He is no longer dodging the inevitable.
"I'm through, man," Mo Vaughn said. "I'm through."
This does not come as news to the New York Mets. Earlier this month, Vaughn announced in a conference call that he would not play for the Mets in the 2004 season because of his arthritic left knee and, barring a medical miracle, was not likely to play again. But he avoided declaring himself retired, no doubt an exercise in legal semantics, since he is still guaranteed $15 million this season by the Mets, who by keeping Vaughn on the disabled list for the year will be insured for all but $3.75 million of that sum.
But Vaughn, who was guest speaker Friday night at a banquet thrown by the Brockton Rox, champions of the independent Northeast League, made it clear his playing days are over, five years after he left the Red Sox. He said he has 31 bone spurs in his left knee, the result of bone grinding on bone in the absence of any cartilage. He has been told that if he attempted to play again, he would be looking at knee replacement surgery.
"My career is over," he told the gathering. "I have an injury no doctor can fix, but I have no regrets."
His knee, he believes, was responsible for the torn biceps that caused him to miss the 2001 season with the Anaheim Angels.
"I was overcompensating with my top hand," he said, "and blew out the biceps muscle."
Vaughn, who has a place on the lower West Side of Manhattan, said he has been shuttling between the city and his home in Easton. He has plans to expand his involvement with his Hit Dog Training and Fitness Center in Stoughton, and said he is talking with Brockton city officials about possibly opening a satellite facility there. He also has spoken with Rox officials about a possible involvement with the club; the Rox are managed by Ed Nottle, who was Vaughn's manager in Pawtucket in 1990.
Vaughn was on the fast track to Cooperstown when he left the Sox as a free agent after the '98 season. He was coming off a career-best .337 season, already had one Most Valuable Player trophy and three All-Star appearances to his credit, and had 230 home runs and 752 RBIs. But in the five years after he left, Vaughn played just 466 games, missing 2001 and shutting down last season with the Mets May 2. His numbers all declined drastically -- .267 average, 98 homers, and 312 RBIs -- and his acquisition, first by the Angels, then by the Mets, was considered a colossal mistake by both clubs, and indirectly led to the firing of two general managers, Bill Bavasi by the Angels, and Steve Phillips by the Mets.
Vaughn's career went into free fall from his first game with the Angels, when he toppled into the dugout while chasing a foul pop and sustained a severe ankle injury. He never wore the same mantle of leadership with the Angels and Mets that he had with the Sox, and in both places he heard considerable grousing about his weight, an issue former Sox owner John Harrington had raised during failed negotiations to keep him in a Boston uniform.
Vaughn, who turned 36 last month, said he exhausted all medical options before concluding that a comeback was out of the question. He said Friday night he would have some interest one day in managing, but for now he needs to step away from the game. He has no plans to report to spring training with the Mets next month.
"The cut grass and smell of the dirt right now is tough for me," he said.
What was striking was the measure of affection Vaughn continues to receive here; those at the Rox banquet gave him multiple standing ovations, and he signed dozens of autographs. Vaughn acknowledged that affection in his speech.
"You treated me like I never left and I'm still playing here," he said. "I really appreciate it. Playing here in Boston was the best time of my career, the best time of my life. We had a tremendous run here. I wish I could have stayed here."
"If the current management was here then, I'd still be here," Vaughn said with a wry smile.
"Things happen for a reason. I don't know, I can't put a finger [on the reason], I can't tell you why it happened. The Man Upstairs, maybe that's the way he wanted it to be.
"But baseball has been great to me. It put a lot of money in my pocket, and I've gotten to see a lot of things I would never have gotten to see. But whatever I do in the future, I'll do with the same intensity I had as a player."
A hard sell
Why some people believe South Florida doesn't deserve two World Series titles in the last seven years: The Marlins have sold fewer than 5,000 season tickets for 2004. The Cubs have sold 28,000 . . . During an appearance last week in his native Cincinnati, Pete Rose reportedly signed 2,000 copies of his new book in three hours. That averages to a book every 5.4 seconds. At $24.95 for a copy, the confessions business seldom has been more lucrative. But it's hard to see how Rose signing books at Foxwoods Casino yesterday will help his case with commissioner Bud Selig . . . The decision by Seattle closer Kaz Sasaki not to return this season, thus forfeiting a $9.5 million salary, has led to speculation that the Mariners might make a late bid for free agent catcher Pudge Rodriguez, whose only known offer is a reported four-year, $40 million proposal from the Detroit Tigers. Few are convinced Rodriguez is sincere about his interest in the Tigers, who lost 119 games last season. Maverick minor league owner Mike Veeck, who owns a stake in the Rox, joked about being let go by the Tigers at the team's banquet Friday night. "For a crowd this size, the Tigers would have played a doubleheader," Veeck said. "Actually, the Tigers probably would have come to your house." . . . For what it's worth, Vaughn defended Grady Little's decision to leave in Pedro Martinez in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. Vaughn noted that he was friends with Little, who was Boston bench coach in Vaughn's last season. "To me, Grady Little is No. 1 my friend," Vaughn said. "He helped me through some tough situations. That was a broken-bat base hit [Jorge Posada's tying hit]. He didn't go bridge over the fence. To me, I would have left him in, also." Then he added: "Maybe I won't be managing here." On the proposed trade to send Alex Rodriguez to the Sox, Vaughn asked: "How do they fix things with Nomar [Garciaparra]?" . . . Rangers officials hope to meet with A-Rod today in New York, where Rodriguez is due to be presented with the AL MVP trophy at the writers dinner there. But Rangers officials insist the meeting will be about fence-mending, not resurrecting trade talks with the Sox.
Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi, who signed AL Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay to a four-year, $42 million deal last week, made Halladay the latest member of the Jays to whom he has made a long-term commitment, after third baseman Eric Hinske and outfielder Vernon Wells. Will first baseman Carlos Delgado be next? It's hard to see how Delgado, due to be paid $18.7 million this season and eligible for free agency in November, will fit within the budgetary constraints placed on Ricciardi, but he reportedly reached out to Delgado after signing Halladay. "We've said all along that we are big Carlos Delgado fans and we will do everything in our power to keep him here so he can be a part of us going forward," Ricciardi said . . . Remember Sang Hoon Lee, the Korean reliever who was a bust with the Red Sox after being given more than $3 million by Dan Duquette? According to the Korean Times, Lee signed a $500,000 contract with his new team, the SK Wyverns, the same salary he had with his former team, the LG Twins, last season. That made him the highest-paid player in Korea. He was traded by the Twins, the paper said, "due to a conflict with the manager over his increasing focus on playing guitar."
Material from personal interviews, wire service reports, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.