Arky Vaughan

Vaughan was a perennial All-Star named to the National League team nine successive years. In 1941 he hit two All-Star home runs. His best years were spent in Pittsburgh, where his mentor, Honus Wagner, roomed with Vaughan while a Pirate coach. Vaughan’s 1935 marks, a .385 batting average and .607 slugging average, remain team records. In addition to those league-leading numbers, his performance that year included 19 HR, 99 RBI, 108 runs, and only 18 strikeouts in 499 at-bats plus a league-high 97 walks. Unsurprisingly, he also led in on-base average (.491); from 1934 to 1936 he led in both walks and on-base average. His 1935 season earned him third place in the MVP voting, and he won TSN NL Player of the Year honors, at the time as prestigious as the more recently-introduced MVP award.

Vaughan led NL shortstops in errors in his first two seasons (46 each year) but exhibited good range. He settled down to become one of the league’s better-fielding shortstops and led in putouts in 1936. By 1938 he may have been the best; from 1938 through 1940 he led three times in assists, twice in putouts, and once each in total chances per game, double plays, and errors.

Playing in spacious Forbes Field, Vaughan was in double figures in triples in all but one of his first nine seasons, and he led the league three times; he reached the 40-double plateau twice. He led in runs three times and topped 100 runs five times. First-place Brooklyn traded four players after the 1941 season to acquire Vaughan. After an off-year (.277, 82 runs) in 1942 while playing third base, he rebounded in 1943 to lead the NL with a career-high 20 stolen bases (at the age of thirty-one) and with 112 runs. He also had the best of his many excellent strikeout ratios, fanning just 13 times in 610 at-bats plus 60 walks, and hit .305.

Named for his home state of Arkansas, Arky Vaughan was a quiet, gentlemanly ballplayer whose demeanor was only twice disturbed; once by Dick Bartell and then by Leo Durocher. After Bartell had been hit in the head by a throw on a double-play attempt by Vaughan, he was quoted in the press as seeking revenge when the two teams played again. He backed down when a steely-eyed Vaughan walked up to him before the game and proposed they settle their differences under the stands.

Durocher pushed the reserved Vaughan too far. An argument between the Dodger manager and Bobo Newsome raged through the Dodger club house. Finally, Vaughan presented his rolled-up uniform to his manager with a suggestion he dispose of it in an impossible manner. Vaughan stalked out and the rest of the team was ready to follow. Relations were strained the rest of the 1943 season and, in 1944, Vaughan stayed on his California ranch, refusing to give as the reason his obvious loathing for Durocher or his wish to support the war effort by farming.

He remained away from baseball until 1947, the year of Durocher’s suspension. Then, after three years of idleness, he hit .325 as a part-time outfielder, third baseman, and pinch hitter (10-for-26). Vaughan drowned in 1952, just forty years old, when a boat from which he was fishing capsized. The Veterans Committee selected him for the Hall of Fame in 1985.

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