Will Mo Vaughn's feud with the front office hurt Boston's
This is an article from the Aug. 10, 1998 issue
As the Yankees hold hands, sing Kumbaya and make a blissfully
harmonious run at baseball history, their old American League
East rivals, the Red Sox, have been forced to turn their guns on
their own. At week's end the cast of Up with Pinstripes was
77-28, 14 games ahead of Boston and possibly cruising toward a
major league record for regular-season wins. Red Sox fans had
just two words for their gloating brethren from the Bronx: How
No such tedium exists 210 miles up I-95. Boston, which ended
last week with the second-best record in the American League, is
also on pace to reach the postseason, as a wild- card entrant,
but, in keeping with Red Sox tradition, sitting back and
enjoying the success is strictly forbidden. This summer's run
for the playoffs has been relegated to the undercard by the
nasty bout between Boston's best hitter and his boss.
Slugging first baseman Mo Vaughn and general manager Dan
Duquette have been feuding more furiously than the voices in
Albert Belle's head, but lately the Vaughn-Duquette battle has
reached a new low and threatened the 30-year-old Vaughn's future
with the Red Sox. Vaughn will be a free agent at the end of this
season and had hoped for a long-term contract extension.
Boston's last, best offer to Vaughn--a four-year, $37 million
deal--was rejected at the All-Star break, exactly one year after
the two sides opened the negotiations. Vaughn's agent, Tom
Reich, didn't even make a counteroffer, and thus Vaughn suffered
a big setback in the interminable p.r. war. Once the most
popular athlete in Boston, he has been roundly booed at Fenway
and mercilessly flogged on the radio talk shows. In the
clubhouse on July 16 he unleashed an obscenity-laced pregame
tirade at a Boston Globe columnist, who was not even the one who
dubbed him Mo Money. At last, the tension seemed to be getting
to the thick-skinned Vaughn.
In a subsequent TV interview, an emotional Vaughn talked of an
alleged smear campaign waged by the Red Sox and charged that the
club had private investigators trailing him. Duquette denies
that allegation but does admit the club asked Vaughn to submit
to an evaluation of his drinking as a condition of a contract
extension. Vaughn, who flipped his truck on the way home from a
strip joint last winter and was later acquitted of
drunken-driving charges, refused and said he now wouldn't
re-sign with Boston "even if it was for $25 million a year." For
management's part, Duquette says, "We were concerned about the
use of alcohol in a potentially fatal car accident."
Of course Vaughn, who was hitting .333 with 27 homers and 71 RBIs
through Sunday, has always been more consistent when he hits
than when he talks. Last Friday night, one week after declaring
his Red Sox days numbered, Vaughn said, "I've been here a long
time, and it's been a good time here. I hope to continue with
this situation." According to his friend Mike Easler, a former
Boston hitting coach who is now managing the nearby Nashua
(N.H.) Pride, Vaughn would like to remain in Boston. "I talked
to Mo recently," says Easler, "and he said, 'Mike, if they could
just work out the numbers, I'd stay.' He's torn. Most people
think he's gone, but I don't. He's a warrior, and right now he
feels he's at war."
At a press conference on July 15 to celebrate the announcement
that Boston would host the 1999 All-Star Game, Duquette said he
was hoping righthander Pedro Martinez and shortstop Nomar
Garciaparra would represent the home team. When asked about
Vaughn, he refused to mention his first baseman's name, smiling
and saying again how much he was looking forward to the game.
Later he downplayed the potential impact of Vaughn's leaving as
a free agent, saying the Sox could get a "pretty good hitter for
"Dan wants little robots, not people," says former Red Sox
outfielder Mike Greenwell. "He once told me that it takes talent
to win and leadership doesn't matter. It's all about power for
Dan. Who's got more power, him or Mo? It was the same way with
Roger [Clemens] when he left."
If Vaughn walks, he would be the third former American League
MVP to leave Boston in three years. Clemens left as a free agent
after the 1996 season, and Jose Canseco was traded soon after to
the A's for pitcher John Wasdin, a borderline big leaguer.
Clemens and Canseco, now teammates in Toronto, continue to
bad-mouth Duquette and the Red Sox at every turn and have asked
Vaughn to join them on the Blue Jays next year.
Unlike Clemens and Canseco, though, Vaughn is in his prime and
extremely popular among his teammates. He's also Boston's only
true power hitter and a lightning rod for the daily media horde
in the clubhouse. The loss of Vaughn would leave a much bigger
hole than the ones left by Clemens and Canseco, who are both
having productive seasons in Toronto. Before this year's spate
of bad publicity, Vaughn was probably the most beloved
African-American player ever to wear a Red Sox uniform. The
battle between him and Duquette can only add to the widely held
perception that Boston is a difficult place for strong-willed
black players to find happiness.
"Dan thinks he can replace Mo, but it won't be that easy," says
Greenwell. "I had guys come up to me--people like Jack Clark, Tom
Brunansky and others--and say, 'How the hell did you play here
your whole career?' They didn't enjoy it at all, but I did, and
Mo does too. He belongs there. It would be a shame if he went
somewhere else." --Gerry Callahan
THE WINNERS AND LOSERS
For a few chaotic hours last Friday evening, baseball turned
into Christmas Eve at Macy's. At the end of a week filled with
juicy rumors but few deals, suddenly there were 13 swaps
involving 45 major league and minor league players on the final
day before the trading deadline. Among the playoff hopefuls who
participated in these 11th-hour trades, the Orioles, Cubs, Mets
and Giants did not significantly alter their destinies. But now
that things have settled down a bit, we present a scorecard of
the most prominent winners--besides the Astros (page 32)--and
losers in these deals.
Rangers. Of all the contenders for a postseason berth, Texas
made the most daring commitment to reaching the playoffs. By
acquiring three veterans--shortstop Royce Clayton, third baseman
Todd Zeile and righthander Todd Stottlemyre--the Rangers
obtained a new left side to their infield and a top starter.
While Clayton, who was acquired from the Cardinals, brings
defense and Zeile (Marlins) adds punch to the Rangers' already
potent offensive attack, the key newcomer could be Stottlemyre,
who had a 3.51 ERA in 23 starts with St. Louis and joins a
rotation that already includes Rick Helling (14-6 at week's end)
and Aaron Sele (13-8). The moves are a little risky for Texas,
which traded some talented prospects for older players, two of
whom can be free agents at season's end. "I wish we would have
played better up to the trading deadline and wouldn't have had
to make these moves," said Rangers general manager Doug Melvin,
whose team trailed the Angels by one game at the deadline, "but
I think you have to put your best foot forward and help the club
when you're this close."
Dodgers. Give fledgling general manager Tommy Lasorda credit for
meeting a pair of needs with the acquisition of lefthanded
starter Carlos Perez and shortstop Mark Grudzielanek from the
Expos, and he got them without overpaying with top prospects. By
adding Perez, who was 7-10 with a 3.75 ERA in 23 starts, and
Grudzielanek, who was batting .275 with eight homers and 41
RBIs, L.A. improved the most of any of the National League
Red Sox. They took significant steps toward locking up a playoff
spot by filling their two biggest holes. General manager Dan
Duquette reacquired DH Mike Stanley from the Blue Jays last
Thursday to get a righthanded bat and added Greg Swindell from
the Twins at the deadline to give Boston an experienced lefty
out of the bullpen.
Yankees. Because neither the Yanks nor the Indians got Randy
Johnson from the Mariners, the advantage goes to New York.
Mariners. The banner headline in last Saturday's Seattle Times
said it all when it screeched, IS THIS BEST M'S COULD DO?
Indeed, Mariners fans wondered how general manager Woody
Woodward could trade Johnson, the best pitcher in franchise
history, and get only two unheralded Astros minor leaguers and a
minor league player-to-be-named-later in return? Don't blame
Woodward for dealing Johnson, whose dismay over his contract
squabbling had become a distraction to both himself and the
club. The fault lies with Woodward's timing. During the
off-season Seattle reportedly could have sent Johnson to the
Yankees for David Wells and Mariano Rivera. Then, on June 2, one
Mariners owner vetoed another trade that would have brought
righthander Ismael Valdes, second baseman Wilton Guerrero and
pitching prospect Ted Lilly from L.A. Finally, after potential
deals with the Indians and the Yankees melted away last week,
the Mariners had to settle for Houston's best offer just minutes
before the trading deadline. For many Seattle players this deal
represented the latest in a series of trades that have hurt the
franchise (for example, Jose Cruz Jr. for Mike Timlin and Paul
Spoljaric, and Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe for Heathcliff
Slocumb). "It was a lousy trade, and we're definitely
disappointed," said first baseman David Segui. "When somebody
[Johnson] is going to be in the Hall of Fame, you expect to get
more than minor leaguers. I would hate to see what they would
get for me--a cracked bat and a resin bag?"
Angels. While American League West rival Texas improved
dramatically, Anaheim acquired only Charlie O'Brien, a
37-year-old journeyman catcher with a broken thumb. Angels
general manager Bill Bavasi reportedly decided not to trade
centerfielder Jim Edmonds for Mets free-agent-to-be Mike Piazza,
or outfielder Garret Anderson for Royals righthander Tim
Belcher. "As a G.M., you know the guys in the clubhouse are
counting on you to get something done," Bavasi said. "The
Rangers got better, a lot better, no doubt about it. I had a job
to do, and I didn't get it done."
Mark McGwire and Ken Griffey Jr. With the Cardinals and the
Mariners having surrendered their playoff aspirations by dumping
veteran players at the deadline, each of the two sluggers will
now absorb the full brunt of his city's attention and scrutiny
during the pursuit of Roger Maris's home run record.
One of the most valuable acquisitions made in the days before the
trading deadline was Cleveland's addition of pitcher Steve Reed.
Steve Who? Reed, a 32-year-old righty, is the first to admit
that he has a low profile simply because he's a middle reliever,
one of the many pitchers lost in the great recognition abyss
that exists between starters and closers.
The members of the anonymous fraternity of long relievers and
setup men don't really mind the lack of publicity because
generally the only time they get noticed is when they fail. It
doesn't help that a middle reliever's statistical grail is the
decidedly unsexy hold, which isn't even recognized as an
Reed and his brethren may be underappreciated by fans, but they
are increasingly valued by managers. With major league starters
averaging a mere 6 1/3 innings per start, more and more games are
decided in the seventh and eighth innings. Says Reed, "It doesn't
make sense to have a $10 million starter and a $5 million closer
and then lose the game because you've got nobody to get guys out
between the two."
Reed has helped bridge that treacherous gap better than anybody
else in the majors this season. Through Sunday he had a 1.30 ERA
in 54 appearances and had allowed less than one base runner per
inning, all the while maintaining the kind of humility that
seems necessary for his role. The night after Reed was traded
from the Giants to the Indians on July 23, he was pitching at
Jacobs Field. "I walked out there and introduced myself to
[catcher] Pat Borders on the mound," Reed said afterward. "I
said, 'Hi, I'm Steve Reed. I throw 80 miles per hour. Let's go
Reed pitched two scoreless innings in a 2-1 win over Detroit.
While nobody is paying much attention to him, once the postseason
arrives, don't be surprised if Reed turns out to be among the
most significant players traded in July. Here are some of this
season's other top middle men.
Chuck McElroy. After playing for four franchises in the last
five seasons, he joined the Rockies this season and has finally
found his niche in the most unlikely of places, Coors Field.
McElroy is known to his fellow Colorado relievers as the Deacon
because of his caring manner--including a fearless approach to
pitching at Coors, where he was 4-0 with a 1.72 ERA through
Sunday. Overall his ERA was 1.53, and he had allowed only 10 of
40 inherited runners to score while yielding just one home run
in 53 innings. McElroy signed a three-year, $3.9 million
extension to keep pitching there, the longest contract ever
signed by a Rockies reliever.
Jesse Orosco. Durability is his calling card. On July 25 he
became only the sixth pitcher ever to appear in 1,000 big league
games. He has pitched in 40 or more games in each season since
1982. Through Sunday, Orosco, a 41-year-old lefty, had a 2.54
ERA and six saves for the Orioles.
Wayne Gomes. Sent to the minors by the Phillies at the end of
spring training, he has bounced back to become the foundation of
Philadelphia's overworked setup crew. After last weekend the
righthanded Gomes, 25, had nine wins and had a strike out-walk
ratio of better than 4 to 1.
Graeme Lloyd. The Yankees' 6'7" Aussie southpaw has held
opponents to a .171 batting average, including one hit in 27
chances with runners in scoring position. In one dominant
stretch of 10 appearances from April 19 through June 4, Lloyd
faced 27 batters and allowed two base runners.
Some general managers want to change the trade deadline from
July 31 to Aug. 15 next season. Though Cubs G.M. Ed Lynch's
proposal to move the deadline at last year's general managers'
meeting was rejected, there's increasing sentiment that teams
are too uncertain about their wild-card prospects with more than
a third of the season remaining to cut off trading as early as
July 31. The dilemma is exacerbated by the unwillingness of
today's G.M.'s to honor the old gentlemen's agreement that used
to make it relatively easy to make swaps after the deadline.
Until recently, most teams didn't put in waiver claims simply to
block deals, but last year, according to Lynch, there were more
than 130 claims, making it almost impossible to deal players
once the deadline had passed.
When Albert Belle ripped 16 home runs in July, it marked the
third straight month that a record for most homers in that month
was equaled or broken. Here's how the revised clout calendar
MONTH PLAYER, TEAM HOMERS YEAR
March Vinnie Castilla, Rockies 2 1998
April Ken Griffey Jr., Mariners 13 1997
May Mickey Mantle, Yankees 16 1956
Mark McGwire, Cardinals 16 1998
June Sammy Sosa, Cubs 20 1998
July Albert Belle, White Sox 16 1998
August Rudy York, Tigers 18 1937
September Babe Ruth, Yankees 17 1927
Albert Belle, Indians 17 1995
October Six players tied 4
SOURCE: ELIAS SPORTS BUREAU
For complete scores and stats, plus more news from Tom Verducci
and Tim Crothers, go to www.cnnsi.com.