In 1914 the formation of a new “major” league blew shock waves across the baseball world. The Federal League, as it was called, promised fans top-quality play and an exciting brand of baseball. Fans in Buffalo, Baltimore, Indianapolis, and Kansas City were especially thrilled; they would be finally able to root for a major league home team. Fans in Pittsburgh, Brooklyn, Chicago, and St. Louis were happy as well; more baseball choice could only be a good thing.
Twenty-four year old Benny Kauff quickly became the biggest star in the new league. He was brash, flamboyant, and quotable; his brand of self-confidence and braggadocio may have made eyes roll on occasion but he mirrored the attitudes of both the new league and a rising America perfectly. In 1914 Bennie tore things up for the Indianapolis Hoosiers; all eyes were on him as he smacked a league leading .370 batting average and stole 75 bases.
The next season Kauff joined the Brooklyn Tip-Tops, named after a local baking company. While slightly less dominating, he once more won the batting title with a .342 average. Unfortunately, the league folded after the 1915 season due to a complex mixture of legal and financial difficulties. Benny did sign with John McGraw’s New York Giants but, despite flashes of brilliance and some very good numbers, he never again became the force that he once was. Far worse, he was dogged by scandals including game-fixing and auto theft.
Commissioner Judge Landis, already consumed by the Black Sox scandal, was not pleased. By mid-way through the 1920 season a pressured McGraw shipped Kauff off to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the International League. Still just 30 years old, Benny could still sting the ball. His batting average in Toronto was .343 over 300 at-bats. In 1921, his expulsion now formalized, Kauff made a legal bid to return to baseball. He was, however, not successful and was forced to retire.
The Benny Kauff Helmar-T206 card pictured shows him at the height of his skills and fame as a member of the 1915 Brooklyn Tip-Tops. Other cards in the series show Kauff with Indianapolis and the New York Highlanders, for whom he played for very briefly in 1912. Many of the most popular cards in the Helmar-T206 series are of rarely-seen Federal League players. A number of pre-Negro League players also appear, along with many unusual minor league teams and, of course, big league clubs.
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