Thursday, September 27, 2012

131. Carl Mays: The unpleasant man with the unpleasant pitch

Most casual baseball fans have heard of Carl Mays, the man who threw the ball that killed a man on the field. There's a photograph of him at the end of his career that is always used to illustrate articles about him - he's hunched over, standing on one leg, his torso coiled around so that his back is showing, his face partially hidden from view with just his eyes peering towards the viewer. It's a striking pose and if not for his being in a baseball uniform you might be partial to thinking that this was some evil character trying to hide something particularly dangerous which he will unleash on you in short order. In a sense, that photograph sums up Carl Mays.

He had a lousy childhood. His father died when he was 12. His mother was stuck with the family farm trying to provide for him and his 7 other siblings. He learned to throw accurately out of necessity - the family owned no rifle so he had to kill game with rocks. A good ballplayer, in 1911 he and a buddy hopped a freight train and headed to California to live their dream of playing pro ball. The made it as far as Price, Utah where the two were thrown in jail for vagrancy. When the sheriff discovered that the two hobos were ballplayers they were paroled on the condition they play on the town ball team. Virtually held hostage, Mays beat the town's big rival and spent the winter in Price. Come spring he high-tailed it out of there and began his professional career with the Boise Irrigators. The next year he went to the Portland Beavers and he adapted the city as his home for the rest of his life. While toiling in the minors Mays injured his arm. To lessen the pain he tried a variety of ways to throw the ball and discovered that when he pitched underhanded the pain went away.

It's called a "submarine" pitch and when it's thrown right it's a formidable weapon. Mays would contort himself on the mound, rocking back on his right leg, twisting his torso behind him as his gloved hand loosely dangled straight down while his pitching arm with the ball swung back behind him, almost out of sight to the batter. As the arm whipped forward Mays dropped it so low to the ground his knuckles sometimes scraped the dirt. To an opposing batter the ball looked like it was being thrown at him from under the third base bag. As the ball came at the hitter it rose from the field instead of gradually dropping as when thrown by a conventional pitcher. It angled upwards at the batter and when it reached the plate mysteriously dropped down sharply. If a batter didn't know what to expect when he faced Mays, it was a frightful and disorienting experience. Opposing players disliked facing him and many thought the underhanded pitch should be banned all together. It was too hard to see and that was dangerous.

As Mays worked his way up to the majors he left behind him a wake of discontent. Though a brilliant pitcher, the submariner was angry, unpleasant and just plain mean. His own teammates disliked him. When he played for the Providence Grays in 1914 his teammates sawed of the handle of his bat then glued it back together. The next time he connected with the ball the bat fell apart, robbing him of a hit and leaving him humiliated. When he bought a new home for his wife and mother someone burned it down to the ground. I'm not sure how much Mays brought on himself or if perhaps he just had one of those disagreeable dispositions and unknowingly rubbed people the wrong way. For sure Mays had a couple of close friends. He married and was a loving husband and father so he couldn't have been that bad.

But to most, especially other ballplayers, Carl Mays was hated. Not to disappoint his detractors, Mays became known right from the start of his major league career as a headhunter. He led the league in hit batsmen in 1917. He had a running battle with Ty Cobb which culminated in Cobb spiking the hell out of the pitcher, leaving a terrifying wound that required many stitches to close. To the end of his life Mays showed it off, almost as a badge of honor, perhaps to prove he could take as good as he could give. He yelled at his own teammates when he thought they messed up a play and backed it up with his fists. When he thought his teammates on the Red Sox weren't trying hard enough he walked off the mound, out of the ballpark and refused to come back unless he was traded.

Carl Mays was the ace of the New York Yankees when he hit Cleveland's popular star Ray Chapman in the head with the ball. Mays insisted he didn't mean to hit Chapman and even fellow ballplayers remarked at how Chapman would typically crowd the plate. The way Mays pitched was hard for some batters to follow and the ball Mays was using that afternoon was supposedly filthy and darkened from being used for too many innings. The odds are the submariner wasn't trying to hit Chapman, let alone kill him. Any other pitcher would have been exonerated for the incident but because Mays was such a disagreeable person he was flayed alive. A few teams threatened to strike if he pitched against them and because of the death, major league baseball banned all "trick" pitches like the spitter and shine ball. Umpires were instructed to replace misshapen and dirty balls with new ones.

The season after the death of Chapman, Mays was spectacular, winning 27 games as the Yankees captured their first American League pennant. As a nod to his place as the best pitcher on his staff, Miller Huggins tapped Mays to start the opening game against the Giants. True to form he tossed a 3-0 shut-out. The Yanks took the second game as well and after losing a game to the Giants, Huggins sent Mays to the mound again in game four.

Mays was cruising along after 7 innings giving up only two hits to the Giants and leading 1-0 when he fell apart. Irish Meusel stepped up to face Mays. From the dugout Miller Huggins signaled Mays to throw a fastball. Instead he threw a slow breaking curve and Meusel bounced it off the outfield wall and had himself a triple. After the game Mays told reporters he had disregarded Huggins' instructions because he'd gotten Meusel out earlier with the same slow curve. A single by Johnny Rawlings scored Meusel and the score was tied. Frank Snyder bunted back to Mays and instead of an easy out Mays fell down and the runners were safe. Phil Douglas tried another bunt but this time Mays fielded the ball flawlessly and got him at first. But now he had 2 runners in scoring position with the score tied and one out. George Burns smashed a double scoring both runners and just like that the Giants were up 3-1. Mays got out of the inning but the Giants scored another run off him in the ninth and the game ended 4-2. It was an unfortunate turn of events and a tough loss for Mays who had pitched 7 stellar innings.

Enter Fred Lieb. The veteran New York Telegram reporter was president of the Baseball Writers Association and one of the most respected writers in the country. After the game he was approached by a "well-known Broadway actor" and told an intriguing tale. The actor, who was also a gambling man, had been tipped off that the Yankees ace had been approached by gamblers to throw any close game he was involved in. The way it was to go down was that a man would approach Mays' wife Freddie and slip her a packet of cash. Payoff in hand, she was then supposed to signal her husband that the fix was in. The actor claimed that Freddie Mays had waved her handkerchief at her husband as he took the mound in the 8th inning that afternoon. A few minutes later Meusel was standing on third with a triple.

These accusations were truly serious. The stain of the Black Sox scandal was still all over the sport and the future of the game was still precarious. Another World Series scandal could be the knock-out blow that would forever damage the way fans followed the sport. Lieb took the actor to see the Yankees owner Colonel Huston and Commissioner Landis. The new czar of baseball took the charges seriously enough to open a full investigation and he instructed Lieb to keep a lid on the story until he finished looking into it.

Meanwhile the Yankees won game 5 to take the lead but then the Giants came roaring back in game 6. The series was shaping up to be an exciting slug fest. With the series knotted up at 3 games apiece Carl Mays took the mound for the Yankees.

Again the Yankees' ace turned in a masterpiece - at least for the first 7 innings. With the score tied at 1 each in the seventh Mays fell apart again. With two out, a double by Frank Snyder scored Johnny Rawlings who had reached first on an error by Yankee second baseman Aaron Ward. That was all the Giants needed as they held the Yankees off to win 2-1.

According to Lieb, the commissioner's investigation of Mays did not turn up anything questionable, but still, rumors swirled around the unpopular pitcher. The following season was one of Mays' worst. He uncharacteristically went 13-14 for the pennant winning Yanks and after the World Series was put on waivers. Despite being one of the top hurlers in the league, the Yankees didn't want him anymore and neither did any other major league team.

When 1923 rolled around Carl Mays was still a Yankee. Miller Huggins basically refused to pitch the submariner and he only got into 23 games that year. Mays, never shy, complained loudly to the press about his lack of use. Despite pressure from the newspapers Huggins let Mays sit on the bench. The manager's dislike of Mays was clearly visible, especially when he finally started him in a game against Cleveland in July. The under worked pitcher got pounded 13-0 and Huggins left him in the entire game. After the drubbing was finally over sportswriters asked Huggins why he left Mays in instead of inserting a reliever. Huggins wryly quipped "he told me he needed lots of work, so I gave it to him."

The next season Mays was shipped off to Cincinnati. In the new surroundings he went 19-12 but it was down hill from there. He retired after the 1929 season and went home to Portland. When the stock market crashed he lost his hard-won nest egg and was forced to go back to baseball to make a living. At the age of 38 he rejoined the Portland Beavers, the club he played for 17 years earlier.

Mays didn't have any luck making friends on his way down as he had on his way up. Right from the start his new teammates disliked him for "big leaguing" them. According to one: "Mays has been a trouble maker all season. He tried that old big league racket on all the gang. Carl couldn't forget he wasn't in the big show and the Coast League was tougher than he figured." Since Mays was still a big name he attracted a good deal of press and sportswriters speculated was that he would be the next manager of the Beavers. This was far from the reality but Mays believed his own write-ups and began acting the part. His teammates decided amongst themselves that they would refuse to play for a guy like Mays. There was talk of a strike if he was named skipper.

Despite all his bluster Mays was getting hit hard by Pacific Coast League batters. By mid season he was 5-9 with a 4.75 ERA. So much for trying to "big league" his teammates. Instead of humbling the submariner, Mays' disappointment and embarrassment over his record manifested into outright belligerence. He took out his frustration on Portland ace, Junk Walters and the two came to blows at the end of July. In the locker room before a night game, the two men went at each other as the rest of the team watched. Walters received a black eye but Mays got the shit kicked out of him. Walters broke his nose, cracked one of his ribs and left the rest of him covered in bruises. The Pacific Coast League quickly suspended him indefinitely. The Portland management had had enough of the troublesome pitcher and on August 4th the Beavers handed Mays his release and transferred his contract to the Toledo Mud Hens of the American Association.

Mays spent the rest of 1930 and beginning of 1931 with Toledo and then was shipped out to Louisville to finish up his career as a ballplayer. Things didn't get any smoother for Mays - his mother died, followed afterwards by his wife Freddie in 1934. To make a living he scouted for the Cleveland Indians, Milwaukee Braves and Kansas City Royals. As if to totally go against his surly and solitary reputation he operated his own baseball school for over ten years. Red Sox star shortstop Johnny Pesky was one of his students. Though he couldn't be bothered with his teammates, Mays seemed to genuinely love being around kids and none complained of him having a nasty disposition towards them.

As he grew old Mays became even more bitter. Besides the notoriety he received from his part in Chapman's death, Mays was angry about not being considered for the Hall of Fame. Not one to shy away from speaking his mind, Mays railed against contemporaries he considered of lesser talent than he. He was right. Teammate Waite Hoyt got the nod to the Hall and his winning percentage was a mediocre .566. Other contemporaries were ushered in with similar stats: Dazzy Vance's percentage was .585, Herb Pennock's was .598, Burleigh Grimes posted .560 and the final slap in the face: Eppa Rixley had a truly unremarkable .515 winning percentage and even he was considered Hall of Fame worthy. Carl Mays' was .623. The old submariner was convinced that it was the Chapman incident that kept him out, and that may have been true, but there may have been a darker reason for his exclusion.

The rumors of the 1921 series fix continued to swirl around, just out of sight of baseball fans. Fred Lieb related that sometime in 1928 Colonel Huston got drunk and told Lieb that Yankee pitchers had thrown world series games in 1921 and 1922. Lieb asked if Carl Mays was one of them to which Huston said yes. Miller Huggins, who wasn't the kind of manager to hold grudges, absolutely hated Mays. Telling Fred Lieb that he'd lend a financial hand to any of his former players, he paused and said anyone except Carl Mays and Joe Bush. Bush was on the Yankees with Mays and had also been accused of not playing on the level in the world series. Huggins got up out of his chair and said "if they were in the gutter, I'd kick them!" as his leg sliced through the air before the startled writer. As for his exclusion from Cooperstown, Lieb, who was on the voting committee, stated that the Chapman incident never came up when the vote was discussed. That he might have helped throw the world series did, and that's what stood between him and the Hall.

While time soothed the animosity some players held for one another, time did nothing to abate Mays' contemporaries dislike of him. As an old man, former teammate Bob Shawkey called him "a stinker." Ty Cobb, one player whose reputation among his contemporaries mellowed with the passing of time, still despised Mays. He still believed he hit Chapman deliberately.

Mays remarried and retired, and spent his leisure time helping kids learn the game. Each year he would travel from Oregon to San Diego to help his foster son Jerry coach high school baseball. "I love working with kids, especially the pitchers," Mays said. "I try to teach them everything. But the big thing I do is teach them safety in baseball." The old submariner passed away on April 4, 1972. 

  • Sowell, Mike, The Pitch That Killed (MacMillan, 1989)
  • Spatz, Lyle and Steinberg, Steve, 1921: The Yankees, The Giants & the Battle for Baseball Supremacy in New York (University of Nebraska Press, 2010)
  • Ogden Evening Standard (July 25, 1930)
  • Portsmouth Times (July 27, 1930)
  • Salt Lake Tribune (August 5, 1930)
  • The Charleston Gazette (August 10, 1930)
  • The Sporting News (April 17, 1971)

Saturday, September 8, 2012

129. Benny Kauff: Stealing bases and Automobiles

I've been working on three new cards and stories the past few weeks and much to my chagrin, each one became pretty complex (especially the one you're about to read). I try to update the site every week but due to the research and writing (I'm a hunt and peck kind of typist) it took much longer than I had wanted, but in the end I think it was time well spent. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed researching, drawing and writing them.

It was the week before Christmas, 1919 when James Brennan parked his new Cadillac outside his father's apartment building at 789 West End Avenue on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. As he spent an enjoyable winter evening with his Pop, three men were cruising the neighborhood looking for a Cadillac exactly like Brennan's. It was, as the stockier one of the three had proclaimed earlier that evening, a "good night for stealing autos."

The three men had walked all over the Upper West Side looking for a new Caddy. That stocky fellow, who was the leader of the group, already had an eager buyer waiting for a "discounted" Cadillac and if they could boost one tonight, it was easy money in their pocket. Sure enough, turning onto West End Avenue they spotted one that would do just fine. Two of the men went back and waited at the end of the block looking out for the cops while the stocky one jimmied the lock with a screwdriver and hot-wired the Caddy. Pulling away from the curb he paused just long enough to pick up his two accomplices before they sped off, headed south.

The three men were car thieves, something relatively new since the mass-produced automobile was less than a decade old. With fore-sight, Manhattan already had a dedicated police unit that dealt with auto theft. Because usually only the most influential and wealthy citizens of the city owned cars, the NYPD Automobile Squad was crewed by some of the department's best plain-clothes detectives. A Cadillac like Brennan's that they just boosted cost about $3500 off the lot - over $40,000 in 2012 dollars. Ths was a serious crime and the three thieves surely knew they had to act fast if they wanted to get away with this heist.

The men brought the car to a garage and auto parts store on Columbus Avenue between West 68th and 69th Street that the stocky man owned. They needed to hide all traces that would link the Caddy back to its original owner. First, one of the men removed the motor number plate located on the engine block and handed it off to the second man who took it over to the work bench and ground out the original numbers and added new ones. Now the stocky man and the other man jacked up the Cadillac and replaced its tires and rims with new ones. With the altered motor number plate bolted back on the men hopped back in the car and drove up to 137th and Lenox Avenue in Harlem to give the Caddy a new paint job. Once it had its new color it would be sufficiently unrecognizable except under close scrutiny. While the paint was drying the stocky man arranged for a phony bill of sale to be drawn up to show the car was purchased from a William Dorst and carefully dated a few months prior to the theft. With the fake paperwork in hand he telephoned the man who wanted the new Cadillac. They had been introduced to each other a few days earlier by a mutual friend, ruthless racketeer, bootlegger and murderer Dutch Schultz. When the phone call went through the stocky man told Ignatz Engel that for $1800 cash he had that Cadillac he wanted.

The transaction went smoothly and after he handed off the cash Engel drove away in the Cadillac and the stocky man went back to his two accomplices and divided up the loot.

A few months later it all fell apart. Detectives Martin Owens and Thomas Moran of the NYPD Automobile Squad showed up at the Hotel Monterey and knocked on the door of the stocky man. Earlier that month two hoods named James Whalan and Jim Shields had been pinched after stealing a $5000 automobile. Facing some seriously steep charges, it didn't take much for the two thieves to rollover and offer up some information on their boss, the stocky garage owner. The detectives busted Ignatz Engel and recovered the Cadillac. After giving the Caddy a thorough going over it was obvious to the veteran cops that the body had been repainted and the motor number plate altered. After putting the screws to Engel he gave up the guy who sold him the car, the stocky garage owner on Columbus Avenue, whose door they were now knocking on.

The man who opened the door was well known to the two detectives as well as to most of New York's sporting public - the stocky man they put in hand cuffs was the star center fielder of the New York Giants, Benny Kauff.

10 years before, Benny Kauff came bursting like a comet out of the miserable coal fields of eastern Ohio. Mining coal underground made his 5'-7" stocky frame strong but agile enough to be as fast as deer. In the minors he hit for power as well as average and besides playing the outfield with great skill he stole bases like he owned them. It was only a short time before the big leagues noticed him and in 1912 the New York Highlanders brought him up to take a look. The kid batted .273 in 5 games but he couldn't beat out the veterans already stationed in the Highlanders' outfield. He was sent back down to the high minors where he continued to make waves especially when he led the Eastern League the following season with a .345 average. This time the Cardinals bought his contract and made plans to send him to the Indianapolis Indians who they had a working agreement with. With their own outfield already set, St. Louis had no immediate use for Kauff but wanted to keep him tucked safely away in Indianapolis, just in case. Kauff, who by this time had developed quite a cock-sure attitude about himself, seethed. He felt - no, he knew he belonged in the major leagues. At 24 he was afraid of spending the best years of his career buried in the bushes, but as property of the Cardinals there wasn't anything he could do about it. Or was there?

1914 happened to be the debut year of the Federal League. Founded in 1913 as an unaffiliated minor league, the Federal League emerged the next season aiming to be a third major league. The 8 team league strategically placed their clubs all around the eastern half of the country, selecting major league cities like Chicago, Brooklyn, St. Louis and Pittsburgh as well as the big minor league markets of Baltimore, Indianapolis, Kansas City and Buffalo. The Federals then commenced a raiding spree on the major leagues. Aging and underpaid stars like Three-Finger Brown, Germany Schaefer and Eddie Plank joined up eagerly signing contracts paying them much more than what their major league teams did. Besides these disgruntled big leaguers the Federal League offered a way out for ballplayers like Benny Kauff who felt trapped down in the minors. Major League Baseball called the Federal League an "outlaw league" and considered any ballplayer who jumped their contract to join them ineligible to play in organized ball again without being officially reinstated.

The brash outfielder signed with the Indianapolis Hoosiers for $4000, a nice jump from his bare-bones minor league contract. Right from the start Kauff made headlines. By June he was knocking the cover off the ball and stealing bases left and right. Every week the newspapers seemed to be talking about another great catch he made in the outfield. Instead of veterans like Brown, Schaefer or Plank being the stars of the Federal League, it was Benny Kauff who was the undeniable superstar. The sportswriters took to calling him "the Ty Cobb of the Federal League."

Benny Kauff lived his life as one would expect the a star to live - he bought racks of expensive suits and covered his stocky figure in diamonds and gold jewelry. When out on the town he astonished lesser men with his ability to chew tobacco, smoke a cigar and down mugs of beer - all at the same time. Besides his brilliant all-around play on the field he led the league in trash-talking. It was reported that Kauff would get on base and announce when he was going to steal a base. And then he would proceed to do so, safely. He was tossed out of games for arguing with the umpires. Brash and a complete show-off, Kauff was a surprisingly good teammate and a soft touch when it came to picking up the tab.

Kauff and teammates Bill McKechnie, Al Scheer, Edd Roush and Frank LaPorte added the spark the Hoosiers needed to win the first Federal League championship after an exciting pennant race that went right down to the wire. When the dust settled the record book showed Kauff led the league in batting average (.370), runs scored (120), hits (211), doubles (44), on base percentage (.447) and stolen bases (75). Benny Kauff was the face of the new Federal League.

But to Kauff, the Federal League was still the Federal League. He yearned to bring his talent to the other major leagues, specifically to the mighty New York Giants. In the off season Kauff had started talking with Giants manager John McGraw. By spring, 1915 McGraw had convinced Kauff to jump over to the Giants. Kauff didn't believe he was breaking any contract with the Federals - his Indianapolis team folded and what was left was hastily relocated to Newark, New Jersey and renamed the Peppers. Indianapolis sold Kauff's contract to the leagues' Brooklyn team but since Kauff had specifically signed to play in Indianapolis he argued that his contract was null and void. After a typically boastful press conference Kauff tried to take his place in center field that afternoon against the Braves but Boston would have none of that. The team's owner who just happened to be at the game that afternoon, protested to the umpires that Kauff was not eligible to play because he had been a member of an outlaw league. After much back and forth Kauff was removed from the field and he slinked across the East River to join the Brooklyn Tip Tops.

Not one to disappoint, Kauff picked up where he left off the previous season and was again the star of the league. By the time 1915 ended he led the Federal Leagues in batting average (.342), on base percentage (.446), slugging (.509) and of course stolen bases (55). More important to Kauff, the Federal League called it quits at the conclusion of the 1915 season and he was free to sign with the Giants for the 1916.

With the Giants Kauff was a good ballplayer, but all his headlines and his own bragging worked against him. No one, not even Benny Kauff, could possibly live up to all the hype he'd generated. His first season in New York he batted a mediocre .264 but he got on base at crucial times and McGraw made him the Giants' regular center fielder. In 1917 he improved to .308 and in the world series that year hit 2 homers in one game. Kauff wasn't setting the National League on fire but he was an integral part of the Giants juggernaut and his larger than life persona made him an instant favorite amongst New Yorkers.

So by 1919 Benny Kauff was the toast of the city. In New York City he found that even his name garnered additional attention: "Benny Kauff" was assumed by many to be a typically Jewish name. In fact Kauff wasn't a Jew, but a large chunk of the Giants' fan base were Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe and their belief that he was one of their own made him all the more popular. He circulated in the highest circles of the sporting world - and that meant gangsters and gamblers. That many of the prominent gamblers in the city who he palled around with were Jews probably intimated to many that Kauff indeed was Jewish as well.

It was from running around with this crowd that Kauff made the acquaintance of the city's most ruthless gangster, Dutch Schultz, and the East Coast's premier sportsman, Arnold Rothstein. Prior to the revelation that the Chicago White Sox had fixed the 1919 series it was common for ballplayers to be in the company of known gamblers and fixers, often called "sportsmen" or "sports." Being in New York, the Giants always seemed to be dogged by allegations of crooked play and it was no surprise to insiders when it came to light that two Giants players, Heinie Zimmerman and Hal Chase tried to fix a few games at the tail end of the 1919 season. When they tried to rope Kauff into the scheme he went and reported the whole thing to McGraw. By the end of the year both Zimmerman and Chase were released by the Giants and on the surface, Kauff seemed to come off as an upstanding and honest ballplayer.

That winter Kauff went back to his off-season profession - auto parts dealer. The year before Kauff and his half brother Frank teamed up with Giants pitcher Jess Barnes and bought an auto accessory store on Columbus Avenue in Midtown Manhattan. Unfortunately Kauff was a better ballplayer than he was businessman and by the fall of 1919 the store was hemorrhaging money so bad that he and Barnes borrowed money from the Giants to stay afloat. With the store going down the drain and now in debt to the Giants for future earnings coupled with his taste for the high-life, Kauff was in serious financial trouble.

When Kauff was indicted for petty larceny in February 1920 he pleaded not guilty and claimed to have not known the Cadillac was stolen when he sold it to Ignatz Engel. Kauff came up with the story that he did indeed want to buy the Cadillac and while he went out of town on a trip he left money with store employee James Shields to buy it if the owner wanted to part with it for a reasonable price. When he returned the Caddy was sitting in his garage waiting for him. Shields and Whalan both turned on their boss and for a plea bargain signed statements naming Kauff as the mastermind behind the theft.

Kauff was released on bail and he went to spring training with the Giants. He continued to play good ball and when the Giants opened the 1920 season Benny Kauff was in center field. Behind the scenes ugly rumors started swirling around and threatened to turn into a hurricane. That the 1919 series wasn't played on the level started to make the papers and people started asking why veterans Hal Chase and Heinie Zimmerman suddenly retired from the game. Kauff's legal troubles lumped him into the same dirty pool and by July McGraw sold his star center fielder to the minor league Toronto Maple Leafs. It's probable that McGraw did so to get the heat off of the Giants because by the end of the season, in which Kauff hit .343 for Toronto, he told reporters that he expected him to be back with the Giants in 1921.

John McGraw was wrong. Baseball had named former Judge Kennisaw Mountain Landis to be the commissioner of baseball in the aftermath of the Black Sox scandal. Landis was determined to rid the game of undesirable elements and in his zeal to do so sometimes got a bit too overenthusiastic. Before the 1921 season Landis met with Kauff and decided that he was suspended until his auto theft case was sorted out.

The trial took place the second week in May. The first 2 days found Shields and Whalan testifying against Kauff and fingering him in open court as the ring leader. They described in detail how he set up the job and recruited his two employees, how Kauff personally broke into and hot-wired the Cadillac and how the three men met in a restaurant on a specific night to split the $1800 three ways upon Kauff and Engel completing the sale. Witnesses stated that Kauff attempted to refund the $1800 purchase price after everyone was pinched. One one hand it could appear that Kauff was a stand-up guy who wanted to do the right thing, while on the other it could look like he was trying to hush the whole thing up. It seemed like almost every witness for the prosecution was one low-level scumbag after another - even Detectives Owen and Moran, the two Automoblile Squad cops who busted up the theft were now under indictment themselves in another unrelated case for accepting bribes.

Things didn't look too good for Kauff when the lovely Mrs. Kauff took the stand on the third day with a surprise revelation: on the evening Shields and Whalan claimed to have met in the restaurant to split the dough, Kauff was with her having dinner with a friend. During dinner she testified that her husband left the table to sell the Cadillac and returned a half hour later. After dinner Kauff and his wife returned to their apartment at the Hotel Monterey where Kauff handed her the full $1800.
It took the jury an hour to find her husband not guilty.

Believing he was now clear to join the Giants, who had re-acquired his contract from Toronto, Kauff applied to Landis for reinstatement. The commissioner took his time to rule on the request and then decided against reinstating him. Landis proclaimed that the Giants center fielder's "mere presence in the line up would inevitably burden patrons of the game with grave apprehension as to its integrity." Furthermore the commissioner felt that the trial "disclosed a state of affairs that more than seriously compromises your character and reputation."

In short, Benny Kauff was banned from organized baseball. Newspapers and fans alike speculated how he could be denied reinstatement when he was found innocent by a court of law. The real reason was a bit deeper than the alleged auto theft.

Remember Hal Chase and Heinie Zimmerman? When Landis started to look into the game fixing accusations revealed by Kauff at the end the 1919 season, Zimmerman turned around and implicated Kauff as well as a few other Giants in fixing games. He also threw out a few tidbits regarding Kauff and stolen cars. When the whole filthy Black Sox scandal was being sorted out Benny Kauff's name got brought up as well. None other than old pal Arnold Rothstein supposedly claimed Kauff had requested $50,000 from the gambler to bribe White Sox players. It was all hearsay but together with the auto theft charge it was more than enough for the commissioner to shut the door on Kauff's baseball career.

Incredulous, Kauff hired a lawyer to get Major League Baseball to allow him to play again. The case went to the New York Supreme Court but it ruled that it had no grounds to intervene but one judge commented that in his opinion Kauff suffered an apparent injustice.

After suing the New York Giants for the balance of his 1921 contract the disgraced former ballplayer returned with his wife to Ohio. To add insult to injury Kauff was used by auto magnate and rabid anti-Semite Henry Ford when he wrote his paranoid pamphlet "The International Jew." Twisting a quote by sportswriter Hugh Fullerton out of proportion and perpetuating the belief Kauff was a Jew, the former outfielder and his pal Arnold Rothstein are held up by Ford as prime examples of a "sport spoiler," meaning they and all Jews are detrimental to the game of baseball and sports in general. (When I read in Craig Burley's great article in The Hardball Times about Kauff's inclusion in Ford's publication, I had to verify it for myself. Dredging up a copy of "The International Jew" which I had come across referenced many times but never looked into personally, I was truly sickened when I read through the part on Jews and sports. I can only assume the rest of that vial pamphlet was just as evil. It's shocking what a sick and twisted man Henry Ford was.)

In 1930 Kauff made the papers again when he was banned from a race track in Columbus, Ohio for "practices detrimental to horse racing" which probably meant either some kind of gambling or a race fixing accusation. The next year he topped that by being banished from the entire city of Columbus, Ohio for violating prohibition laws. He then became a scout for the New York Giants, a job he held for over 22 years. At the time of his death in 1961 he'd switched careers, and putting his past experience of being a fashion plate in his youth, Kauff was employed by the John Lyman Company in Columbus as a clothing salesman.
  • Burley, Craig, Free Benny Kauff (The Hardball Times April 12, 2004)
  • Coshocton Tribune (November 20, 1961)
  • Jones, David, Benny Kauff in Deadball Stars of the National League (SABR, 2004)
  • Reno Evening Gazette (May 5, 1915)
  • Galveston Daily News (May 11, 1921)
  • New York Evening Telegram (May 11, 1921)
  • The Washington Post (May 11, 1921)
  • Bridgeport Telegram (May 11, 1921)
  • The Washington Post (May 11, 1921)
  • Rome Daily Sentinal (May 11, 1921)
  • Boston Globe (May 9, 1921)
  • The Washington Post (May 11, 1921)
  • Wiggins, Robert Peyton, The Federal League of Base Ball Clubs (McFarland and Company, 2009)