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The Hit Dog harmony ends in court filing

Teammates Mo Vaughn and Nomar Garciaparra hit 75 home runs between them in 1998, leading the Red Sox to their first playoff appearance in three years. Now their interests have diverged and are heading to court.

Vaughn, the American League's Most Valuable Player in 1995, has filed suit against a foundation operated by Garciaparra, claiming that one of Vaughn's former employees at his Hit Dog Training and Fitness Center in Stoughton improperly used a mailing list of Vaughn's customers to divert unsuspecting children to a batting clinic hosted by Garciaparra.

A suit between two stars is highly unusual in the sports world where reputations are protected for their endorsement value. In the late 1980s, Los Angeles Lakers captain Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Denver Nuggets captain Alex English sued each other over a complex financial deal involving their common sports agent. The players settled the case after a lot of negative publicity.

Vaughn, once one of the sport's most feared sluggers, has all but given up hopes of returning to Major League Baseball. He said in January that he would not play for the New York Mets in the 2004 season after signing a $80 million contract. ''I'm through, man," said Vaughn, who suffers from an arthritic left knee.

Garciaparra, who turns 31 Friday, is batting .318 this season after missing much of the first half with an injury to his Achilles tendon.

Though the suit involves two big-name stars, the amount of money involved is peanuts. Hit Dog was harmed when fewer than 100 young people showed up for its January 2004 clinic and estimated 500 showed up at Garciaparra's batting clinic on the same weekend, said Vaughn's attorney Joseph Connors Jr. Revenue plunged to less than $32,000 for the Hit Dog baseball clinic, which had brought in $148,000 the prior year, according to documents in the suit filed in Suffolk Superior Court on Friday.

Vaughn ''is a man who was making $12 million a year for a while -- this should be a rounding error for the interest he's making off his money," said sports finance consultant Mark Ganis, president of Chicago-based Sportscorp. Ganis suspects ''that there may be some pride involved, that something beyond money is involved because otherwise you'd think they'd find some way to work it out."

Vaughn's attorney insisted the lawsuit doesn't indicate bad blood between the former teammates. ''It's certainly not Mo against Nomar," said Connors. He said the dispute centered on allegations involving Hit Dog's former general manager, Paul Rappoli, who the suit said was fired in the midst of the alleged misdeed.

The suit does not involve the players personally. Rather, Vaughn's company, Hit Dog Training and Fitness Center, named Rappoli, and the Nomar 5 Fund, a charity Garciaparra established to help underprivileged children and young adults. The suit said Hit Dog fired Rappoli in October 2003 and alleges he misused confidential information by sending information about Garciaparra's clinic to people on Vaughn's e-mail list.

Nomar 5 Fund's ''knowledge may be limited," Connors said. ''They may have no knowledge."

When told about the lawsuit, in the Red Sox clubhouse as he prepared for the team's game yesterday against the Seattle Mariners, Garciaparra said, ''I have no idea what you're talking about."

Rappoli did not return calls left at his Stoughton home yesterday for a comment on the suit. Calls relayed to Vaughn through his Hit Dog staff were not returned.

Last year, the former teammates apparently were working together on a hitting camp that featured Garciaparra. One leaflet presented in court documents show the shortstop's image, in his trademark follow-through swing, advertising a Hit Dog clinic in January 2004 in North Easton.

According to the suit, Rappoli produced a brochure sometime in the fall of 2003, ''while employed by Hit Dog," and that he ''instructed the brochure vendor to revise the brochure by deleting all references to Hit Dog." In an October 2003 letter signed by Nomar Garciaparra's uncle, Victor Garciaparra, Victor Garciaparra informed Vaughn that ''Nomar Garciaparra Baseball camps will no longer be operated through the Hit Dog Training Center."

Victor Garciaparra, who also is executive director of the Nomar 5 Fund charitable foundation, said Rappoli and Nomar Garciaparra formed a clinic business, ''which had nothing to do with the foundation." Victor Garciaparra said when he sat down with Rappoli this year to talk about his nephew's clinic, they explicitly discussed Hit Dog. ''I know" Rappoli ''spent money on mailing lists," Victor Garciaparra said. Victor Garciaparra said he questioned Rappoli to make sure Rappoli didn't use any resources from Hit Dog. Last night, Victor Garciaparra issued a statement saying the Nomar 5 Fund is not involved in Nomar Garciaparra's for-profit clinics or its summer camp, which is taking place this week at Stonehill College in North Easton. ''This suit arises from an unfortunate business dispute, and should not taint the valuable work that the Nomar 5 Fund has accomplished over the past five years," Victor Garciaparra said.

Whatever the outcome of the Vaughn-Garciaparra battle, ''It doesn't matter who's right," said sports marketing guru Dean Bonham of Denver. ''It doesn't play well for either one of them."

The suit, he said, is an unfortunate sign of the times. Bonham said players such as former Boston Celtic great Larry Bird, for example, would never consider suing teammates such as Kevin McHale.

''They were like family, and it just didn't happen," he said. ''This is another era."

Kimberly Blanton can be reached at blanton@globe.com. Gordon Edes of the Globe staff contributed to this report. 

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