Benny Kauff and Pol Perritt were two of the reasons why the New York giants won the National League Pennant in 1917. Kauff led the team with a .308 average and Perritt was 17-7 with a 1.88 ERA. Both came to the Giants by way of the Federal League, and with the help of “Sinister Dick” Kinsella, John McGraw’s right-hand man.
Kinsella was the former baseball magnate of Springfield, Illinois who went east to serve as McGraw’s chief scout. He was a key player in the incident that led to Giants’ catcher Larry McLean’s banishment from organized baseball.
After the 1914 season, McGraw set his sights on the Indianapolis Hoosiers’ Kauff, who was being called the “Ty Cobb of the Federal League.” Kauff led the league with a .370 average, 120 runs, 211 hits and 75 stolen bases.
When the debt-ridden Hoosiers were transferred to Newark for the 1915 season Kauff’s contract was sold to the Brooklyn Tip-Tops, and he joined the team in Browns Wells, Mississippi.
At the same time, Perritt coming off a 16-13 season was prepared to jump the St. Louis Cardinals and join the Pittsburgh Rebels in the Federal League.
Sportswriter Frank G. Menke of Hearst’s International News Service picks up the story:
“Dick Kinsella, scout for the Giants, according to the story we get, hustled to Browns Wells and got a job on a plantation…Kinsella didn’t dare to put up at the same hotel because he was known by Manager Lee Magee, Business Manager Dick Carroll and others of the Brookfeds.”
Kinsella, according to Menke, was pretending to be a farm hand and also observing Kauff’s workouts and reporting back to McGraw who, along with Jack Hendricks of the Indianapolis Indians in the American Association (who held Kauff’s rights) was sending coded telegrams to Kauff signed “Father.” Kauff received telegrams saying, “Mother wishes to see her boy,” and “All is forgiven.”
According to Menke, the telegrams were intended to inform Kauff that McGraw wanted him with the Giants and:
“The “everything forgiven” telegram was to tip Kauff off that if he jumped the National Commission probably would let him play.”
While Kauff was in Mississippi, Pol Perritt was in the process of jumping to the Federal League.
According to Menke, Kinsella left Mississippi in the middle of the operation to secure Kauff in order to talk to Perritt. What Kinsella said to Perritt is unknown, but Perritt’s meeting with Pittsburgh manager Rebel Oakes pretty much put an end to any chance of joining the Federal League. The Associated Press said:
“Pitcher ‘Pol’ Perritt who jumped to the Pittsburgh Federal recently had a fist fight with Manager ‘Rebel’ Oakes…Those who saw the fight say that the pitcher delivered one blow that knocked Oakes over a chair…Friends and acquaintances interceded and hushed up the whole affair before police arrived on the scene.”
The story said Perritt was meeting with Cardinals’ management to “flop back to organized ball,” within weeks the Cardinals sold Perritt’s contract to the Giants, The AP said:
“Carefully guarded by “Sinister Dick” Kinsella…Perritt was delivered to John J. McGraw this noon…Kinsella brought his man in from Shreveport without struggle, and states that he did not even sight a Federal submarine during the entire journey.”
An alternate version of the story, published in The New York Times said it was McGraw who met with Perritt rather than Kinsella and highlighted the manager’s journey to meet the pitcher:
“McGraw had to travel forty miles on one railroad, nine miles on another, and then drive nine miles through the mud to get to Perritt’s home in Louisiana.”
Perritt was in the fold. After a 12-18 season in 1915, he would win 18, 17 and 18 from 1916-18.
Kauff would be a bit more complicated.
While Kinsella was gone from Mississippi securing Perritt, Kauff signed a $6000 contract with Brooklyn, which he immediately regretted and contacted McGraw.
According to Menke, Kauff:
“Related the difficulty he had with Robert B. Ward, president of the Brookfeds, over the contract. The Giants people thought that owing to Kauff’s trouble—or alleged trouble—over the Brookfed contract that he was not legally under contract.”
Menke said the Giants signed Kauff for $7000 a year for three years with a $7000 bonus.
National League President John Tener voided the contract and Kauff was forced to return to the Tip Tops; he again led the league with a .342 average.
McGraw finally got his second man at the close of the 1915 season. After the Federal League folded and Kauff was reinstated to organized baseball he signed a two-year contract for $6500 a season and a $5000 bonus with the Giants.
New York had finished in eighth place in 1915. They improved to fourth in 1916 and won the pennant by 10 games in 1917. McGraw’s Giants lost the to the Chicago White Sox four games to two in the World Series. Perritt appeared in three games in relief, and Kauff hit a disappointing .160, despite two home runs in the Giants’ game four victory.
After the 1917 World Series Perritt and Kauff faded fast.
Perritt was 18-13 in 1918, but would only win four more games over the following three seasons with the Giants and Detroit Tigers; he was out of professional baseball before his 30th birthday.
Kauff’s demise is better known; his professional career came to an end at age thirty, the result of allegations of his involvement with gamblers, in general, and 1919 World series fixer Arthur Rothstein in particular. Kauff, who owned an automobile accessory business with his half-brother and Giant teammate Jesse Barnes, was charged with stealing and reselling an automobile. Although he was acquitted at trial, Kenesaw Mountain Landis banned Kauff for life. Kauff’s oft-told story is told best in two excellent books by David Pietrusza: Rothstein: The Life, Times, and Murder of the Criminal Genius Who Fixed the 1919 World Series and Judge and Jury: The Life and Times of Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis.
Perritt died in Shreveport, Louisiana in 1947; Kauff died in Columbus, Ohio in 1961.