He puts his earrings in and pulls his shirttail out. Across the
clubhouse some of his teammates are watching a New York
Yankee-Toronto Blue Jay game on TV, but he slides a CD into a
disc player and cranks up some annoying rap noise. The reporters
start moving in around his locker, and Mo Vaughn glares at them
as if they were coming to talk to him about investing in a time
share. He could stare down Mike Tyson.
As usual, Vaughn's act doesn't fly. It rarely does these days.
He is one of the best things to happen to baseball this season,
on the field and off, but he still prefers the hard-guy, hip-hop
style. He looks mean. He walks mean. He wears his hat mean and
waves his bat mean. Some people resemble their pets; Vaughn
resembles his car--a Hummer.
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 its problems, but Boston
has Mo Vaughn.
"Yeah, I've got this face and these eyes of a killer," he says.
"But off the field I'm probably one of the most fun guys on this
team. When I came here, I wanted to win, but I also wanted to
have fun. I wanted to prove that it could be fun to play
baseball here. I hope I've done that this year."
Vaughn has done much more than that this year. There are a
handful of candidates worthy of being called baseball's Most
Valuable Player this season, but none can match the achievements
of the 27-year-old Red Sox slugger. At week's end Vaughn had hit
38 home runs and driven in a major-league-high 123 runs, but the
numbers are only a small part of his story. In a year when most
people expected Boston to finish behind Arlen Specter in the
standings, Vaughn hoisted the Red Sox on his shoulders and
carried them to the American League East title. In a year when
interest in baseball fizzled around the country, Vaughn brought
Boston fans to their feet. "What has he meant to this team?"
says Red Sox shortstop John Valentin. "One word: Everything."
On Sept. 20, after Boston clinched its division title with a 3-2
victory over the Milwaukee Brewers at Fenway Park, the fans
pleaded with Vaughn to come back onto the field and take a bow.
He emerged from the dugout to chants of "Mo! Mo! Mo!" and then
responded to a challenge from his teammates to hop on a
policeman's horse for a victory ride. Vaughn, who had never
ridden, looked scared and reluctant, but with a boost from
pitcher Roger Clemens, he mounted the nag and waved madly, like
Slim Pickens straddling the bomb. The fans changed their chant
The celebration was unplanned and unforgettable, a spontaneous
curtain call for the leading man. The crowd's suggestion was a
Though he is SI's clear choice for baseball's Most Valuable
Player, Vaughn wasn't the only major leaguer who made the most
of the strike-shortened season. He was just the one who meant
the most to his club. Albert Belle was formidable at the plate
for the Cleveland Indians, but Albert Brooks could have been
hitting cleanup for the Tribe and it still would have waltzed to
its first postseason berth in 41 years. Edgar Martinez of the
Seattle Mariners is quietly wrapping up one of the most
productive seasons by an American League righthanded hitter in
half a century, but he's a DH who doesn't lead even the Mariners
in home runs or RBIs. In July, California Angel centerfielder
Jim Edmonds was an MVP favorite; in September, Dave Gallagher
pinch-hit for him. In the National League, Dante Bichette had
belted most of his 38 home runs into the thin air of Coors
Field, but correct us if we're wrong: Everyone in the Colorado
Rockies' lineup hit at least 30. Righthander Greg Maddux was
magnificent, as always, and without him the Atlanta Braves
probably wouldn't have clinched their division until, oh, the
third week of September.
"It's more than the RBIs, it's more than the homers, it's more
than anything you can see on the field," says Boston third
baseman Tim Naehring of Vaughn. "It's his presence. He brings a
confidence and an attitude to this team that is hard to explain."
Without Vaughn the Red Sox right now probably would be slugging
it out for a wild-card spot, at best. They were coming off three
straight losing seasons, and they were expected to finish fourth
in their division. Clemens was gone for the first 31 games of
the season with tendinitis in his pitching shoulder, and when he
came back he wasn't his old dominating self.
Then Jose Canseco, acquired from the Texas Rangers in December
to take some of the run-producing load off Vaughn, missed 32
games early in the season with a groin strain. Vaughn hit .323
with eight homers and 24 RBIs while his new teammate was
recuperating. Canseco was at the top of his game when he
returned, but he has played second fiddle to Vaughn. You can
usually find Canseco in front of his locker, alone, quietly
reading his mail. While the fans and the media have pounced on
Vaughn as if they mistook him for Colin Powell, Canseco has
thrived in relative peace.
"Mo has been carrying this team consistently, day in and day
out, and that to me is what makes an MVP," says Canseco, who was
the American League MVP in 1988 as a member of the Oakland A's.
"Every time this team needed him, he was there with a clutch hit
or a clutch home run."
"He doesn't hit them when we're eight runs up," says Red Sox
manager Kevin Kennedy. "When Mo hits them, they usually mean
something." Six of Vaughn's last nine homers, for instance, have
either tied the score or put Boston ahead.
In Vaughn's career no home run meant more than the one he hit in
Anaheim early in the 1993 season. Before the game he spoke on
the phone with Jason Leader, an 11-year-old cancer patient in a
Boston hospital. Vaughn told Jason that he would try to hit a
home run for him, and on his third at bat, as if following some
corny script, he launched the ball into the centerfield seats.
Legend born. Jason died last year, but in Boston he became a
permanent part of the Mo mystique.
Vaughn spends more time in Boston schools than some students. In
April 1994 he established the Mo Vaughn Youth Development
Program, a counseling center in Dorchester for inner-city kids
from throughout the Boston area, and as a participant in an
adopt-a-school program he makes regular appearances at an
elementary school in urban Mattapan. When he speaks to kids,
Vaughn usually leaves the earrings in and the hat on backward,
and he invariably makes a connection that most adults can only
dream about. It is, he says, the secret to his appeal. He's not
being a role model or a hero. He's just being Mo.
As a rookie in 1991 Vaughn was told by then teammate Ellis Burks
that black players in the Boston organization "can't do this and
can't do that." Vaughn says he heard from a number of players
around the league that Boston was not a good place for a young
black player, but he had grown up in Connecticut--his father,
Leroy, was a high school principal and his mother, Shirley, was
an elementary school teacher--and still has relatives in Boston.
He decided to do what he had always done. Just be Mo.
"I just said, 'Maybe not everyone's going to like me, but
they're going to respect me,'" he says. "I have always tried to
just do my job and be myself, and I've had no problems. When I
was sent down [to the minors], it wasn't because of race. When I
was cheered, they weren't cheering because of race. It's a tough
place to play, but if you can make it here, it's the best place
in the world." Vaughn ought to know. There's one significant
difference between him and most of the other bright young
sluggers in the game: He got an up-close look at failure before
emerging as a major league success. Upon opening the 1992 season
as Boston's regular first baseman, Vaughn hit .185 with two home
runs in his first 23 games--quite a comedown for a slugger who
had hit 57 home runs in three college seasons at Seton Hall and
who had been named Player of the Decade in the Big East
The Boston fans had expected Vaughn, also known as the Hit Dog,
to be a hit. Instead, they got mostly dog, and they booed the
brashness right out of him. "Man, it hurt," Vaughn says now. "I
was a pretty confident kid, but they really cut me down to size."
A little more than a month into the season, Vaughn was sent back
to Triple A. Before he reported to the Pawtucket (R.I.) Red Sox,
he met his parents at a hotel and cried all night. He spent six
weeks in the minors before returning to Boston, and he hasn't
been back to the bushes since. "Now I realize that it was the
best thing that ever happened to me," Vaughn says. "When I'm
feeling tired or sore now, I think back to those times when I
got nailed pretty good, by the fans, the media, everyone."
Vaughn became one of the most feared power hitters in the
American League in 1993, and he gives the credit to former Red
Sox batting coach Mike (Hit Man) Easler. In their two years
together, the Hit Man taught the Hit Dog more than hitting. He
filled Vaughn with confidence and energy and persuaded him that
he could be himself and be a star in the Fenway frying pan.
Vaughn had 29 home runs and drove in 101 runs in his first full
season under Easler's tutelage. Last year he was good for 26
homers and 82 RBIs in 111 games. "The Hit Man taught me to take
all my anger--and after I was sent back to the minors, there was
a lot of anger--and channel it into the barrel of the bat," says
As he looks back on an MVP 1995 season, Vaughn has no trouble
picking out the one moment that stands above the rest. He was
hoping to play every game this season, but he missed a couple
after he was in a brawl at a Boston nightclub in the early hours
of July 14. It still bothers him that he got involved, but he
says he had no choice: His girlfriend was being harassed by a
guy who, it turned out, was a convicted felon and a known gang
member. Vaughn says he did "what any man would do," but during
the melee he was knocked down and kicked in the head.
The morning after the fight he looked in the mirror and saw that
his left eye was swollen shut. He held a press conference on
July 15 at Fenway and apologized to his team and the fans,
especially to the kids. His teammates and friends say they had
never seen Vaughn as nervous as he was when he returned to the
lineup on July 16. "The fans had let me into their hearts, and
they had been great to me," he says. "I just wasn't sure: Did
any of that change? I knew I had let them down, and I was so
He shouldn't have been. He is the most popular Red Sox player of
his time. Baseball has problems, but Boston has Vaughn. Before
he reached the batter's box, the crowd was standing and cheering
and letting him know that nothing had changed. Vaughn stepped
out of the box, took a breath and choked back tears. "That was
probably the highlight of my career," he says. "That was better
than any home run I'd hit or game I'd won, because I didn't know
if the people would stay behind me. I guess they felt like I was
earning my pay."
He earned his pay, and he earned our MVP. He doesn't have to
worry. We won't ask him to get back on the horse.