Friday, January 20, 2012

By Brian Waller - Feature Columnist

Mo Vaughn…just saying the name will cause most Angel fans to wince and shake their head in disgust. Vaughn will most likely go down in Angels’ lore as one of the biggest disappointments the organization has ever experienced. Prior to his stint with the Halos, Vaughn was one of the most feared hitters in the game. Selected by the Boston Red Sox with the 23rd pick of the 1989 amateur draft, Vaughn spent only a season and a half in the minor leagues before making his debut during the 1991 season. During his 8 seasons with the Red Sox, Vaughn averaged 28 home runs, 122 runs batted in and had a batting average of.297. Vaughn garnered Most Valuable Player votes six out of the eight seasons he played in Boston and actually won the Most Valuable Player award in 1995 when he had 39 home runs, 126 runs batted in and had a .300 average. An ongoing feud between Vaughn and Red Sox General Manager, Dan Duquette, prompted the All-Star player to test the free-agent market after the 1998 season. Duquette made it known to the media that he was concerned about the Vaughn's alcohol use after Vaughn flipped his truck while driving home from a strip club the previous winter. Vaughn, acquitted of drunken-driving charges in the incident, complained that Duquette was trying to wage a smear campaign against him. In August 1998, Boston's powerhouse hitter announced that he was leaving. The Angels, having come off an 85-77 record, were in the market for a power hitting first baseman after having released Cecil Fielder in August 1997, signing Vaughn seemed like a match made in heaven (no pun intended). At the time, Angels General Manager Bill Bavasi had not had the greatest luck in acquiring players. Signings such as Eddie Murray, Omar Olivares, Shawn Boskie and Cecil Fielder hadn’t worked out and trades involving popular Angels Damien Easley and J.T. Snow seemed to favor the other teams in the long run. Bavasi however, with the blessing from the Disney ownership group, made a strong push for Vaughn during the offseason and finally signed him December 11, 1998. The contract was a 6-year $80 million whopper with an average annual salary of $13.33 million, just topping the $13 million Mike Piazza was set to average under his new $91 million, seven-year contract with the New York Mets. Vaughn’s new contract made him the highest paid player in baseball and it was also the largest contract ever offered by the Angels at that time. Vaughn would join an already potent line-up that included Tim Salmon, Darin Erstad, Garrett Anderson and Troy Glaus. Expectations were very high in Anaheim as many fans firmly believed that the Angels were now a serious force to be reckoned with in the AL. The Angels were hopeful they finally found the bat and clubhouse leader to get them to the playoffs.

All seemed well in Anaheim as the 1999 season approached. The Angels had a fearsome batting order to go along with a respectable pitching rotation lead by Chuck Finley and a flame throwing closer named Troy Percival. The Angels were poised to make a run at the AL West title but as opening day arrived, the above mentioned match made in heaven didn’t seem so heavenly after all. During the first game of the season, on his first defensive play wearing an Angels’ uniform Vaughn drifted into foul territory in an attempt to catch a pop fly. Unfortunately Vaughn drifted a little too far and went flying down the stairs of the visiting dugout, severely spraining his ankle. Vaughn was limited to only 9 games that April but rebounded nicely that season hitting 33 home runs and driving in 108 RBI's. Vaughn’s .281 batting average however dipped below the .300 mark for the first time in six seasons. The Angels finished a disappointing 70-92. It should be noted that after Vaughn’s opening day tumble, many stadiums around Major League Baseball put fences in front of their dugouts to avoid any future injuries of this nature. The following 2000 season, Vaughn again put up solid offensive numbers hitting 36 home runs and driving in 117rbi’s. Despite the power numbers, Vaughn’s batting average dropped again, falling to a .272 mark that was his lowest since batting .234 over 355 at-bats in 1992. The Angels again failed to make the postseason, finishing 82-80.

During his time with the Halos, Vaughn mostly kept to himself and traveled to visiting ballparks via a limousine rather than with the rest of the team on the bus. It was starting to become apparent that Vaughn was not the clubhouse leader Bavasi and the Disney ownership envisioned when they signed him to the most lucrative contract in team history. The growing friction between Vaughn and the team would only increase when it was discovered he would miss the entire 2001 season with a ruptured tendon in his left arm. It was during this time the team started to feel that Vaughn was homesick for the east coast where he was born and raised. After never fully being embraced by the fans or his teammates and now disenchanted with the former MVP, the Angels front office actively sought to trade Vaughn during the 2001 offseason. Despite missing the previous season, the New York Mets were willing to take a chance on the former fearsome slugger agreeing to send pitcher Kevin Appier to the Halos in exchange for Vaughn. Following the trade, Angels closer Troy Percival spoke out to the media saying "We may miss Mo's bat, but we won't miss his leadership. Darin Erstad is our leader." Percival’s comments prompted Vaughn to respond with a profanity-laced tirade, saying that Percival and the Angels "ain't done (expletive) in this game." Vaughn also commented, "They ain't got no flags hanging at friggin' Edison Field, so the hell with them." Funny how things work out, the 2002 Angels would go on to stun the baseball world beating the San Francisco Giants in the World Series. While the Halos went on to win the first championship in franchise history, Vaughn’s weight ballooned after fracturing his hand in 2002. Vaughn went on to play two sub-par seasons in New York in which he hit a total of 29 home runs, 87 RBI's and batted .224. Vaughn finally was forced into retirement in 2003 due to chronic knee pain. For Angel fans still bitter about the negativity surrounding Vaughn’s departure from the team, in an October 2007 article he would go on to clarify that he did not want to leave Anaheim because of the fans or his teammates, or because he was home sick. Vaughn clarified he wanted to return home because his parents always attended all of his games, never missing one and due to 9/11 he did not want his parents flying all the time and he wanted to play closer to home on the east coast. Take it for what it’s worth Angel fans. In December 2007, it was revealed in the Mitchell Report that Vaughn had purchased steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs from Kirk Radomski in June 2001, the same time he was rehabbing from the ruptured tendon. Mitchell requested a meeting with Vaughn in order to provide Vaughn with the information about the allegations and to give him an opportunity to respond; Vaughn never responded.

For those wondering what happened to Vaughn after retiring from the game of baseball…he is now 42 years old, married and the proud father of a 5 year old little girl. The family currently lives in the New York area where they are very active in the community. Vaughn traded in his baseball uniform for a business suit. He currently owns and operates OMNI New York LLC which has bought and rehabilitated 1,142 units of distressed housing in the New York metropolitan area. The company also manages these properties to provide low cost housing using government tax credits. Vaughn has also been involved in refurbishing the Whitney Young Manor in Yonkers, New York, a development first constructed by a company owned by his hero Jackie Robinson. Besides the New York metropolitan area, his company is also involved in projects in Cheyenne, Wyoming, Miami, Florida and Las Vegas, Nevada and has also expressed an interest in working in the in the Boston area. In addition to OMNI, Vaughn is also the president of Mo Vaughn Transport trucking company which operates out of North Ridgeville, Ohio. When he is not tied up with his business endeavors, Vaughn still actively participates in youth baseball camps in the Boston and New York areas and even recently traveled as far as Kazakhstan (located in central Asia) to speak with young players. Vaughn also makes it a point to regularly speak with local college students, specifically baseball teams, about his experiences not only on the field, but how he had to adjust after to life his successful baseball career was cut short.

After writing this piece I can honestly say that I am happy for Mo Vaughn, I am happy he has dedicated himself to helping inner city families as well as taking part in youth baseball camps. I came to the realization though that I will never be a Mo Vaughn fan. His short time with the Angels seemed more like a distraction than anything else. How fitting was it that the onetime feared slugger, who showed little respect for our franchise, was traded for a veteran pitcher that would go on to help the Halos win the very championship Vaughn taunted the team for not having.
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