VAUGHN'S TRYING TIMES
The day after Mo Vaughn was acquitted of a drunken driving charge
in a courtroom by a jury in Dedham, Mass., he flew back to
spring training and took a limousine from the Orlando airport to
rejoin the Red Sox, who were playing the Braves at their new
complex in Disney World. Vaughn sat alone in the backseat of the
limo on March 4, listening to sports talk radio callers crack
jokes about his trial and complain that he was found innocent
because he's a famous athlete. The commentary became so
obnoxious that the driver said, "Why don't these people just
Vaughn could barely believe that he was the target of such
hostility, and he kept thinking, Why doesn't this guy just
change the station?
That ride typified the trying off-season for Vaughn, who has
done much soul-searching about his future. After hitting .315
with 35 homers and 96 RBIs in 1997 despite missing 20 games
because of midseason knee surgery, the 30-year-old Vaughn is
entering the final season of his three-year, $18.6 million
contract. He reportedly turned down a three-year, $30 million
extension in late November.
Further negotiations with the Red Sox were put on hold and then
postponed indefinitely after Vaughn was arrested on Jan. 9.
While driving to his house in Easton, Mass., from a Providence
strip club at approximately 2:15 a.m., Vaughn struck an
abandoned car on the shoulder of I-95 in Norwood, Mass., and
flipped his pickup truck. Arresting officers said that Vaughn
refused to take a Breathalyzer test and failed eight sobriety
tests at the scene. After his acquittal he acknowledged regret
over the incident. "When things like this happen, it tests a
man, and I deserve to take my lumps," Vaughn said. "I have
always heard the boos and the cheers equally."
With less than three weeks remaining before Opening Day, time is
running short for getting a new contract hammered out, because
both sides have vowed not to bargain during the season. Boston
general manager Dan Duquette says the Red Sox aren't seeking to
trade Vaughn, the 1995 American League MVP, but Boston also
doesn't want to lose him without compensation, as it did ace
Roger Clemens after the '96 season. The snag in the talks is the
length of the deal. Vaughn wants at least a five-year contract,
but the Red Sox don't want to go longer than three. Boston is
concerned about his age, fluctuating weight--during the trial
his lawyer said he was as much as 50 pounds overweight at the
time of the crash--and lifestyle. "If I'm here for just one more
year, I'll give everything I've got to win," Vaughn says. "I'm
not angry with the Red Sox about my contract." Says Duquette,
"We'd like to have Mo continue to play in Boston after this
Vaughn has plenty of allies in the Red Sox clubhouse. "Mo knows
that he made a mistake, but if you're trying to win the World
Series, you have to find some way to keep a positive force like
him," says third baseman John Valentin, who has known Vaughn
since college. "Mo is more of an angel than a devil."
After Vaughn's limousine reached the ballpark on March 4, he
took some swings in the batting cage and watched his teammates
play the Braves, trying to put his legal ordeal behind him.
"I've been through a whole lot in the last two or three months,
some of it deserved and some not," Vaughn said. "I'm happy it's
over and glad to get back to the business of banging the ball
off the wall. I'm ready to let my bat do my talking."
The next day against the Indians, Vaughn's bat was chatty: It
launched three home runs.
MOUND OF TROUBLE
The Sad State Of Pitching
How bad is the pitching in the majors? Lefthander Brad
Pennington (Devil Rays) is in training camp even though he has
not won a major league game in five seasons. Two more retreads,
southpaw Greg Cadaret (Angels) and righthander Mike Gardiner
(Marlins), haven't won since 1994. In exhibition games last
Friday, the Twins scored 20 runs, the Angels scored 19, and the
Dodgers and the Mariners each scored 18. A total of 232 runs
were produced in 16 games that day, or 14.5 per game. Further
proof that hitters are simply ahead of pitchers at this stage of
the spring, right?
Making A Big Rookie Mistake
Just when it looked as if Randy Johnson's contract squabble was
the only controversial issue in the Mariners' camp, the Young
Unit upstaged the Big Unit. Ryan Anderson, a.k.a. Young Unit, is
a 6'10", 18-year-old lefthander whom Seattle selected in the
first round of the 1997 draft. In Anderson's first batting
practice appearance against major league hitters on Feb. 20, he
threw to Mariners Alex Rodriguez, David Segui, Dan Wilson and
Joey Cora and impressed them with a 99-mph fastball and a nasty
slurve that he had picked up from watching Johnson, his idol.
After hitting just one fair ball in a dozen hacks against
Anderson, Rodriguez said, "You have no chance when you're more
concerned about seeing the ball than hitting it."
In an Arizona Republic story on March 2, Anderson reflected on
that appearance and said, "I dominated them. I don't want to say
it, but I did."
A copy of the article promptly appeared on the bulletin board in
the Seattle clubhouse with Anderson's quotes highlighted. In an
example of highly sophisticated baseball retribution, someone
took a Beanie Baby that Anderson kept in his locker, tied a
shoelace around its neck and hung it from the top of his stall.
Some players also left a box of baseballs in front of Anderson's
locker with a typewritten note:
To: Ryan Anderson
From: All the players
Will you please sign this case of baseballs from, "The Greatest
Player of All Time." We would be honored and cherish it forever.
Said outfielder Ken Griffey Jr., "That kid has got to learn you
don't go saying things. He hasn't even seen a minor league field
Anderson was sent to minor league camp two days later.
WE TOLD YOU SO
Near the end of every season we look back with 20/20 hindsight
at the bonehead moves made by teams and players during the
previous off-season. This task is a little more challenging in
March, but the following is a sneak preview of the decisions
likely to be second-guessed in August:
DARRYL KILE By moving from the Astros to the Rockies as a free
agent, the righthanded Kile (left) voluntarily left the best
pitcher's ballpark in baseball to go to the worst. It's an
especially questionable decision for a pitcher who relies
heavily on his curveball, a pitch that science tells us will
break less in Colorado's thin air.
BRAVES/ANDRES GALARRAGA Atlanta's signing of 36-year-old
free-agent first baseman Galarraga to a three-year, $24.75
million contract was a misguided deal for both sides. While with
the Rockies from 1993 through '97, Galarraga batted .350 with
100 homers and 355 RBIs at Mile High Stadium and Coors Field
combined, and .281 with 72 homers and 224 RBIs on the road.
He'll regret the day he left Denver. The Braves will, too.
ASTROS Houston's every-day lineup may consist entirely of
righthanded hitters, a lack of variety that would earn them a
steady diet of righthanded pitchers, against whom the Astros hit
.262 last year.
EXPOS Montreal raised its ticket prices by a higher percentage
(44%) than any other club in the National League, while lowering
its payroll to about $10 million, most likely the lowest in the