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ARKY : Life of Vaughan Recalled on 33rd Anniversary of Death of Baseball Hall of Famer

August 31, 1985|JIM McCURDIE | Times Staff Writer

Had he been there, Joseph Floyd Vaughan might have chuckled at the irony.

For more than three decades, baseball's Hall of Fame was an exclusive country club for which the man they called Arky simply couldn't gain membership. He didn't know the right people.

Finally, 33 years after he drowned in a crater of an inactive volcano known as Lost Lake, the doors to Cooperstown were opened to him. Arky Vaughan a Hall of Famer. Imagine that.

What some considered one of Cooperstown's chief injustices--an oversight of major league proportions--had been righted. In recognition of this memorable event, the Hall of Fame put out commemorative envelopes bearing Arky's likeness and career statistics. The same was done for all of the inductees during the Hall's induction weekend. The envelopes were available at the Cooperstown souvenir store.

Above the pertinent numbers--the .318 lifetime batting average, the 2,103 hits in 1,817 games with the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Brooklyn Dodgers--were the words Arky Vaughn .

Yep. The Hall misspelled Arky's last name.

In a way, it figured. Fame and Arky had an understanding. If their paths ever crossed, well, that was OK with him. But Arky wasn't about to go looking for it. So, it seemed only logical that when the two finally met head-on earlier this month, when Arky was officially became famous, there would be something awkward about the encounter.

Four days after his death on Aug. 30, 1952, the Fullerton Daily News Tribune, which had chronicled his eventful career at Fullerton High School, mourned the loss of its famous former resident, and told of his aversion to recognition. The words were written in a column called "The Town Crier." He lacked only one thing--a colorful personality. Those who knew him best believe he would have been one of the game's greatest heroes had he been endowed with the sparkling personality that made lesser players great.

Some speculate that his soft-spoken ways were the reason it took so long for Vaughan to gain entrance to Cooperstown. But flamboyance just wasn't Arky's style. "No," his daughter, Patricia Johnson, said. "In fact, he didn't approve of that. He didn't like showboats at all."

Said Bob Vaughan, Arky's younger brother: "Sitting and talking in a one-to-one situation, he was great. He just didn't care for crowds. And he would probably avoid an interview if he could. He would just rather let his playing do the talking."

Even then, fame found a way to keep its distance. In the 1941 All-Star game, Arky hit a pair of two-run home runs, the second of which gave the National League a 5-4 lead. But when you think of the 1941 All-Star game, you think of Ted Williams dancing around the bases in celebration of a ninth-inning, three-run homer that gave the American League a 7-5 victory. You don't remember a Pittsburgh Pirate shortstop who became the first player ever to hit two homers in an All-Star game.

Red Smith, the late New York sports columnist, once described Arky as "baseball's most superbly forgotten man." Perhaps he had only himself to blame. But it just wasn't Arky's way to go around reminding people about Arky.

"It's like I said when Arky was inducted to the Orange County Sports Hall of Fame (in 1982)," Bob Vaughan recalled. "If Arky would have been there, he would have said, 'Thank You.' And that would have been it. But he'd have meant it."

GREAT--Truly. Floyd (Arky) Vaughan was one of the greatest athletes ever produced in Fullerton. Only one other--Walter Johnson--achieved the success he did.

He was born Floyd Ellis Vaughan in Clifty, Ark., on March 9, 1912. The name change came during his playing days with Pittsburgh, when he decided to convert to Catholicism. The nickname was a natural.

The Vaughan family moved from Arkansas to Potter Valley, a small farm town in Mendocino County, when Arky was an infant. When Arky's father was hired by Standard Oil, he relocated to Fullerton, where Arky began a storied athletic career.

A former football teammate of Arky's at Fullerton wrote a letter to daughter Patricia after the induction ceremonies. The penmanship was lacking, but the thought was warming to the Vaughan family.

"I was a substitute tackle on the Fullerton High School championship 130-pound team and remember Arky as our star halfback--fast, hard-nosed and even then a real professional," the letter read. It was signed: "Sincerely, Richard Nixon."

Arky graduated from Fullerton in 1930. Two years later, he was the Pirates' starting shortstop and hit .318 as a rookie. He hit .314 in 1933 and .333 the following year.

In 1935, Arky had the kind of year that couldn't help but attract attention. He flirted with a .400 batting average until mid-September, when he went into a 4-for-27 slump. Still, he finished at .385, best in the National League, with a career-high 19 home runs. He was named the league's most valuable player.

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