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Clashing Sox

Will Mo Vaughn's feud with the front office hurt Boston's wild-card run?

by Gerry Callahan

Posted: Wed August 5, 1998

Sports Illustrated 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 dull.

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.

Mo Vaughn
Vaughn, once a most beloved player in Boston, is now hearing boos at Fenway.    (David Liam Kyle)

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 $10 million."

"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."

Issue date: August 10, 1998

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