By Sterling Pingree
I’m starting to think that Mo Vaughn isn’t going to the Hall of Fame. I know that might be startling to some, that a large first basemen who got 1.1% of the vote in his only year on Cooperstown’s ballot is not one day going to be enshrined. I made peace with that fact years ago, (essentially when he left Boston) that Mo was just a very good player for a fairly short amount of time. It was in that short amount of time though, that Maurice Samuel Vaughn became my favorite player.
Every baseball fan has that season, that first season when baseball sort of takes over your life for a bit. For me it was 1995; the year that I started Little League, the Red Sox won the American League East, I went to Fenway Park for the first time and Mo Vaughn won the AL Most Valuable Player award. I studied the Red Sox year book page by page all summer, to the point that the pages were dog-eared and there was a rip in the cover, which featured Mo with Jose Canseco wearing wife beaters. (Seemed normal at the time.) 1995 was a weird year for the Red Sox, the pitching staff, which was supposed to be led by Roger Clemens was led in wins by Erik Hansen and led in excitement by reclamation project Tim Wakefield.
As you get older, baseball can be tougher and tougher to fully engross yourself in, day in and day out. Following football is much easier, because the games are generally during the one time of the week where life doesn’t get in the way. I’ve always watched a majority of Red Sox games, but this past season I dove back in head first, due to a combination of intrigue, David Ortiz’s last season and to make sure I had something intelligent to say on The Drive. What I didn’t expect was an MVP performance from Mookie Betts, but that’s what we’ve gotten.
On August 14th I saw Mookie Betts hit 3 home runs vs Arizona. It was on that same date 21 years ago, that I made my first pilgrimage to Fenway Park and saw Mo Vaughn homer in the first inning vs the Yankees. It was after the game this year that I started comparing this season to that of 1995 and the results became eerily similar. In 1995, the Red Sox won the AL East, had the most valuable player and were swept in the ALDS by a Cleveland Indians team that would go on to win the pennant and lose the World Series. Sound familiar?
There was a version of this tribute already written to celebrate Betts claiming the most valuable player award, which of course because Mike Trout won, leaving that conclusion on the cutting room floor. Was Trout better than Betts? Debatable. Was he more valuable? The question is, more valuable to what? Trout had a great year by any calculation, but did it for one of the worst teams in all of baseball. Betts, did it for a team that had perhaps more talent than any team in the league but should he be discounted because he was the brightest star in a greater orbit?
In 1995 when Mo Vaughn won, he beat out Albert Belle who certainly had better numbers on a juggernaut Cleveland team that never won a damn thing. Indians fans were outraged that Belle didn’t win, but Red Sox fans made the argument that Mo was more valuable because, well, he was. Without Vaughn that year, the Red Sox don’t make the playoffs, they probably wouldn’t even have contended. (This was after all a line up that’s thump was produced by John Valentin, Jose Canseco and a nice year from catcher Mike Macfarlane.)
Betts seems to have suffered the same fate that Belle did, however Mo’s team made the playoffs, and Trout’s Angels only won 74 games. Whereas the 1995 MVP represented the peak for Mo Vaughn, finishing runner up this year for Betts leaves unfinished business in a future that couldn’t be brighter.
Sterling Pingree (@SterlingPingree) is a co-host on The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.