only 55 games in 1920, the Giants traded him to Toronto of the International League. As it turned out, he would never play another major league game.
Acquittal and banishment
Kauff was slated to return to the Giants in 1921, but Baseball Commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis suspended Kauff until his auto theft case was resolved. The case finally went to trial on May 10, 1921. Kauff argued that he had not only been deceived by crooked employees, but also presented evidence that showed he had been eating dinner with his wife when he was alleged to have stolen the car. The jury deliberated for less than an hour before acquitting Kauff on May 13, 1921.
Nonetheless, Landis refused to reinstate him. In a letter to Kauff, Landis said that even though he was acquitted, the trial revealed serious questions about his character and reputation that would raise questions about baseball's integrity if he were ever allowed to play again. He also told baseball writer Fred Lieb that he personally believed Kauff was guilty, and claimed his acquittal "smelled to high heaven" and was "one of the worst miscarriages of justice that ever came under my observation."  According to Kauff's attorney, Emil Fuchs (who would go on to own the Boston Braves), another factor in Landis' refusal to reinstate Kauff was that Kauff tried to compensate Engel for the purchase price of the car after finding out it was stolen--something which Kauff had done on Fuchs' advice. Kauff appealed his banishment in court on the basis of his acquittal, but to no avail. On January 17, 1922, he lost his appeal to a higher court.
- List of Major League Baseball batting champions
- List of Major League Baseball doubles champions
- List of Major League Baseball runs scored champions
- List of Major League Baseball leaders in career stolen bases
- Benny Kauff Player Page at baseball-reference.com
- Benny Kauff Batting at fangraphs.com
- Wiggins, Robert Payton. The Federal League of Base Ball Clubs. Jefferson, N.C. : McFarland, 2009. 978-0786438358
- 1914 Federal League Team Statistics and Standings at baseball-reference.com, URL accessed November 26, 2009. Archived 11/26/09
- 1915 Federal League Team Statistics and Standings at baseball-reference.com, URL accessed November 26, 2009. Archived 11/26/09
- Vince Coleman Hitting Stats at baseball-almanac.com, URL accessed November 26, 2009. Archived 11/26/09
- Benny Kauff Trades and Transactions at baseball-almanac.com, URL accessed November 26, 2009. Archived 11/26/09
- League Federal at baseballlibrary.com, URL accessed November 26, 2009. Archived 11/26/09
- 1917 World Series at baseball-reference.com, URL accessed NOvember 26, 2009. Archived 11/26/09
- Baseball-Reference Playoff and World Series Index at baseball-reference.com, URL accessed November 26, 2009. Archived 11/26/09
- 1917 World Series Game 4 at baseball-reference.com, URL accessed November 26, 2009. Archived 11/26/09
- Benny Kauff by David Jones, URL accessed November 26, 2009. Archived 11/26/09
- 1918 Baseball Season at entertainment.howstuffworks.com, URL accessed November 26, 2009. Archived 11/26/09
- Burley, Craig. Free Benny Kauff (Part One). Hardball Times, 2004-04-12.
- Burley, Craig. Free Benny Kauff (Part Two). Hardball Times, 2004-04-19.
- This Day in Baseball History: January 17th at nationalpastime.com, URL accessed November 26, 2009. Archived 11/26/09
- Benny Kauff at Simply Baseball Notebook
- Career statistics and player information from Baseball-Reference, or Fangraphs, or The Baseball Cube, or Baseball-Reference (Minors)
- Baseball Library - Timeline
- Baseball's Banned Players
- Baseball Almanac