Sunday, May 3, 2015

Was Benny Kauff wrongly banned? Part 3

(continued from May 2 )

1916 National Police Gazette supplement.
Little more than two weeks into the 1915 season, on April 29, Benny Kauff was suspended indefinitely by Federal League president, James Gilmore, who cited Kauff's "gross violation" of a "perfectly equitable contract with a duly authorized agent of the Brooklyn Club.

"Kauff," he added, "is suspended as an example to him and to every other player in the league that we do not propose to tolerate any breach of contracts that we enter into with them in good faith. Kauff is the most valued man in our league, yet he stands suspended the same as if he were a man of mediocre ability. I do not know what the ultimate disposition of Kauff's case will be. He will stand suspended until I see fit to lift the ban."

Gilmore made sure, however, to emphasize that Kauff remained under contract to Brooklyn. "The Federal League will fight to a finish to prevent Kauff's playing with the National League."

On April 30, N.L. president Tener held an emergency meeting in New York with most of the East Coast owners. Over fat cigars they determined that Rule No. 20 of the agreement which governed major and minor league baseball automatically operated against the engagement of Kauff by the Giants. The rule specified that any contract jumper had to wait three years from the time he violated his O.B. agreement before applying for reinstatement. They also decided that Tener would set aside Quigley's forfeit of the April 29 contest and gave Boston the official win in the 13-8 game.

On May 1, the major league's National Commission, the three-man board which ran baseball before Landis was named commissioner, met via telephone to discuss the situation. The commission was comprised of Tener, American League president Ban Johnson and Reds owner Garry Herrmann, who served as chairman. They unanimously agreed to refuse Kauff's application for reinstatement with Organized Baseball, stating, "in the past (Kauff) has not respected his contractual obligations and therefore, in our judgement, is not a desirable person to be identified with the great national game."

At the same time the National Commission was black-balling Kauff, Giants owner Hempstead and Tip Tops owner Ward were meeting in New York to dispose of the body. Following the conference, Hempstead made the following statement: "Kauff's services were offered to us several weeks ago, and it was represented that he was under no contract with any club, but a free agent. We investigated these statements carefully and not until we felt thoroughly satisfied that he was free to sign a contract with us did we sign him." He went on to say that the Giants " ... acted in the utmost good faith in the belief that he had no contract" with Brooklyn.

In meeting with the Brooklyn owner, the Giants' prexy said Ward, " ... brought to our attention facts of which we had no previous knowledge and which we believe give him the right to Kauff's services. Had we known these facts in the first place, we would not have felt at liberty to sign Kauff, and having learned of them we willingly surrender his services to Mr. Ward." The Brooklyn magnate magnanimously accepted Hempstead's explanation and laid the "recent complications" to a "misunderstanding."

On May 1, the Brooklyn Club attempted to reinforce its contractual hold over Kauff by paying him the first installment of his salary. After advances had been deducted, the check came to $192. Kauff, sick in bed with a touch of ptomaine poisoning, refused to accept the money. Kauff also never received the $5,000 signing bonus from the Giants. He had demanded it prior to the press conference announcing his jump to the Giants, but McGraw had told him he'd get it after the game.

When all of baseball's "suits" had had their say, Kauff was heard from. "The National Commission, nor the Federals, nor the Giants cannot keep me from taking down something around $1,000 a month for the next three seasons," he told reporters on May 2. "My contract with the Giants is iron-bound and states very clearly that I am to be paid whether or not I am able to play. They signed the paper with their eyes open and I insist that they live up to the agreement. I cannot be held to account for any bungle the New York Club might have made in bucking the National Commission or stopping it when it seemed ripe for peace moves (with) the enemy. I am not caring for anybody but Kauff, and you can bet I am interested in his welfare."

He had not cooled off by the following day and blasted all parties again, "I am through with the Federal League," he said, "I have been made the goat of one of the biggest fiascoes of base ball, but I was absolutely right and I intend to prove that I was right. I was not under contract to Brooklyn's Federal League Club when I signed with the New York Giants. Robert B. Ward knows I was not. He repudiated the contract Dick Carroll made with me. Carroll tried to tempt me with a pay check at the rate of $6,000 per year only after the management of the Tip Tops learned I had signed with the Giants. That contract I entered into with McGraw could have been proved legal and binding I am sure. I was assured that New York's National League Club would stand behind me in the fight. The National Commission turned down my prayer for reinstatement and as soon as it did I was dropped like a hot potato. That is not right; it is not justice. I should have had no complaint if the Wards had agreed to honor the contract I signed with Carroll. They cannot honor it now after I have signed with the Giants. I intend that the Giant contract shall be honored whether or not the National Commission sees fit to make fish out of me and fowl out of some of its pets. I shall fight this case single-handed if need be. I intend to sue the New York National League Club for the full amount of its contract and a promised bonus of $7,000 (sic), if it does not fulfill its promise to stand behind me."

Sporting Life summarized the entire weekend's happenings for its readers in the May 8 issue, under a second-coming headline which proclaimed, "AVERT BASE BALL DISASTER." The subhead read, "The New York Club's Amazing Folly in Opening the Door to a War of Reprisal By Signing, and Attempting to Play, a Federal League Star, Checked by Organized Ball Powers."

In a column in the same paper a week later, the dean of American sportswriters, Grantland Rice, took up Kauff's defense. First he blasted Tener and Johnson for blacklisting Kauff on the basis of his jumping a reserve clause with the American Association's Indianapolis team. He pointed out that Tener himself had jumped a reserve clause 25 years previously when he left the National League for the Players League, and that Ban Johnson in 1900 encouraged National League players to jump their reserve clause and join the American League. In view of that, Rice queried, " ... upon what grounds of morality, logic, fairness or anything else do they vote that Kauff has committed a base ball crime?

"Kauff has received an enlarged amount of criticism for his recent move, but if the true facts were known he is less to be blamed than most of those star players who jumped Organized Ball and were taken back. When the Indianapolis franchise went up in smoke, Kauff, legally, was a free agent. On being transferred to Brooklyn he was due a new contract. This contract, to be legal, had to be signed by Robert B. Ward. Unless Kauff and others who examined the inside status are lying, Mr. Ward refused to sign the contract before Kauff left the Brooklyn Club. Therefore Kauff, legally, was still a free agent. His move to go out and get more money was not only not dishonorable, but was in entire accord with the spirit of the modern game."           

By the 5th of May, Kauff had regained his composure and wrote to Federal League president Gilmore, "I am anxious to play ball again with the Brookfeds and feel sorry that I followed the advice of older men in the game and took part in the recent trouble. Mr. Ward has treated me fairly and has shown so much interest in my welfare that I am ready to show the fans that I am not ungrateful. Will you please raise my suspension and let me take part in the Tip Tops' pennant fight?

"The whole affair of last week was the result of a misunderstanding. The Tip Tops are the best combination I have ever played with and if you will act favorably upon this application I will at all times give my best services to the club. Please act upon this so that I can get into the game while the strong Western clubs are at Washington Park. Respectfully yours ..."

Upon receipt of the letter, Gilmore declared that Kauff would be reinstated effective on May 8.
1919-21 W514 strip card.

Within a month, Kauff was back in the headlines. He engaged former New York star and future Hall of Famer John M. Ward to represent him in securing his promised $5,000 signing bonus from Hempstead and the Giants. According to Kauff, he was to have gotten his bonus before the ink was dry on his signature on a Giants contract, but that he was hustled into uniform and out on the field before receiving the money. Kauff threatened to drag the Giants into court, if necessary, where it's likely testimony from the likes of McGraw would shed unfavorable light on the whole episode of Kauff's kidnapping from Brooklyn. So sure was Benny of his position that he declared he would not settle his claim for $4,999.99. 

Hempstead, traveling with the team on a western swing, did not respond to the demand.

On July 1, Benny once again jumped the Brookfed team. That pay day, Kauff had been presented a check for $500, instead of the $1,000 he was expecting. Ward had deducted $500 of the $1,500 advance salary Kauff had received from Indianapolis the previous year. In 1914, Kauff had borrowed the money from the Hoofeds (Hoosier Federals, get it?), with the agreement to pay back $500 each July 1 for the next three years. When the league had taken over the Indy franchise, it had assumed the debt, paying the team the $1,500. In turn, when Kauff went to Brooklyn, Ward had paid the league $1,500 and become Kauff's creditor in the matter.

At spring training, Kauff had initially been offered a contract for $5,500 a season. Kauff asked for an additional $500 per annum to pay the debt, and it was written into the pact. In July, Kauff claimed he had been told he would not have to repay the loan and thus felt justified in jumping the team once more.

Though Kauff claimed McGraw still wanted him in New York, and had even sent him a uniform, when Benny showed up at Ebbets Field, where the Giants were playing the Dodgers, McGraw ignored him.

The league slapped a 10-day suspension and $100 fine on Kauff for his latest desertion.
That same day Kauff filed suit in Brooklyn to compel the Giants to pay his signing bonus, plus interest since May 6 and attorney's fees. On Aug. 9, the Giants responded by alleging that Kauff had misrepresented the facts of his base ball status, that he was not able to carry out the provisions of his contract and that the memo agreeing to pay the signing bonus was not signed by a team official.

Through it all, Kauff continued to tear up the Federal League . . .  on those days when he was not sitting out suspensions. Although the Tip Tops finished the season in seventh place (in the eight-team league), Kauff had led the circuit in batting average, slugging average and stolen bases. He finished second in walks and third in home runs. In the runs, hits and runs batted in categories, Kauff finished fourth in 1915. He led Federal League outfielders in total chances per game (2.7) and assists (32).

Some may argue that Kauff's batting success came against essentially minor league pitching (and with a lively ball, no less). In 1915, however, there were three future Hall of Fame pitchers in the Federal League, albeit near the end of their careers: Three-Finger Brown, Chief Bender and Eddie Plank. While it's impossible to figure accurate batting averages on the basis of available box scores, it can be computed that in games in which those pitchers worked, Kauff hit .411 in 1915, compared with his overall batting mark of .342.

Of the season, he was able to reflect, "After four or five more years in this base ball business, I'll be ready to step aside. I was a coal miner before I broke into base ball, but after I quit playing I hardly believe I'll go back to a pick and shovel. I'm 24 now, and I believe I can stick with the topnotchers for four or five years. If I keep my health and am not crippled in that time I should be able to collect a bank roll that will enable me to pick out some other business and live pretty soft for the balance of my natural life."

The 1915-16 off-season was again a tumultuous one, for and about Benny Kauff.

The Indianapolis American Association team filed an appeal with the National Commission seeking $10,000 which they said the Giants had agreed to pay for its reserve claim on Kauff. Despite the fact that he was then playing with the outlaws, on Sept. 11, 1914, the Giants had executed a contract with the Indians, payable if Kauff reported to the Giants and was retained by them until May 1, 1915  and provided that the Indians had a legitimate contract with the player. It was arguable whether or not the Giants "retained" Kauff as of May 1, but since the Indianapolis A.A. team never had a contract with Kauff, the commission found that the Giants had no obligation for the $10,000. After sorting out the contract language, the commission disallowed the claim.

More importantly, following the close of the 1915 season, the Federal League ceased operations. Benny Kauff, along with most of the star players became the property of the league, who would sell them to the highest bidders to pay off the owners' debts. As part of the "peace agreement" which included bringing several Fed owners into the O.B. fold as major league magnates, there was a general amnesty provided for players who had deserted the established leagues.

At age 24, Benny Kauff was in the enviable position of having 16 major league clubs bidding for his services.

(to be continued May 4)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your comments, criticism, additional information, questions, etc., are welcome . . . as long as they are germane to the original topic. All comments are moderated before they are allowed to appear and spam comments are deleted before they ever appear. No "Anonymous User" comments are allowed.