To lots of baseball fans Mo Vaughn is a punchline. After leaving Boston, he became the most rotund person example in a long line of fat contracts that never really panned out. It was easy to laugh. While America was eating itself out of its too snug box seats, at least they weren’t making $80M while they did it.
But to Red Sox fans of certain age (specifically mine, write what you know) Mo Vaughn was more than the most famous athlete in the city during the mid 90s. Back then he was still larger in the figurative sense than he was in his figure. As I — we — remember it, the Hit Dog (a once clever nickname turned cruel)’s 1995 MVP season was a true revelation. One of our guys was better than any of yours. And with the foregone conclusion that the Red Sox just were not going to win anything as a team, (validated by a loss to the Indians in that postseason) this was something we could take home and talk about over the winter when we weren’t slamming each others’ faces into snowbanks.
Mo got even better at the plate, improving on his MVP year OPS in each of the next 3 seasons. It was hard to find a more aesthetically entertaining hitter. Batting from the left side and practically burying his head in his right arm, home runs seemed to spring out from his chest instead of off his bat. It was kinda reckless, kinda pretty and reaching out to go the opposite way almost made him fall over. Every time.
He was also the city’s most prominent go-to charity guy; a good way to get to the people on his side in a place where black athletes have never felt comfortable. But crashing his car on the way home from a strip club and accusing the front office of having him trailed by private eyes didn’t engender the same goodwill . Working for Dan Duquette would make anybody go a little animal crackerz, and suddenly Mo wanted out and Sox brass was all too happy to let him leave.
Though he hit 69 ding dongs in Anaheim, he was no longer towering over a franchise like he had in Boston and was never again the face of anything (other than the ineptness of Steve Phillips, though Steve Phillips’ actual stupid face should have sufficed). Health problems ended his career and bad mojo overshadowed his legacy. In the years between the 90s and now, those same things happened to a lot of us. But together with the Hit Dog will always have that heyday.