March 16, 1998
Mo Money: Mo Vaughn, Scott Boras, and JD Drew
Our take on the Mo Vaughn/Dan Duquette warsMo Vaughn finally got ticked off enough this week to publicly vent over the upcoming treatment he expects from Dan Duquette and the Red Sox front office. "They're trying to use my arrest for drunk driving against me," said Vaughn. (Vaughn, as you may know, was acquitted of drunk driving charges, in a verdict which had to make the O. J. Simpson jurors feel better.) "It's going to be theatre in two parts -- up to the All-Star game, and then part two after the All-Star game. They'll have me using drugs and selling drugs." What prompted this outburst? A suggestion by the Red Sox front office that Vaughn seek a professional opinion about his alcohol consumption.
Historically, it's pretty much de rigeur to wait until one is lambasted in public before whining about it. Why Vaughn jumped the gun on this escapes me. Roger Clemens' much-ballyhooed departure from Boston was strange enough, with Clemens screeching to any available microphone that Dan Duquette didn't respect him, couldn't evaluate talent, and probably spent most of his time chasing down Hanson sound clips on the Internet. From the limited information available to me and the rest of the public, it seemed a business difference between Clemens and Duquette -- Clemens wanted more years and more money than the Red Sox were willing to pay. I don't have all the information, but there seemed to be more rancor there than was justified by the exchange.
The opposite appears to be the case with Vaughn. Mo Vaughn has behaved irresponsibly. His statements and attitude have been diametrically opposed to his behavior, and like 2 of the last 3 presidents to hold office, he seems to enjoy complete amnesty from the consequences of his actions. Pulling a favorite doublespeak line out of Iran-Contra, Vaughn hung his hat on the limp and manipulative "mistakes were made" line so glibly uttered by Ronald Reagan. I didn't understand why it worked then, and I'm amazed that it works now.
There is a pattern of behavior by Mr. Vaughn that no organization in its right mind is going to want share responsibility for. I hate the idea of extraneous crap entering into personnel decisions. I think it makes for bad decisions, bad baseball, and further poisons the game in an already critical media. Vaughn was acquitted of DUI in a jury trial that few people reading this would even have gotten. Demand a jury trial for a typical DUI, and you're going to pay court costs in addition to losing your license, paying the fines and education fees, attending victim therapy sessions, and enjoying a weekend at the County Jail. Judges don't take kindly to regular people wasting their time and the court's money. The vast majority of people reading this know or presume that he's guilty of driving drunk, and they're probably right.
So what kind of chutzpah is it for Vaughn to bitch about this being used against him in contract negotiations? Especially when he's the only person that's said anything publicly about either the negotiations or the Red Sox's alleged request? Usually, you'd have to admire that sort of gall, but in this instance, it nearly sickens me. I've spent many years defending players from unfair raps by the media -- labels like "slacker", "minor league hitter", "head case", "choker", and a few others that I can't mention now that we were forced to rate with RSAC. Then Vaughn goes and pulls this kind of crap, lending that much more credence the next time a ballplayer is a victim of baseless allegations. I guess there is the possibility that Vaughn feels a deep sense of shame over his behavior, but somehow, I doubt he perceives it that way.
Lost in the shuffle of emotions and angry words is the basic question: Is Vaughn worth a large long-term contract? Maybe, but I doubt it. Vaughn turns 31 this year, weighs more than he should, isn't great shakes with the glove, and hits about 170 points of OPS better at home than he does on the road. He also plays first base, a position not exactly short on cheap, available talent. Truth be told, he could be one of the worst free agent signings in baseball if chooses to simply play out the string in Boston and becomes a free agent at the end of the year. His production right now isn't significantly different than Cecil Fielder's at his peak, and neither is his body type and defensive prowess. Mike Ilitch paid a fortune for his mistake of giving Cecil a lucrative long-term deal, and Vaughn has the potential to be the same sort of albatross. And that's before you consider his penchant for hanging out in bars, having a few drinks, and perhaps getting behind the wheel.
Vaughn's public persona has been carefully crafted. I'm sure he does a lot of good through his foundation, and his soulless speeches about drug abstinence to youths in Boston are no doubt stirring and motivational. Ionesco must have scripted the scenario in which Vaughn won the MVP award, beating out a far more deserving Albert Belle because Mo's "such a good guy." Albert Belle must have absolutely cracked up over that little ironic twist, probably earlier this winter.
I realize that we've all grown completely cynical about people's behavior, and no, I probably couldn't stand up to the media scrutiny that public figures face today. No one gives a rat's ass that a Jagger-mouthed intern with big hair blew the President except a few social conservative Clinton-haters. Boycott efforts against Nike for their abominable business practices have had about as much traction as Bob Dole's feeble attempts to generate outrage against Clinton in the '96 elections. Newt Gingrich positions himself as a family values candidate after divorcing his wife while she battled cancer and countless reports of Newt fooling around on the side... I understand all that. But folks, this is baseball. That means it's important. It matters.
Mo Vaughn is trying to negotiate his deal in the press - something I've always detested when management does it. He's pointing to an unpopular figure as a strawman, and is doing everything in his power to deflect justified criticism of his performance on the field, and his behavior off of it, which, like it or not, reflects on the Red Sox. I hope that Duquette has the good sense not to become embroiled in a public war with Mo over this. Knowing Dan's public relations skills, he'll end up somehow affiliating the Red Sox club with the local chapters of the KKK and NAMBLA or something.
Duquette's reportedly batting around a trade proposal from the Dodgers that would reunite Pedro Martinez with his much older brother Ramon, and probably bring Eric Karros to Boston as well. Karros is a mediocre, expensive ballplayer. Ramon Martinez is 30 for at least the 7th consecutive year, and showed enough danger signs last year to send Evel Knievel into shivering convulsions. Nonetheless, I'd find some deal out there if I were the Duq. I'd be willing to bet that some sort of deal for Randy Johnson would be possible, and at least if Johnson's health fails, it's likely to be because of something that happened on the field. Seattle needs a first baseman, and a 1-2 punch of Pedro/Randy would probably do the Red Sox pretty well. (Apologies to all you David Segui fans out there.) There's got to be some club on the cusp of the playoffs that'd be willing to give up some young talent for a hitter of Vaughn's caliber. Find a deal, Dan. Send him to Cincy for Roberto Petagine and Brett Tomko. The Reds might do that, and the Red Sox become a major force in the AL in the process.
Vaughn isn't worth the money he's asking, and for that reason, Duquette shouldn't give it to him. Let some other organization choke on Vaughn's inevitable five year, $47 Million deal, and sign Petagine after his inevitable release this September. You'll get a better first baseman for the start of the millennium, and you'll save enough money to buy up the latest and greatest lame-ass Cuban pitcher. Or at least bid him up so Boss Steinbrenner will have to pay more.
Either way, get Vaughn out of town. He's not worth the money or the hassle. Call Ed Wade, have him sign JD Drew for $4 Million, and ship Mo to the City of Brotherly Love for JD. Perhaps in the exchange, Scott Boras can end up representing Mo Vaughn. Wouldn't that be special?