Mo Vaughn was one of baseball’s most feared and intimidating sluggers of the 1990s.
He had a towering frame of six-foot-one and over 220 pounds.
Nicknamed the “Hit Dog,” Vaughn seemingly hit baseballs harder and further than most any other player.
He had a notable decade-plus long Major League career, most notably for the Boston Red Sox, where he won the 1996 American League MVP Award.
Vaughn also played for the Anaheim Angels and New York Mets.
Early life/High School
Maurice Samuel Vaughn was born December 15, 1967, to parents Shirley and Leroy.
Leroy was an assistant principal and football coach who had been a former Baltimore Colts quarterback before suffering a knee injury.
Shirley also worked in education and was an elementary school teacher.
Vaughn was born and raised in Norwalk, Connecticut.
As a boy, Vaughn and his family would give back to their community by giving gifts to the homeless on Christmas Day, a tradition that would instill values in Vaughn he would continue throughout his career and post-playing life.
Vaughn was the youngest of three children and when he was born weighed just over three pounds, a far cry from his bulky baseball playing days.
His parents encouraged him to involve himself in athletics and instilled a competitive spirit in him.
A natural righty, Vaughn’s mother taught him how to hit left-handed and other baseball skills.
Soon Vaughn joined the local Little League.
By this time he had grown substantially and instilled fear in the league pitchers and coaches, who would rather walk him intentionally than risk throwing the ball over the plate.
He began playing with older kids and showcased an accelerated hitting ability.
Vaughn loved football and basketball as well and enjoyed watching the Dallas Cowboys and Reggie Jackson.
Concerned about his grades, Vaughn’s parents sent him to Pawling, New York where he attended Trinity High School.
This is where his coach and athletic director Miles Hubbard began referring to him as “Mo” because he had difficulty pronouncing Maurice.
Vaughn continued his athletic dominance at Trinity, garnering attention from collegiate scouts and receiving multiple scholarship offers, and ultimately chose to play baseball at Seton Hall in New Jersey.
By the time his high school days were over, Vaughn had accumulated 12 letters from his success playing baseball, football, and basketball at Trinity.
When Vaughn joined the Seton Hall Pirates baseball team, he joined a roster that included future big leaguers Craig Biggio, Kevin Morton, and John Valentin.
In his first year, Vaughn impressed mightily with his bat and recorded a batting average over .400 with 28 home runs, a Seton Hall record.
He won the 1987 Big East Rookie of the Year Award and earned All-American honors.
In the Big East tournament that same year, Vaughn was crowned MVP as Seton Hall made it to the championship.
Vaughn hit to a .500 average and slugged seven home runs in the tournament.
Vaughn’s collegiate career as a whole proved immensely successful.
Over his three-year career with the Pirates, Vaughn hit .416, slugged 57 home runs, and drove in 218 runs.
His 57 home runs and 218 RBIs are both Seton Hall records.
Like many who long to play in Major League Baseball, Vaughn joined the prestigious Cape Cod League during the summers of 1987 and 1988.
The Cape Cod League is perhaps the most celebrated amateur baseball league in the United States.
Major League scouts often attend the league’s games and the league boasts that one in six Major League players have come through the league, including current stars Chris Sale, Kris Bryant, Marcus Stroman, and Aaron Judge.
Vaughn played in the league at the same time as other sluggers Frank Thomas and Jeff Bagwell, among others.
Playing with the Wareham Gatemen in Massachusetts, Vaughn attracted a lot of attention from scouts.
Vaughn’s accomplishments in the league were honored in 2000 when he was inducted into the CCBL Hall of Fame.
He was widely considered a great hitting prospect by scouts but there was also some concern with his athletic and defensive abilities.
Vaughn was towering, slow, and would likely become a designated hitter or first baseman if he made it to the big leagues.
He was viewed as a “positive influence and a good leader on the bench” by one scout.
The Boston Red Sox were looking to draft an offense-first player as the 1980s came to an end and focused their attention on Vaughn.
Vaughn was a native northeasterner and Boston had three first-round picks in the 1989 draft.
They selected him with their second pick, 23rd overall, and he signed with the team.
Reporting to the AA Eastern League New Britain Red Sox in his home state of Connecticut, Vaughn wore the number 42 to honor one of his coaches at Seton Hall.
This was significant because the Red Sox had only integrated their team 30 years prior in 1959, the last Major League to do so 12 years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier.
Vaughn showed promise at New Britain but showed troubling strikeout numbers.
He struck out twice as much as he walked, which while in today’s game might be feasible, was not the norm for late 1980s baseball.
In 1990 Vaughn was promoted to the AAA Pawtucket Red Sox, this time in Rhode Island.
This would be his first full season and he took advantage of it, improving his batting average to .295 with 22 home runs.
Becoming one of the International League’s best hitters, Vaughn continued to improve into the 1991 season with Pawtucket.
The big-league Red Sox called Vaughn up to their team midway through the 1991 season.
Making his Major League debut on June 27th, Vaughn played first base against Boston’s rival New York Yankees.
Vaughn’s appearance was highly anticipated and he received a lot of attention.
He reportedly told Sports Illustrated:
“The Boston Red Sox will be good whether I make the team or not. The attention doesn’t bother me. You only play this game for ten years. To be a good man, a good person, that’s what people remember.”
Vaughn entered the 1992 season as Boston’s starting first baseman after a good spring training.
The young slugger started in a slump, hitting just two home runs and batting under .200 in the team’s first 23 games.
He struggled throughout the season and began feeling a lot of pressure from the notoriously rowdy Fenway Park crowd.
He was sent back down to Pawtucket to work on his hitting.
Speaking again to Sports Illustrated, Vaughn expressed how he felt.
“It was like I was a bad person or something. I had to make sure that wasn’t the case. See, in Boston they want success right away. You can’t afford to have any problems.”
Upset, disappointed, and angry about losing his starting job and place on the big league club, Vaughn confided in hitting Coach Mike Easler.
Easler reworked Vaughn’s swing and taught him how to better prepare before games and in the batter’s box.
Vaughn credits Easler for helping him regain his confidence and even saving his career.
After weeks of Easler’s coaching, Vaughn returned to Boston and hit noticeably better for the rest of that season and his career.
Vaughn began the 1993 season off to a hot start, but as the season progressed the Red Sox were stuck in fifth place with the postseason far out of reach.
The team finished just 80-82, but Vaughn had grown into a force to be reckoned with in the center of Boston’s lineup.
He finished the season with 29 home runs drove in over 100 runs, also raising his batting average to an impressive .297.
Vaughn’s work with Easler was paying off handsomely, though the Red Sox were far from being a formidable force in the American League East.
1993 also saw Vaughn build upon his community service in the Boston area.
He and a young cancer patient named Jason Leader grew quite close, and Vaughn promised Leader he would hit a home run for him in April of that year.
True to his word, Vaughn hit a towering home run to center field.
Though Boston was struggling, Vaughn began to make a name for himself with his improving performance on the field and his charitable actions off of it.
In the strike-shortened 1994 campaign, Vaughn continued to show improvement and had his best year yet.
He hit over .300 for the first time and hit 26 home runs.
He boasted an on-base percentage of over .400, but the Red Sox again failed to reach the postseason.
The Boston Globe remarked:
“Vaughn is a serious, dedicated professional, savvy enough to adjust to the pressures of being a Red Sox player. He is becoming a threat to opposing pitchers.”
Vaughn and the Red Sox impressed mightily in 1995, with Boston making the postseason after years of mediocrity and Vaughn only improving on his great 1994 year.
Vaughn totaled 39 home runs in 1995, a noticeable improvement over his previous year’s 26.
Driving in 126 runs and batting .300, Vaughn was beginning to cement himself as one of the American League’s most dangerous hitters.
He made his first All-Star team and the Red Sox went on to lose the American League Division Series to the Cleveland Indians, a series in which Vaughn went hitless in ten at-bats.
Despite a lackluster postseason, Vaughn was named the 1995 A.L. MVP for the first and only time in his career
— Red Sox (@RedSox) February 11, 2022
In addition to winning the MVP, Vaughn was focusing his efforts on charity.
He was working with the local Boys and Girls Club along with food banks.
Vaughn credited the kids involved with his youth development program for his MVP.
He started the Mo Vaughn Youth Development Program in 1994 intending to help young people steer clear of bad decisions and think more positively about life.
For his charity work, Vaughn was named the recipient of the 1995 Bart Giamatti Award for his contributions to community service in Boston.
Forbes described Vaughn as somebody who:
“Wants to be remembered as a person who played hard every day, and cared about winning, and helped the kids and people who are not as fortunate.”
Vaughn was again a top MVP contender in the 1996 season.
Before the start of the season, he signed a three-year, $18.6 million extension with the Red Sox and began tinkering with his swing and stance.
He began tightening up his swing and moving closer to the plate.
This allowed him to quicken his bat speed and get to pitches he struggled with previously.
1996 was Vaughn’s best in a Red Sox uniform, as he reached career highs in home runs with 46, RBIs with 143, and OBP with .420.
Despite these numbers, Vaughn finished fifth in the MVP vote but the Red Sox were bested in the A.L. East by the Yankees and Baltimore Orioles.
At this time in his career, Vaughn was wholly embraced by the Boston crowd in a city that had been a hotbed for racial tensions.
Vaughn was still wearing number 42 in 1997 when it was retired by Major League Baseball to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier.
Though officially retired by all Major League clubs in 1997, players who were already wearing 42 were allowed to keep wearing it.
Vaughn would become the final black player to wear the number, with Mariano Rivera becoming the last overall.
Reflecting on the decision to retire Robinson, Vaughn is quoted as saying:
“It (Jackie Robinson Day) should be celebrated every year. I say it all the time. It should be a national holiday. We can do what we do because of this man.”
The 1997 season was less joyous for both Vaughn and the Red Sox.
The offseason saw Boston lose three key players, including ace pitcher Roger Clemens, Jose Canseco, and Mike Greenwell.
Vaughn also missed a significant chunk of the season due to having arthroscopic surgery to repair torn cartilage in his knee.
When he returned after the All-Star break, Vaughn hit a home run in his first game back.
The Red Sox finished near the bottom of the A.L. East even though Vaughn hit well in the second half and rookie shortstop Nomar Garciaparra burst onto the scene, winning the Rookie of the Year Award.
In 1998, Vaughn and the Red Sox returned to the postseason after claiming the A.L. Wildcard spot.
Vaughn made his third All-Star team and continued to be a solid force in the middle of the Red Sox lineup.
While he performed fantastically in the Division Series against the Indians, hitting .412 with a .444 OBP, the Red Sox again lost to the Indians, who went on to the World Series.
Though Vaughn was well-liked by Red Sox fans and the Boston community for his play and community service, the relationship between Vaughn and the Red Sox front office was quickly turning sour.
He believed they viewed him as a troublemaker, as he had reportedly gotten into multiple altercations in his years in Boston.
When he became a free agent after the 1997 season, Vaughn quickly signed a megadeal with the Anaheim Angels that made him the highest player in baseball.
The contract was six years, $80 million.
The rest of Vaughn’s career did not go as well as it did in Boston.
He almost immediately was injured as he fell down the visitor’s steps and twisted his ankle, an injury that would continue to haunt him and cause him to miss games.
While Vaughn produced well when he was on the field, he continually missed time due to injuries and missed the entire 2001 season with a ruptured bicep.
He was eventually traded to the New York Mets, where he again only sporadically played over the next two seasons before retiring for good on his doctor’s suggestion after the 2004 season.
Life After Baseball
Mo Vaughn finished his big league career with 27 wins above replacement (WAR), 328 home runs, and a batting average of .293.
A controversial but productive player, Vaughn is still revered by fans in Boston for what he contributed to the city on and off the field.
The Red Sox would eventually induct him into their team Hall of Fame in 2008, just four years after his last Major League game.
Overall, Vaughn had a very productive offensive career, but in recent years his career has been overshadowed by his potential involvement in the steroid era.
In 2007, Vaughn was reportedly named in Senator George Mitchell’s report about steroid use in Major League Baseball.
As players like Barry Bonds, Mike McGwire, and Sammy Sosa were testifying before Congress on the issue, Vaughn became associated with performance-enhancing drugs.
Mitchell’s report contained information alleging that Vaughn had been advised by a man named Kirk Radomski to begin using human growth hormone (HGH) to help heal his chronic ankle injuries faster.
Radomski provided three checks that came from Vaughn paying for HGH kits.
Though Radomski never admitted to selling Vaughn HGH, Vaughn never agreed to comment for the investigation or defend himself from these investigations.
Vaughn has remained active in community service following his playing days.
He continues to work through a company in New York called OMNI New York, which helps to rehabilitate and build new, livable properties for low-income residents of New York City.
He also has invested in business ventures of his own.
He started a big and tall clothing line called MVP Collections and a trucking company, Mo Vaughn transport.
When you think of 1990s baseball, Mo Vaughn may not be the first name that comes to mind, but he is still an important piece of Major League and Boston Red Sox history.
One of the most prolific sluggers in the American League during his prime, Vaughn will always be associated with the city of Boston for helping the Red Sox return to relevancy.
Though he never got to win a World Series ring, Vaughn remains a Red Sox legend and Hall of Famer who put his community above himself and will always be cherished in the city of Boston.