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?
Acquitted in a controversial verdict, Vaughn faces an
uncertain future in Boston.
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 weightduring the trial
his lawyer said he was as much as 50 pounds overweight at the
time of the crashand 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.
Issue date: March 16, 1998