Richard Kauffman’s Bizarre Baseball Behavior

The resting place of Howard Richard Kauffman, Lewisburg

Lewisburg Cemetery was one that I had become familiar with over the last two years – every time I thought I had visited all the notable buried resting within the borders of the cemetery, I discovered another grave or two I wanted to visit. I had stopped earlier in the year to pay my respects to George Ramer, a Medal of Honor recipient who rests along the main roadway through the garden of stone. However, this journey into the Lewisburg region was to visit the graves of baseball players who called the region home. Note: more about George Ramer can be found here: George Ramer.

I passed the grave of George Ramer and headed to the back of the cemetery. Although the cemetery borders Route 15, there is no entrance along that busy stretch of highway and instead, visitors enter through the gate along South Seventh Street. With a map of the cemetery and directions on hand, it only took a couple of minutes to find the tombstone for which I was looking.

Getting out of the vehicle, I walked over to the simple monument. The name “Kauffman” was engraved at the top and in much smaller letters at the bottom where “H. Richard / 1888-1948” along with his wife “Helen M. / 1892-1950.” To most, the name H. Richard “Dick” Kauffman holds no meaning as his grave is not covered with tributes from fans, but he had a professional career in baseball which spanned eleven seasons, two of which included appearances in the Major leagues. Despite his professional career being uneventful, it was his stint in the minors that would cause a ruckus in baseball’s Southern League and place his name in the national newspapers.

Howard Richard Kauffman was born in East Lewisburg on June 22, 1888, one of five children to Charles and Emma Kauffman. Initially enrolled at Bucknell in 1907, Kauffman would transfer the following year to Susquehanna University in nearby Selinsgrove, where he excelled in football, basketball and baseball. As a football player, he made a ninety-yard run against Bucknell in 1908 and in baseball a five-hit, three homerun appearance against Franklin and Marshall. As a baseball player, Kauffman threw right-handed and was noted as a switch-hitter.

Upon graduating, Kauffman did not immediately begin playing professional ball, but instead, staying in the region, he played in the regional leagues. In 1911, that changed as he became a part of the York White Roses of the Tri-State League. After two seasons with them, he was sold to the Elmira Colonels of the New York League, where he played the 1913 and 1914 seasons. In that time he played first base and in 1914 led the New York League in batting.

On September 17, 1914, Kauffman played his first professional game with the St. Louis Browns of the American League, where he played the majority of his games at first base. He played seven games in his first season and resigned with them for the 1915 season, playing thirty-seven games with them that year. His time in the professional leagues was short and his last plate appearance was on June 12, 1915.

The man whom the newspapers praised for the four years in York and Elmira failed to produce in the Majors. In his brief time in the American League, Kauffman appeared in forty-four games, with 139 plate appearances that resulted in thirty-six hits, nine doubles, two triples and sixteen RBIs. A part of the reason behind these poor statistics was Kauffman had been hit in the wrist, fracturing it, so his time in the majors was hampered by this injury. Kauffman was one of three men vying for the first base position and his injury destroyed his chances of getting it.

On June 12, 1915, St. Louis sold Kauffman to the Atlanta Crackers of the Southern League. He played that season with Atlanta and the following year signed with the Nashville Volunteers.

Kauffman’s time with the Volunteers was filled with controversy. The 1916 and 1917 seasons passed with no incidents, but then the 1918 season happened.

The season began as normal and though Nashville played well, they were having a losing season and on June 15, 1918, Kauffman and team catcher Clarence “Moose” Marshall abandoned the team moments before their game against the Birmingham Barons. The result of his actions saw him fined and suspended for the remainder of the 1918 season. Kauffman returned to Pennsylvania and worked in a mill at Steelton. Kauffman’s reason for abandoning the team was the war conditions – he believed the league was about to go under so he felt justified in abandoning the team.

Note: Pennsylvania’s newspapers and Tennessee’s newspapers have two very different views of this first abandonment. Northern newspapers viewed Kauffman as leaving baseball and working in steel manufacturing as a means of helping America in World War I. The Tennessee newspapers viewed Kauffman’s leaving the team due to the war as an excuse to leave the team which had a losing record at the time.

The Volunteers forgave him and once his suspension was lifted Kauffman signed for the 1919 season. On July 13, 1919, with little warning, Kauffman boarded a train and returned to Pennsylvania. This time, he took a position with the Klein Chocolate Company in Elizabethtown. Kauffman was again fined and suspended from baseball for the remainder of the season. His reasoning this time was he could make more money working in a factory job during the week and play semi-pro on the weekends than playing professional baseball.

The following year he returned to the Nashville club. They again forgave him and the start of the 1920 season saw him back at first base. The April 7, 1920 edition of The Tennesseean (Nashville, TN) summed up Kauffman’s career with the Volunteers with the headline “Kauffman Jumps Again as Jonnard [a pitcher for Nashville] Comes Back on Mound.” The article states that Kauffman had once again left the team when they needed him. Kauffman arrived at the clubhouse to “fix his glove”, but the moment he was in the locker room, he grabbed all of his stuff and stated he was going home to his wife.

According to Kauffman, the reason he left the Volunteers was because the fans weren’t there to support the home team, but instead were there to heckle them. The Tennesseean, in the April 7 edition, accused him of being “a victim of inexcusable sensitiveness.”

The day after his abandonment of his team in Nashville, Kauffman sent the team a note that was printed in the April 8 edition of The Tennesseean. The brief note stated that he “made a mistake coming to the South” and had been “discontented with [his] lot.” Kauffman ended his brief note to his former team with: “No overtures of any kind can lure me South again.” The Volunteers responded by immediately blacklisting him.

Somehow, midst Kauffman’s claims he would never play baseball in the south again and being blacklisted from baseball, Kauffman managed to sign with the Atlanta Crackers. Kauffman, though blacklisted, was still under contract with the Volunteers at the time of his signing with Atlanta. After a lot of heated debate, Atlanta paid $1000 for him and Kauffman had to pay another fine to the Volunteers for his actions.

Although Nashville had forgiven him before, this time, the community did not forgive or forget his actions. The Tennesseean began referring to him as “Kangaroo” Kauffman because he seemed to leave the team every time things looked bleak. The newspaper even went as far as organizing a “Dick Kauffman Day” when Atlanta played in Nashville – they encouraged readers to go heckle and boo Kauffman.

In Atlanta, Kauffman took over as a player-manager for the 1920 season, He resigned with them the following year, but this time he did not serve as the team’s manager. The end of the 1921 season was the end of Kauffman’s professional baseball career.

Note: While researching Kauffman’s life, I found it strange that this odd behavior of abandoning his team happened after his stint in the Majors. Kauffman, who was well-liked and respected by his team mates, never displayed this type of behavior when he played for the Elmira and York teams. In the pre-Major League appearance, his teammates saw him as a loyal and dedicated member of the team. Without knowing it for sure, I wonder how much his fractured wrist and being let go by St. Louis played a part in this odd behavior.

After leaving baseball altogether, Kauffman returned to central Pennsylvania and settled with his wife in Mifflinburg. There he became the Eastern Pennsylvania sales representative for Shellarbarger Mills of Salina, Kansas. He continued to promote baseball the remainder of his life and would often give speeches about playing the sport.

H. Richard Kauffman was just fifty-eight years old when he passed on April 16, 1948. I finished remembering Kauffman’s career before leaving him resting a short distance off Route 15 as I turned my attention to others buried within the borders of Lewisburg’s Cemetery.

2 thoughts on “Richard Kauffman’s Bizarre Baseball Behavior

  1. Reading about H. Richard Kauffman brought back memories of playing catch in front of Christy Mathewson”s grave, who is also buried in Lewisburg. His wife threw out the first pitch on opening day of an early 60’s Lewisburg Little League baseball season.

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