Each week during the off-season, I will be selecting a random, former Met to highlight. This will be taking place of our usual Friday segment, Rising Apple Player of the Week, until the regular season starts back up in April. If you have a former Met that you’d like me to highlight, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and title your email: Rising Apple Off-Season Player of the Week suggestion.
Alright, so I got a little help from the This Date in Transactions History piece written by Zach Links from MLB Trade Rumors yesterday. However, after finishing third in the NL East with an 82-80 record and missing the playoffs a year removed from a trip to the World Series, Steve Phillips and his brain trust felt they had to bring in major star power to compete in their 40th season of Mets baseball, and that meant acquiring first baseman Mo Vaughn, along with the three years and $50 million owed to him from the Angels, in exchange for pitcher Kevin Appier. What exactly were we getting? The slugger didn’t play at all in 2001 due to a ruptured tendon in his left arm, and despite the 30 pounds he gained since joining the Angels (bringing him to a hefty 275 lbs), Mets brass felt comfortable getting him, hoping he’d provide Mike Piazzasome protection in the lineup.
Vaughn just celebrated his 45th birthday on December 15th, and the pride of Norwalk, CT attended Seton Hall University before being chosen by the Boston Red Sox with the 23rd overall pick in the 1989 amateur player draft. In his 12 year MLB career, he spent eight of them in Beantown, and became one of the best power hitters in all of baseball. He put together a .304/.394/.542 line during his tenure with the Sox, and enjoyed six seasons of 25+ homers, five 90+ RBI seasons, three All-Star selections, one Silver Slugger award, and the 1995 AL MVP.
The 1998 season was his last at Fenway Park, and man did he make it count. The first baseman hit .337/.402/.591 with 40 homers, 115 RBI, 107 runs scored, and 31 doubles. He used that season and the rest of his career at that point to get a huge six-year/$80 million contract to fly across the country and play for the Angels. Despite injuring himself frequently and gaining a lot of weight in his two years with Anaheim, he actually performed rather well, posting a .276/.362/.503 line, reaching the 30 HR-100 RBI plateau twice. Unfortunately for Mets fans, it was his two-year stint with the Amazins that were his worst, before he had to hang up his spikes due to a chronic knee injury.
Although he wasn’t worth the $12 million he was paid in 2002, Vaughn didn’t perform as badly as I remember for a Mets team that didn’t meet expectations. He hit .259/.349/.456 with 26 homers and 72 RBI. After missing the entire year prior due to injury and coming back very overweight at the age of 34, that’s pretty damn good. However, his defense was rarely stellar, and it continued to take a nose dive in 2003, like the rest of his statistics. In 27 games played, he struggled to a .190/.322/.329 line with 3 homers and 15 RBI before he was placed on the DL for the rest of the season, while New York paid him $17 million.
His time in Flushing was certainly strained because of the high (and probably unfair) expectations for him to perform on the field, but he seemed like a good guy; I enjoyed watching him play and rooted hard for him to succeed. He endured his fair share of struggles, but when he got a hold of a pitch, it sailed for a country mile. What is disappointing is that his name showed up in the Mitchell Report, as he sent three checks out in 2001 to receive HGH.
However, I can understand why he gave into the temptation. He was in the middle of a monster contract and was enduring a season-long injury, while being expected to come back and produce the power he always had. Plus, he saw others doing it and getting the “advantage.” While this doesn’t justify his actions one bit, that would be my guess as to why he took the plunge.
In any event, Vaughn still gets a raise of the glass; his time with the Mets was short and not nearly as productive as anyone was hoping it would be, but one sure thing is that he played as hard as he physically could. It’s unfortunate he had to try to live up to unrealistic expectations. So, thanks for everything, Mo; let’s hope your nephew Cory will have more fun with New York than you did.