He’s 6’1″ and 245 pounds, his head is shaved, and his right biceps is branded with interlocking omegas, Greek letters representing his college fraternity, Omega Psi Phi, but the word is out: Beneath the intimidating veneer is a different kind of Boston player, a leader and a gentleman who has lifted the Red Sox to great heights and taken thousands of inner-city kids along for the ride. Baseball may have it’s problems, but Boston has Mo Vaughn. — from Gerry Callahan, Sports Illustrated (1995)
At the age of 10, I knew that Mo Vaughn was different, even if I had no idea specifically why he was different.
It probably was all the things I noticed about him outwardly that Callahan called out so eloquently. A man who was built like my Uncle Butch in his prime, a dude who had a scowl that could scare James Harrison into submission, a hitter who’s swing looked like it could knock down a redwood tree. A guy who, like me, looked like he probably had to shop in the husky section for a pair of pants once or twice in his life. The man was built like an Adonis, and it made me want to go to Valkyrie Online to get my physique in order.
Maurice Samuel Vaughn was my guy.
However, what I always noticed when talking to any Red Sox fan as a teenager about their baseball team was that the discussion was almost always about someone else as Roger Clemens or Nomar Garciaparra seemed to be the name on top of their minds. It’s not that Mo wasn’t liked, but he wasn’t appreciated as THE guy, and that blew my mind. Even when he won the AL MVP award in 1995 or hit for seven RBI in one playoff game, it’s like it didn’t matter.
Vaughn would play seven seasons with the Red Sox, and if it were up to him, he would’ve finished his career there. However, his battles with the general manager and the media were too burdensome for an organization who had no intention to sign him. Vaughn was no saint during his rise to stardom, as he notoriously punched a dude in the mouth outside of a club. He also crashed his truck while coming back from the shake joint. By 1998, there was no negotiation from Boston and Big Mo signed for $80 million over six seasons to take his talents to Anaheim and play for the Angels.
It’s something that Vaughn wishes never happened. Per CBS Radio’s Jake Brown show:
As you get older, more mature, you go through things. Would you have one of your employees or your ballplayers talking the trash that I was talking to Boston? Probably not. And still have a job? You wouldn’t. You learn that as you get older. You’re never going to win a fight with the media, you’re never going to win a fight through the media. If I was just a little bit smarter I’d probably be sitting there right now. Things happen and you learn from it. The Red Sox new ownership is about winning world championships. They have put it together. We have got three in a decade. The ownership in Boston is tremendous to ex-ballplayers. They come back and treat you well and it’s great.
Big Mo’s name used to carry weight regarding Boston baseball. Now, new names matter more. Big Papi. Manny. Pedro. Schilling. Pedroia. When you’ve finally slayed the Yankees, when you’ve finally won championships, when you’ve finally broken curses, yeah…they win.
That doesn’t matter to me. Growing up in the 90’s, no one made me care about the Red Sox like Vaughn. When I found out that Mo was related to 4-time All-Star Greg Vaughn, I liked them both even more. (When you have time, read up on the Greg’s fight to save his goatee from the Cincinnati Reds’ mundane policy about facial hair.)
As baseball season draws near and Boston Red Sox tickets are now for sale, I’ll think back about Vaughn’s time in Boston. In particular, him being one of the last players to ever wear #42, refusing to ever back off of the plate and daring pitchers to throw inside, and for being the type of guy he was in a city that’s historically been not the kindest to a guy like that.
Oh, and that hellacious swing of his…because you can’t score if you don’t swing like your life depends on it. All hail “The Hit Dog” Mo Vaughn.
Eddie Maisonet is the founder and editor emeritus of The Sports Fan Journal. Currently, he serves as an associate editor for ESPN.com. He is an unabashed Russell Westbrook and Barry Switzer apologist, owns over 100 fitteds and snapbacks, and lives by Reggie Jackson’s famous quote, “I am the straw that stirs the drink.”