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COMMENTARY

Vaughn's Feud With Red Sox Goes Beyond Business

November 17, 1998|PAUL DOYLE | HARTFORD COURANT

Leaning against a wall with his head hanging and his arms tightly folded, Mo Vaughn was the picture of discontent.

Feeling unwanted by the Boston Red Sox, Vaughn said his baseball future was with another organization. Mo was drawing a line: If the Red Sox didn't want him, he was prepared to leave.

"There are other places to play besides Boston," Vaughn said as he glared from under his hat.

Looks like a scene from Vaughn's long-running feud with General Manager Dan Duquette, right?

Problem is, it was May 1992, and Vaughn was throwing his temper tantrum at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, R.I. He was 24 and reeling from a demotion to triple A.

Duquette? He was general manager of the Montreal Expos, almost two years away from joining the Red Sox. Yes, Vaughn was expressing his displeasure with the Red Sox long before his front office nemesis occupied the ivory tower at Fenway Park.

Vaughn's method of expression foreshadowed his career in Boston, which likely ended Wednesday night after he rejected a five-year, $60 million offer that Duquette reportedly termed as final.

"Mo wears his heart on his sleeve," agent Tom Reich said. "But he's real. He tells it like it is."

And as his outburst in '92 showed, Vaughn has always been a high-maintenance personality. Ignore his hard veneer--shaved head, tattoo, earrings, baggy hip-hop clothes and perpetual scowl--and Vaughn, 30, is still the baby boy of Leroy and Shirley Vaughn, educators who raised a sensitive son. It was his parents who encouraged his philanthropy and community service, who told him to ignore all he heard about Boston's race problems and embrace the city.

To see the real Mo, watch him with his parents. After games, Vaughn's mother greets him with a hug and a kiss, like a child coming home from a Saturday morning Little League game.

Vaughn won't admit it, but he expects the same from the rest of the world.

"With Mo, respect is important," said Mark Gillam, a friend and business advisor. "He expects to be treated a certain way. . . the way he treats people."

From the first few times he met Duquette in 1994, Vaughn sensed a lack of respect and warmth. In reality, it was probably nothing personal--even Duquette's friends describe him as aloof and quirky.

When asked during the season about the origin of his rift with management, Vaughn said he believed Duquette came to the Red Sox believing the first baseman needed to be watched closely.

So rather than praise, Duquette prodded.

"I think some people in the organization thought I needed to be pushed or something," Vaughn said. "But I've made the career. When you grow up in the Northeast [in Norwalk, Conn.], you have to work hard and make something of yourself. I didn't need pushing."

Vaughn also began to question Duquette's ability. The Red Sox were a fourth-place team with no signs of contending in '94. The next spring, Vaughn was unhappy when hitting coach Mike Easler was replaced because he refused to work with replacement players. And even though Vaughn was the American League most valuable player while the Red Sox won the AL East in '95, management was distant.

Friends say Vaughn began feeling underappreciated by chief executive officer John Harrington in '95. The conservative Harrington, who taught accounting at Boston College before entering baseball, was privately bothered by rumors of Vaughn's spirited social life.

The lifestyle issues were addressed during contract negotiations after the '95 season. The sides haggled throughout the winter, with Vaughn once saying he would never sign a multiyear contract with the Red Sox. When Vaughn finally signed a three-year contract in spring training in 1996, his relationship with Harrington and Duquette was permanently tarnished by the negotiations.

After the contract, Vaughn's advisors wondered if the Red Sox had a vendetta against their MVP.

"It made no sense," Gillam said. "At every turn, it's a struggle."

The feud became public in 1996. Vaughn was continually critical of management, while Duquette took subtle swipes at Vaughn. Under the surface, the sniping was intense. Vaughn refused to participate in team-sponsored appearances, instead focusing on his own charity work.

And despite a weight clause in his contract, Vaughn was uncooperative and rarely allowed the team to weigh him. The team was hearing rumors about carousing, Vaughn was hearing rumors about management spies monitoring his moves.

With neither side trusting the other, the focus turned to another round of negotiations. The Red Sox initiated talks during the 1997 All-Star break, when Vaughn was out with a knee injury. The team made references to Vaughn's weight and conditioning, and Vaughn's side pointed to his production.

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