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 shut up?"
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 season."
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?