Mo Vaughn (TRADING CARD DB)

Mo Vaughn

This article was written by Zac Petrillo

Mo Vaughn (TRADING CARD DB)A big man with a famous scowl and a name that felt ripped from a James Bond film, Mo Vaughn was a hulking 6-foot-1, 225-pound lefty hitter whose frame dangled over home plate. Baseballs seemed to disintegrate on impact when he exploded out of his crouched stance, extending one arm to the sky on his follow through. Playing in an era defined by cartoon-sized superstars with inflated muscles, Vaughn won an MVP award and finished among the American League’s top 10 sluggers in six consecutive seasons. Perhaps nobody inspired fear like the “Hit Dog,” who understood the value of his intimidating appearance. He burned out as quickly as he rose to stardom, but this doesn’t tell the full story of the man. Vaughn was a cerebral, complex Northeast-bred first baseman who gave back to his community.

Maurice Samuel Vaughn was born on December 15, 1967, to Dr. Leroy S. and Shirley Vaughn (née Wright) in Norwalk, Connecticut. He was the youngest of three children, behind sisters Catherine and Donna. Both parents worked in education; Leroy as the Assistant Principal and football coach at Norwalk-McMahan High School and Shirley as an elementary school teacher.1 Leroy had met Shirley at Virginia Union University where he was a football and basketball star. He signed with the Baltimore Colts and was the fourth African American quarterback in NFL history, but a knee injury sent him into coaching and teaching.2

“The reflection of Leroy Vaughn that his son most vividly carries with him is of Christmas morning,” wrote the Boston Globe’s Peter Gammons during Vaughn’s first full season with the Red Sox. “‘We would go with our parents every year to distribute gifts and visit the homeless,’ Vaughn said. Giving back to the community was sewn into the fabric of Vaughn’s upbringing, ‘It was something that was an important part of their Christmas tradition, and we the children were always a part of it.’”3 Years later, the work Vaughn did with his bat earned him recognition, but his community work endeared him to a city not known for warmth.

Maurice was born nine weeks early and weighed only three pounds, nine ounces. Nobody agrees on whether he was a natural lefty, but Vaughn is adamant his mother taught him to bat from that side.4 He grew into a burly pre-teen, so feared in Little League that opposing coaches advised their pitchers to walk him. When Vaughn started slacking off academically, his parents sent him to all-boys Trinity High School in Pawling, New York.5 He went on to be a 12-letter varsity athlete in basketball, football, and baseball. His beloved coach, Miles Hubbard, gave him the nickname ‘Mo’.

After fielding several scholarship offers, Vaughn chose to attend Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey, at the urging of his father. He joined a talent-rich roster including Craig Biggio (a 1987 first-round draft pick ), John Valentin (fifth-round, 1988), and Kevin Morton (first-round, 1989). Even amongst this company, Vaughn separated himself. As a freshman in 1987, he earned All-American and Big East rookie of the year recognition after batting .429 with a Seton Hall-record 28 home runs. He was named MVP of the conference tournament for batting .500 with seven home runs to lead the Pirates to the finals. All told, Vaughn hit .416 during his time at Seton Hall and broke the school records for home runs (57) and runs batted in (218).6 In 1987 and 1988, Vaughn played collegiate summer baseball for the Wareham (MA) Gatemen of the Cape Cod Baseball League. In 2000 he was named a member of the inaugural class of the CCBL Hall of Fame.7

Prior to the 1989 draft, one scout remarked that Vaughn was a “positive influence and good leader on the bench.”8 Others were concerned about him being a “base clogger”9 whose likely spot was DH and only possible position was first base. Nobody questioned his otherworldly strength, with more than one scouting report predicting “upper deck power.”10 This asset and his hometown pedigree were too much for the Red Sox to pass up. They chose Vaughn with their second of three first-round picks in the 1989 June Amateur Draft (23rd Overall). With their third pick, Boston selected Seton Hall pitcher Kevin Morton. Vaughn was signed on June 20, 1989, by scout Matt Sczesny.

Mo originally wore number ‘42’ to honor his Seton Hall coach, Nick Bowness, who told him that if he wanted to wear Jackie Robinson’s number in the majors, he needed to remember the weight of its history.11 Boston was a city with a history of racial tension and the Red Sox were the last major league team to integrate (in 1959). Once signed, Vaughn was sent to the New Britain (CT) Red Sox in the Double-A Eastern League. In his first 73 games of professional ball, Vaughn homered eight times and batted .278 with a .350 OBP. He struck out nearly twice as many times as he walked, a trend that continued throughout his career.

For his first full season in 1990, Vaughn was with the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox. He raised his batting average to .295 and finished fourth in the International League in home runs (22) and runs batted in (72). He returned to Pawtucket to begin 1991, but was called up by the Red Sox after producing 14 home runs and 50 RBIs in 69 games. To make room, Boston sent down a struggling Phil Plantier, the only Pawtucket player who had bested Vaughn’s power numbers the previous year. Vaughn made his big league debut on June 27 as the starting first baseman against the New York Yankees. He walked in his first plate appearance and followed with a pop out and strikeout. His first hit and run batted in came the following day, each off Todd Frohwirth of the Baltimore Orioles. On June 30, Vaughn hit his first major league home run, off Jeff Robinson in Baltimore.

On August 24, Vaughn had a physical altercation with veteran Red Sox outfielder Mike Greenwell during batting practice. What started as good-natured taunting erupted into punches when Vaughn challenged Greenwell to punch him, then insulted Greenwell for going into the batting cage rather than hitting him. After the rookie pushed Greenwell into the side of the batting cage, teammate Jack Clark pulled Vaughn off. Both players remained in the lineup after manager Joe Morgan sent them to the clubhouse to talk it out. Vaughn wasn’t disciplined, perhaps since it was Greenwell’s second altercation of the season, but his reputation as a tough guy was taking shape.12 “He was a kid,” Greenwell said later. “I’ve watched him grow up and mature. It shows in his game, because he’s gotten better every year.”13 Vaughn finished with a .260 average and four home runs in 219 at bats. The Red Sox finished second in the AL East.

In 1992, Vaughn broke spring training as Boston’s starting first baseman, but he batted only .204 with two home runs in April. On May 8, the Red Sox sent him back to Pawtucket. Over 39 games in the minors, Vaughn hit .282 and swatted six home runs, and he returned to the Red Sox lineup on June 22. The growing pains continued, but he remained a fixture for the remaining 90 games, raised his average to .234, and finished the season with 13 home runs and a .326 on-base percentage. He never returned to the minors.

Vaughn established himself as a force in the middle of the lineup in 1993. While Boston dipped to fifth place in the AL East, he raised his average to .297 with 29 home runs and 101 RBIs, finishing 18th in MVP voting. He also struck out 130 times, the first of nine straight years over the century mark. Off the field, he made a name for himself in the Boston community by frequently visiting the Children’s Hospital. He developed a particularly special bond with an 11-year-old cancer patient named Jason Leader, and on April 24 in Anaheim, he promised to hit a home run for him. He came through with a deep fly to center field off Ken Patterson in the top of the seventh inning.

With a young core including Seton Hall alum John Valentin, All-Star third baseman Scott Cooper, and Vaughn, there was hope in Boston that the team would put an end to years of mediocrity. “Was it less than a full season ago that the Fenway Faithful were wondering how Vaughn could be called a future ‘Franchise’?” asked the Boston Globe. “Vaughn is a serious, dedicated professional, savvy enough to adjust to the pressures of being a Red Sox player,” the Globe glowed. “He is becoming a threat [to opposing pitchers].”14 In the strike-shortened 1994 season, Vaughn finished 17th in MVP voting. When play stopped in August, he was batting .310 with 26 home runs and a .408 OBP over 463 plate appearances. For the second straight season, however, Cooper was Boston’s lone All-Star representative and the club finished under .500.

The fortunes of both Vaughn and the team changed dramatically the following season. He batted .300, smacked 39 home runs, drove in a league-leading 126 runs – the only time in his career that he’d top the circuit in a major category, and was selected to the AL All-Star team. On July 14, he found himself at the center of another altercation, this time a brawl at a Boston club called The Roxy. Red Sox manager Kevin Kennedy defended his star after the incident: “He was assaulted. He was protecting his girlfriend and he was assaulted. You’re talking about one of the better human beings I’ve been around.”15 Vaughn suffered a bruised left eye and missed two games. Although questions arose about his behavior, Fenway Park fans – like his manager – showered him with support when he returned to the lineup.

Mo Vaughn (TRADING CARD DB)Boston made the playoffs for the first time in five seasons but were swept by the eventual AL champion Cleveland Indians in the Division Series. Vaughn went cold in his first taste of the postseason, going hitless in 14 at bats with seven strikeouts. “I didn’t do my job,” he admitted after the loss, shouldering the weight of his team. In November, he won a controversial American League MVP award vote, beating out players who arguably had better seasons, including Cleveland’s Albert Belle and teammate John Valentin. The award likely owed something to Vaughn being “arguably the first black athlete wholly embraced by the city of Boston.”16 In a city marred by a racist past, Vaughn had clearly become the face of the beloved Red Sox franchise, and received the Bart Giamatti Award for Community Service.

Hopes were high heading into 1996 despite fierce competition. After treading water for over a decade, a retooled Yankees club featured youngsters Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, and Jorge Posada, who were blossoming into stars. Cleveland’s equally lethal group of Belle, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, and Kenny Lofton also stood in Boston’s way. Vaughn enjoyed a scorching-hot start, blasting 20 homers by May 31. For his second straight All-Star Game appearance, he was voted into the starting lineup by the fans. His peaking popularity had grown beyond Boston and people around the game respected him as one of the most intimidating hitters in baseball.

The Red Sox played well but could not keep pace with the Yankees and Orioles, as Roger Clemens, slumped to a 10-13 won-lost record in what proved to be his final season in Boston. For his part, Vaughn had an even better 1996 season than his MVP year. batting .326 with career highs in home runs (44), runs batted in (143), and on-base percentage (.420). He finished fifth in MVP balloting. That offseason, Clemens signed as a free agent with the rival Toronto Blue Jays, adding yet another formidable threat to the Red Sox’s already stacked division. His departure left a hole that couldn’t be filled.

During the April 15, 1997 ESPN broadcast honoring the 50th Anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s breaking baseball’s color barrier, Vaughn said, “It [Jackie Robinson Day] should be celebrated every year. I say it all the time, ‘It should be a national holiday’. We can do what we do because of this man.”17 Robinson’s number was retired across baseball the following season, but players already wearing the number could continue to do so. Vaughn was the last African American player to wear number ‘42’ in Major League Baseball (Panamanian Mariano Rivera was the last overall).18

In July, a man accused Vaughn of punching him in the doorway of a Cleveland strip club. Vaughn adamantly denied the incident, saying, “That doesn’t bother me. Legal fees don’t bother me, either. I just want to get it cleared up.” He swore he never saw the man and that he and friends were not even in the club but at an adjacent business that shared a parking lot. “If I was the type of person who was always out bringing fights to people, that’s what you’d expect,” Vaughn said. “That’s not my style, my mentality. I kind of regard myself as an easy-going guy like anybody else. But you can’t live in a box, either.”19

Even with the emergence of Rookie of the Year Nomar Garciaparra, and Valentin’s consistently strong play, the Red Sox spent 1997 near the bottom of the division and ultimately finished fourth. Vaughn’s numbers declined from his ‘96 heights, but on May 30, he hit three home runs against the Yankees at Fenway — the second time in two seasons (and last in his career) that he went deep three times in one game. With 154 strikeouts, he exceeded 150 whiffs for the third straight season. The following year he made his third and final All-Star Team, and the Red Sox returned to the playoffs as the AL Wild Card, but were defeated in the Division Series by the Indians. In Game One, the only Boston win, Vaughn collected two home runs, a double, and seven runs batted in. Over 17 series at bats, he added another double and batted .412 with a .444 on-base percentage.

That offseason, Vaughn was one of the most coveted free agents in baseball. On November 28, 1998, he signed a six-year, $80-million contract with the Anaheim Angels, making him the game’s highest paid player to date. In the Los Angeles Times announcement of the deal, they focused first on Vaughn’s exterior rather than his accomplishments on the field: “Mo Vaughn is an imposing 6-foot-1, 240-pound first baseman with barrel-like biceps, a shaved head, goatee, tattoo and earrings. He wears a perpetual scowl that could turn stone to powder, he is no stranger to controversy and is generally considered a menace to opposing pitchers.”20 Thus began two difficult seasons in Southern California.

On the first play of his first game with his new team, Vaughn chased a foul ball into the visitors’ dugout and twisted his ankle. He appeared to aggravate the injury the following half-inning, but remained in the game until he was pulled in the sixth. The injury haunted him throughout the campaign. He missed 23 games, the most since he had become a regular, and his 33 home runs were his lowest non-strike season total since 1993. His stats declined to seven-year lows (.281/.358/.508).

In August 2000, Vaughn felt something pop in his elbow, but he played through the pain for the remainder of the season. After a first year where an ankle injury cut into his production, Vaughn was determined not to have a second season fall flat due to injury. Originally thought to be tendonitis, tests performed when the season ended showed that the elbow tendon had torn away from his bicep muscle in two spots. To repair the tear, surgeons at the Mayo Clinic used a portion of his Achilles tendon to reconnect the tendon to the muscle. The Angels finished above .500, but missed the playoffs for the 14th straight season. Vaughn played all but one game. Though he smacked 36 home runs and collected 117 RBIs, each figure was outside the majors’ top 20 and his batting average fell to .272. He struck out 181 times – at that point, the seventh-highest single-season total in history. His boom or bust approach to hitting proved to be a precursor for what was to come in baseball.

In early 2001, the Angels announced Vaughn would likely miss the entire season due to the “nature and complexity of the surgery, the rehabilitation involved and all the elements required toward full recovery” from a repaired ruptured bicep.21 On December 27, they traded him to the New York Mets for pitcher Kevin Appier.

Hampered by nagging injuries in 2002, Vaughn still had pop in his bat. One of his 26 home runs was a bomb that bounced off Shea Stadium’s right-center field scoreboard on June 26. Measuring 505 feet, it was the longest of his career and one of the longest home runs ever recorded.22 Neither Vaughn nor his team gave fans much more to be excited about. The Mets finished last in the East and, while Vaughn played in 139 games, he hit just .259 with a .349 on-base percentage, both his lowest in a decade.

In 2003, Vaughn left the Mets’ May 2 game in Milwaukee after six innings after going 0-for-3. He was batting .190 with three homers in 27 contests when he was placed on the disabled list due to extensive ligament damage in his left knee. He sat out the rest of the year. Doctors advised him that he risked disability if he continued trying to play. “It’s hard to talk to him,” said his friend and teammate Tony Clark. “It’s a bitter pill for him to swallow.”23 In early 2004, Vaughn confirmed he would not play the following season. While he didn’t officially retire, he said of a possible comeback, “I don’t see it coming down the line — ever.”24 The statement proved true; Vaughn never played again. In parts of 12 major league seasons, he had batted .293 with 328 home runs and 1,064 RBIs.

Vaughn was named in George J. Mitchell’s 2007 investigation into illegal steroid use in Major League Baseball. According to the report, he had been introduced to Kirk Radomski by fellow player, Glenallen Hill. Radomski recalled advising Vaughn to use human growth hormone to aid his recovery from a chronic ankle injury. As evidence, Radomski provided Mitchell with three checks from Vaughn that he alleged were used to purchase a total of five HGH kits. Radomski said he did not sell Vaughn steroids, explaining that the player was “afraid of the big needles.” The report noted that Vaughn did not respond to requests for comment during the investigation.25

In 2008, the Red Sox enshrined Mo Vaughn into their team Hall of Fame. One year later, he was considered for the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, but he received only six votes (1.1%), well short of the threshold for induction, and not enough to remain on future ballots. That same year, Vaughn’s older cousin, Greg Vaughn — a four-time All Star who hit 355 homers over 15 major seasons — failed to receive a single vote.

Post-retirement, Vaughn continued to do community outreach via organizations such as OMNI New York, which acquires, builds, and rehabilitates distressed housing in the New York Metropolitan area.26 He also pursued business ventures, including a trucking company called Mo Vaughn Transport27 and MVP Collections, a stylish clothing line for big and tall men.28 On September 20, 2012, a baseball field at Trinity-Pawling High School, renovated with a clay infield and irrigation system to help withstand the Northeast weather, was dedicated in Vaughn’s name.29 Since 2000, he’s been married to the former Gail Turkevich. The couple has a daughter, Grace, and a son, Lee. They reside in South Florida as of 2021.

Vaughn had received his first MVP votes by age 25, and he captured the award two years later. The honor was as much a testament to his meteoric rise in popularity as his on-field success. Nobody represented the 1990s Red Sox like Mo Vaughn. Although his prime was effectively over by the time he arrived in Anaheim, during his first six seasons as a regular, he ranked in the American League’s top-five qualifiers in slugging percentage, batting average, home runs, on-base percentage, hits, RBIs, and OPS. During that period, he also struck out 200 more times than any other hitter in the circuit. While Vaughn’s Red Sox teams never won a playoff series, and the franchise’s vaunted “curse” didn’t end until after he retired, he remains popular in Boston for his positive work off the field and for restoring an identity and attitude that directly affected the players who a few years later finally brought a title back to Fenway.

Last revised: April 21, 2021

 

Acknowledgments

This biography was reviewed by Malcolm Allen and Norman Macht and fact-checked by Paul Proia.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com, Retrosheet.org, and Shrpsports.com.

 

Notes

1 Paul Doyle, “Vaughn: Most Outstanding — Or Most Upstanding?” Hartford (Connecticut) Courant, March 30, 1996.

2 “Leroy Vaughn — A Star who Still Shines Bright,” Virginia Union University, https://vuusports.com/news/2014/6/27/FB_0627144520.aspx, June 27, 2014.

3 Peter Gammons, “A Valued Performer,” Boston Globe, August 15, 1993: 49.

4 Michael Madden, “He had strong home teams,” Boston Globe, October 3, 1995: 30

5 Doyle, “Vaughn: Most Outstanding — Or Most Upstanding?”

6 “Maurice ‘Mo’ Vaughn,” Seton Hall Hall of Fame, https://shupirates.com/honors/hall-of-fame/maurice-mo-vaughn/215.

7 “Hall of Fame of 20 January 2001,” Cape Cod Baseball League, https://capecodbaseball.org/news/hofnews/?article_id=247, January 20, 2001.

8 Jon Neiderer, California Angels Scouting Report on Maurice Vaughn, February 19, 1989.

9 Billy Blitzer, Chicago Cubs Scouting Report on Maurice Vaughn, April 2, 1989.

10 Neiderer.

11 Ian Browne, “Mo Learned JR’s History, Then Became Part of it,” MLB.com, https://www.mlb.com/news/mo-vaughn-was-last-african-american-no-42-in-mlb, April 14, 2020.

12 Helene Elliot, “Vaughn, Greenwell Scuffle Before Game, Los Angeles Times, August 25, 1991

13 Doyle, “Vaughn: Most Outstanding — Or Most Upstanding?”

14 Larry Whiteside, “Vaughn Revival in Focus,” Boston Globe, April 30, 1993: 79

15 Howard Ulman, “Mo Vaughn is Injured in Boston Club Brawl,” South Coast Today (New Bedford, Massachusetts), July 15, 1995.

16 Buster Olney, “In Belle-Vaughn MVP Race, the P Was Personality,” Baltimore Sun, November 19, 1995

17 “Dodgers vs. New York Mets,” ESPN, April 15, 1997.

18 Browne, “Mo Learned JR’s History, Then Became Part of it.”

19 Associated Press, “Vaughn Hopes to Clear Name After Man Says Mo Punched Him,” Deseret News (Salt Lake City, Utah), July 21, 1997.

20 Mike DioGiovanna, “Angels Sign Vaughn for $80 Million,” Los Angeles Times, “November 26, 1998.

21 Bob Putman, “Mo Vaughn Likely to Miss 2001 Baseball Season,” Marion (Ohio) Star, February 7, 2001: 14.

22 Andrew Gould, “The Longest Home Runs in MLB History,” Bleacher Report, https://bleacherreport.com/articles/2698852-the-longest-home-runs-in-mlb-history, March 22, 2017.

23 Peter Abraham, “Close Friends Say Vaughn Believes Career Might Be Over,” Fort Collins Coloradoan, May 29, 2003: 27.

24 Dave Caldwell, “Vaughn Is Out for the Year and is Unlikely to Return,” New York Times, January 9, 2004.

25 George J. Mitchell, “Report to the Commissioner of Baseball of an Independent Investigation into the Illegal Use of Steroids and Other Performance Enhancing Substances by Players in Major League Baseball,” December 13, 2007.

26 OMNI New York, LLC, http://www.onyllc.com/.

27 Michael McIntyre, “’Divine Intervention” Lands a Baseball Buy for Ken Lanci’s Posh Pad,” Cleveland.com, https://www.cleveland.com/tipoff/2011/08/divine_intervention_lands_a_ba.html, January 12, 2019.

28 MVP Collections, https://mvpcollections.com.

29 Mo Vaughn ’86 Field Dedication, http://www.trinitypawling.org/cf_news/view.cfm?newsid=1601.

Full Name

Maurice Samuel Vaughn

Born

December 15, 1967 at Norwalk, CT (USA)

If you can help us improve this player’s biography, contact us.

Tags

© SABR. All Rights Reserved