Glen Rock author chronicles life of controversial major leaguer who got 'raw deal'

Glen Rock author Jimmy Keenan holds up a copy of his book, "Banned for Life: The Benny Kauff Story."

Baseball historian and author Jimmy Keenan of Glen Rock has chronicled the life of a controversial baseball player in his latest book, "Banned for Life: The Benny Kauff Story."

Like Shoeless Joe Jackson, Kauff (pronounced Cowf) was banned for life by Baseball Commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Both Jackson and Kauff were found innocent in court, but Landis used his dictatorial powers to ban them.

Jackson's ban stemmed from his involvement with the 1919 Chicago Black Sox gambling scandal.

Kauff's ban was the result of a September 1919 incident when teammate Heinie Zimmerman tried to bribe him and fellow New York Giant Fred Toney. Although Kauff immediately reported the bribe attempt, an air of suspicion engulfed him. A complex stolen-car case that same year raised questions about Kauff's involvement.

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"I knew about Kauff's case and I thought it needed to be explored more, particularly since the court found him innocent," said Keenan, who spent five years researching and writing the book. "It seemed to me that he got a raw deal."

Kauff, a 5-foot-8, 175-pound, left-handed-hitting outfielder was known as the "Ty Cobb of the Federal League." He won league batting titles in 1914 (.370) and 1915 (.342) while playing for the Indianapolis Hoosiers and the Brooklyn Tip Tops. 

Besides hitting .370 in 1914, Kauff collected 211 hits, 44 doubles, 13 triples and eight homers. He scored 120 runs, tallied 95 RBIs and stole 75 bases.

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Kauff, a native of Pomeroy, Ohio, was a shameless self-promoter, flashy dresser and aggressive player, particularly on the bases. He once got picked off of first base three times in one game. 

The outfielder was involved in contract disputes throughout his career. When the Federal League folded after the 1915 season, Kauff joined the New York Giants and played for manager John McGraw. He boasted he would hit .370 for the Giants. He batted .264.

"Benny was a rebel in a number of ways," the 61-year-old Keenan said. "He knew his worth and he wanted to be paid accordingly. His actions and relentless bragging rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. I think he irritated Judge Landis, and his past activities played a role in his ban."

The stolen-car case didn't come to trial until 1921, two years after the incident. Although Kauff was declared not guilty by the court, Landis didn't feel justice had 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 (to baseball) without impairing the morale of other players and doing further injury to the good name of Organized Baseball."

So, did Kauff get a raw deal?

"I think so," said Keenan, citing his extensive research. "I believe the testimony of two convicted car thieves heavily influenced Landis' decision."

Keenan admits Kauff had flaws, but he believes he was a good teammate.

"I think I would liked to have played ball with him," Keenan said. "He seemed to love the game, and he always hustled."

Kauff was 30 years old when his eight-year major league career ended after the 1920 season. His lifetime batting average is .313.

Reach Barry Sparks at or on Twitter at @ydsports.