Drafted from Seton Hall University by the Boston Red Sox with the 23rd overall pick of the 1989 draft, Vaughn enjoyed early success in the major leagues. In 1993, his first full season with Boston, he knocked 29 home runs while collecting 101 RBIs and batting at a .297 clip.
Vaughn’s unique batting stance proved a good match with the unusual dimensions of Boston’s Fenway Park. With his 6-1, 240 frame looming over the left side of the plate, Vaughn forced pitchers to work him outside. He took advantage of this tendency by poking numerous balls to the opposite field off and over the stadium’s fabled Green Monster. When he left the Red Sox following the 1998 season, Vaughn ranked fifth on the club’s career home run list with 230.
Vaughn’s hefty girth seemed more suited for football than baseball, but at his father’s insistence he turned down a scholarship offer from Miami to play baseball at Seton Hall, which did not have a football program. Growing up in Connecticut, his idol was Reggie Jackson, although he admitted that he was also influenced by Chris Chambliss. “I hit like Chambliss with that right foot in front a little,” he told MLB.com in 2002. “I had Reggie in my mind but Chambliss’ style.”
Vaughn built a reputation as one of the most powerful and clutch hitters in the game during his stellar 1995 season. While batting .300 with 39 HR and 126 RBI’s he gained his first All-Star game appearance and captured the A.L. MVP crown in one of the closest votes in baseball history. Vaughn edged out Indians slugger Albert Belle to win the prestigious award with 12 first place votes and 308 points to 11 first place votes and 300 points. His powerful numbers and acknowledged clubhouse leadership led to Boston’s first playoff berth in five years, but the BoSox were quickly dispatched by Cleveland in a three-game division series sweep.
In 1996, Vaughn put up the biggest numbers of his career, batting .326 with 44 HR and 143 RBI’s. Despite this statistical upgrade, he was denied a second straight MVP award, losing out to Texas outfielder Juan Gonzalez.
After missing the playoffs two straight years, Vaughn’s Red Sox returned to the postseason in 1998, but again fell to the Indians in the division series. Fueled by a running feud with Boston GM Dan Duquette, Vaughn decided to test the free-agent market in the offseason. After growing up in Connecticut, attending college in New Jersey and playing pro ball in Boston, he left the Northeast in favor of California when he signed a lucrative deal to play for the Anaheim Angels.
On opening day with the Angels in 1999, Vaughn fell down the stairs of the visitor’s dugout attempting to catch a foul pop-up. He suffered a bone bruise and sprained ligaments in his left ankle, injuries which kept him out of the lineup for more than two weeks. While the pain in his ankle affected his swing all year, he still ended up with respectable numbers, including a .281 batting average, 33 HR and 108 RBIs. After the injury many major league clubs put fences in front of dugouts to prevent similar accidents.
Although Vaughn launched 36 home runs and totaled 117 RBIs the next season, his average dropped again, falling to a .272 mark that was his lowest since batting .234 over 355 at-bats in 1992. In January 2001 he learned that he had played the final month of the season with a ruptured tendon in his left arm. The injury forced him to undergo surgery that sidelined him for the entire 2001 season.
Undeterred by Vaughn’s recent history of injuries, the New York Mets decided to take a chance on the hefty slugger by acquiring him for starter Kevin Appier on December 27, 2001. Tabbed to replace the disappointing Todd Zeile at first base, Vaughn didn’t fare much better than his predecessor, batting nearly sixty points below his career average through the first three months of the season.