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The 100 Greatest Angels: #53 Mo Vaughn

#53 Mo Vaughn, - 1B/DH

Career Stats

First things first, Mo Vaughn had a monster season in 2000, playing in 161 games, hitting 36 HR (7th most in an Angels single season) and amassing 117 RBI (6th most in a single season, and 3 of those higher-ranking single seasons ahead of him occurred after 200, so at the time it was tied for 3rd).

There is no other player in Angels' history whose tenure so thoroughly transformed the franchise OFF the field (initially for the worse, but eventually for the better). He is certainly a villain in Angels lore, but a necessary one. He was dramatically injured on Opening Day, sabotaged the manager later that season, refused to take the field for his teammates in a bench-clearing brawl, all while collecting the biggest paycheck in team history.

And yet, without his tearing up the club, there would be no Mike Scioscia, no Bill Stoneman. Think that means no 2002 Championship, no Vladdie, nor Arte? I think so. When he was finally traded, he trash-talked the team in a vulgar manner during Spring Training, 2002. And there is a friggin' flag flyin' over the stadium, partially because Mo Vaughn did a lot FOR the Angels because he tried to do so much TO the club, and he can kiss my ass for it all.

The narrative of it all is detailed by Rob McMillin of the 6-4-2 L.A. Baseball Blog...

By far the biggest signing that GM Bill Bavasi made, and widely -- and to some degree, falsely -- acclaimed as one of the worst in the team's history, Mo Vaughn looked like everything but a bust when the Angels pursued him in the 1998 offseason. The prize free agent that year, he had three All Star appearances to his name, including one that year, and a 1995 AL MVP trophy atop his mantle, too. Spending eight years with the Red Sox, he didn't anticipate becoming an Angel until an offseason feud with GM Dan Duquette combined with a then-huge $80 million, 6-year contract GM Bill Bavasi dangled in front of him made him decide that Anaheim was a good place to be. The Angels had to spend big: the competition was stiff, including the free-spending Orioles and Dodgers, not to mention his old team, who bid $60 million and five years.

The Angels, presenting their offer on the first day of eligibility, attached a seven-page cover letter explaining how much he would mean to the team. "If you could read the letter they sent me, you could tell the kind of people they're looking for," Vaughn said. "They want guys who are linebackers in baseball uniforms." Justifying the contract that made Vaughn one of the most highly compensated player in the majors, Bill Bavasi said, "[Disney has] never been afraid to spend the money, as accused. ... We just haven't seen the players we thought were the right fit for the right type of money. If we had seen a player like Mo Vaughn last year, he would have been signed."

The Angels, who also unsuccessfully chased Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens that same year, bought some much-needed credibility with their tall dollars; their last big free agent signing had been Mark Langston in 1990. The team hadn't been to the postseason since 1986, and finished second only twice in the intervening twelve years. If the point of Disney's money was to acquire quality free agents, it was the first time it had showed since the company had bought the team in 1996.

Famously, Vaughn's first game in an Angels uniform was marked by catastrophe. On opening day, in his first play, he fell down the stairs trying to catch an Omar Vizquel popup. No, he didn't break his leg or his ankle (he suffered a bone bruise on a sprained ankle), nor did he make the catch, but the resulting pain hurt his swing for the balance of the year; despite it, he put up good numbers, considering (.281 with 33 homers and 108 RBI). But worse than that were the things that he couldn't control: a freak injury to shortstop Gary DiSarcina, and an overdue April shoulder surgery for centerfielder Jim Edmonds kept both out for the season. These gaping holes, not a failure to produce by Vaughn, helped cause the team to finish last in the division for the third time in seven years. As a result, and despite early fan enthusiasm, Angels attendance actually dropped in 1999, prompting Disney to leak its interest in selling the team. The collapse, accompanied by bitter clubhouse infighting, led to the resignations of manager Terry Collins and GM Bavasi.

Vaughn's 2000 was nearly as good, managing to stay healthy enough to collect 614 at bats, second-highest of his career. But a ruptured tendon incurred during 2001 spring training sidelined him for the entire season, and ironically, came to define him to many Angels fans. (That same year, a combination of veteran Wally Joyner and former Oakland second baseman Scott Spiezio took over at first.)

When the Angels moved Darin Erstad to first base late in the season, it marked the beginning of the end of Vaughn's tenure with the team. In October, 2001, he admitted he missed the "intensity" of playing on the East Coast, saying "if I had an opportunity to come back to Boston, I would." New GM Bill Stoneman quickly granted him his wish to go east if not to the Red Sox, shipping him to the Mets in one of the shrewdest trades of Stoneman's brief portfolio, acquiring starting pitcher Kevin Appier in exchange. Vaughn would only play in 166 more games with the Mets while remaining on the payroll through 2004, while Appier helped the Angels to their first World Series title.