Tips From The Top: One On One With Mo Vaughn

I spoke to former American League MVP Mo Vaughn about his journey on and off the field

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Adam: Thanks for taking the time to chat. How would compare being an entrepreneur to playing baseball?

Mo: Much harder, much harder. You have to be able to put all your pieces, all your players, all your people you work with into the pot. You need to be able to delegate and count on people. Like baseball, where we’re all playing for the same thing, we’re all trying to get that “W,” with [my clothing line] MVP Collections, we all got to come together for a common goal. But in baseball, ultimately I’m going to the plate by myself before I bat each day and I can control what I do each time. Whereas in the entrepreneur world you have to rely, delegate, give people the ability to use their own ideas and come together as a team to make things happen.

Adam: Mo, what made you decide to go into business after your playing days?

Mo: Honestly, I always knew that there was going to be an afterlife. I knew you could only play baseball if you’re lucky and you have longevity like my friends, Jeff Bagwell, Frank Thomas and Craig Biggio. Those guys had the longevity to play 18 to 20 years. I got 12 years of service in and that’s what happens to most of us – most of us get cut short, so I just knew that there was going to be something besides baseball. Lord knows I wish I had played my 20 years, and I would have been Hall of Fame. But things don’t happen like that and you have to be prepared. So I just always knew there was going to be something after the game that I needed to get into. It wasn’t easy getting there, it takes a lot of mental fortitude, it’s a rough road to get started, but ultimately we all got to do that, and we have to make the best of it.

Adam: Full disclosure: I’m actually a huge Angels fan. You didn’t exactly have the best experience with the Angels. What happened?

Mo: Just to be straight up – when I went to Anaheim, I signed that deal and the first inning of my existence as an Anaheim baseball player, I fell in the dugout and I landed on my ankle and on my knee, and I was never the same since. You know me being left-handed – I landed on my left ankle, my left knee, and I had to change my stance. I tore all the muscles, all the ligaments in my ankle. And I just never was the same getting back. People were talking about a lot of different things, what I did and what I didn’t do, and in that year I still hit 30 home-runs and played the game. But I just was never myself.

Also, to be straight, I was in Boston when I first left to go to Anaheim, and when 9/11 hit, that plane that goes from Boston to California, that was the plane that I always took. And I think that really spooked the hell out of me, and for my family and for myself, and I wanted to go back to the East Coast. So that’s why I left. No one really ever knows that, but I’m telling you now. I got nervous for my family, I got nervous for myself. If you ever check it out, that flight that leaves from Boston and goes to LA – that was my flight.

My family was from Connecticut, my parents were in Liberty, Virginia at the time. My thing was to just get everybody home on the East Coast. And that’s why I never got back to the American League. I took the first thing going and I got to the Mets, but I just was never the same, I never got back to my ’99 form in Boston, never got back to that consistency. I’ll match those years up against anybody, but I just never got back there to what I was doing. Sometimes things happen. I don’t why it happened, I don’t know for whatever reason things happen, but that’s what happened to me, and I had to move on from there.

I guess the one apology I [have for Angels fans], the organization just never saw me at full strength. That’s the only regret that I have. I remember when I came out to Spring Training, I had a good Spring Training, I didn’t hit any home-runs that Spring Training, but I hit the ball well, and I was like man, you know probably when I get back in the big league stadium, get some depth perception… I remember we came home and played a couple games for the preseason before the season started. I hit a ball to right field deep the first day I got up in that ballpark. I was ready, man. I was ready to go out there and with the same attitude I had in Boston, but it just never worked out, man. And that’s the only regret that I have there. That Anaheim never saw me at full strength.

ADAM: How significant of a factor was the ballpark? Your swing seemed tailor-made for Fenway and the Green Monster, and Angel Stadium was a pitchers’ park then.

MO: I don’t think it affected me at all. I’d hit the ball out of any part of the ballpark. I just wish I wasn’t injured, you know what I mean? I’m a back-foot, back-leg hitter. [Having to compensate] on that back foot… and then I tore my bicep off. I just wish that in Anaheim I was able to you know show them what I was really about, but I never got a chance to.

Adam: When you get a huge contract, it can change the way you approach the game. Did you find that to be the case?

Mo: Man, I never changed my approach. I mean, I tore my bicep off in the middle of ’99 I didn’t even tell anybody and I still played. You know, for me as a player if you look at the back of my baseball card, the biggest thing I got for me was [durability]. I averaged 155 games a year, and I was taught by old school guys that came up right at the end of the era in the beginning of the ’90s. I was taught by Cal Ripken, George Brett, Lou Whitaker, Allen Trammell and Don Mattingly – the guys who I was raised in the game with. I needed my 600 to 620 at-bats to get my numbers. So for me that really never changed. I just had some things happen that I wasn’t able to perform like I would normally perform. And I wasn’t going to go out there and hit .250 and .260 and hang on. That’s just not the way I am as a dude. I’m not made like that. And I knew it was time for me to move on and I did.

Adam: Who was your favorite manager to play for?

Mo: The two guys that really helped me were Kevin Kennedy in ’95 – I won an MVP under him – and then I played for Jimy Williams. Those are two guys that really helped me in my career.

Adam: Who were some of your favorite teammates?

Mo: My favorite one was a young guy, Wil Cordero, when he came out of the Expos organization. I met him and he was like my best friend in the game. I’ve had some great teammates though. I had Roger Clemens, who is probably the best guy you could play with on your team, probably the funniest guy until game day. Believe it or not, Jose Canseco was one of the smartest guys on the field. If he had just wanted to play every day, he could have been the best guy to ever play. In terms of the technique and the knowledge of how to hit, and hit in situations, he was one of the smartest guys on the field, no doubt.

Adam: Who was the hardest pitcher to hit?

Mo: When I went back to Boston and faced Pedro in ’99, I think he was the best guy out there in the game ever.

Adam: You played right in the heart of the steroid era. What are your thoughts on what transpired? Did you see a lot of your teammates roiding? As a competitor, what did you make of what was going on?

Mo: I was oblivious to that, man. I didn’t have time to be worried about what other guys were doing and nobody was doing that stuff like out in the open. If people were doing that stuff it was behind closed doors. It wasn’t seen, even when I was out there. I was playing in Boston, you know it was like. You got to put up your numbers, man. I don’t have time to worry about all the other stuff. I was trying to get up there, get to the plate, and do my job. And I just wasn’t aware.

Adam: What would say is the most surprising thing about life in professional sports? What is something that would shock fans?

Mo: That there are dark days. Just like sometimes we all hate to get up in the morning and go to our jobs. It’s the same way in the big leagues. If you’re on a bad team and you’re 18 games out a week before the All-Star Break with three months to play. That when things aren’t going well it’s just like anything else in life. It’s tough to do it. Yes, you’re playing in the big leagues in a big league park, but if you’re not into it, if you’re not in the hunt – and I’ve been on teams that haven’t been in the hunt two weeks before the All-Star Break – it’s hard to get up and go to the field.

Adam: What was your favorite city to play in and to hang out in when you were on the road? And what was your least favorite city?

Mo: I loved to play in Yankee Stadium and I loved to be in New York. I loved the stadium. But Milwaukee was just a tough place to be, period. Playing and being in the city, it was just tough.

Adam: Which city had the best groupies?

Mo: At that level, groupies are everywhere. You don’t need a city – they’re all over the place.

Adam: Boston is a notoriously difficult town to play in, but you managed to become one of the all-time greats in Red Sox history. How was your experience playing in such a unique sports town?

Mo: Did I get hate mail? Of course I did, but who doesn’t get hate mail? The Fab Five got hate mail in their era. But my all-around experience of Boston was a positive experience, and the fans got behind me. Now you’ve got John Henry, and the way that they’re running things, you go there and it’s like a big-time family atmosphere. Much different than when I played in the ’90s when they hardly won. Winning solves a lot of things, but for me, ultimately, my relationship was very good when I was in a Sox uniform.

Adam: What are some of the best lessons you learned from your playing days?

Mo: What I have learned — I got a young son, he’s six-years-old, but he’s a lefty — If he wants to do it, he can do it. He can get there if he wants to, he’s just got the natural ability, his body’s real snappy — If he wants to have the chance to do something in this game, he can do it. But what I would tell him is you keep your mouth closed and play. I think that’s what I didn’t do, probably talked too much, probably had too much to say when I played in Boston. Right or wrong, as an athlete you can never win that battle, so why do it.

And I would also tell him one other thing: there’s so much money out there now. I mean there’s a lot of money out there — there’s guys out there hitting .265 with 18 home runs and 62 RBIs getting paid 15 million bucks a year, which is crazy. When you’re a professional athlete, especially if you’re in the big leagues or NFL or NBA, whatever it is, that you are a business, your name is a business, your person is a business, and you are the business. And I think when guys actually start realizing that, they’re going to start taking heat for some of the things that go wrong.

So many people want to get in line with athletes, they want to be around them, they want to talk to them, they just want to rub elbows with them. The amount of money that can be made afterlife or while you’re playing, if you just handle yourself the right way, is astronomical. So as athletes, we are a business, our name is a business. I think we need to understand that more.

Adam: How have you been able to leverage your success as a player now that you’re retired?

Mo: I started with affordable housing in ’03, we’re still going strong now it’s you know 2018. For me, I’ve always chosen businesses that I thought were needs. I thought affordable housing was a need and MVP Collections is a need for the big and tall guy, really having no style options out there. Me being a customer, I understand exactly what the big and tall guy is looking for, and that’s why MVP Collections was started. It was a need, we need some lifestyle looks. My biggest thing is why can’t the big and tall guy look like everybody else? Why can’t we be sharp? Why can’t we have a lifestyle look?

When I started this thing I was able to go out – I got the income to buy my clothes – but what about the guy that’s not able to buy his clothes? So I was trying to give some fashion to the guy that could price it and buy it. No, it’s not the cheapest, because we’re made in America. But the garments are soft, things feel good, good patterns, good colors look good. 

Adam: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Mo: When I went back to Connecticut and was playing for the Mets and not playing well, I was very angry, walking around with a chip on my shoulder just worrying about how things had gone. I’m in the Boston Red Sox’s Hall of Fame, I’m an MVP of the American League in 1995…

But my son has gotten me back in the game, and I think coaching my son has gotten me to let go of all the demons and all the things that I disliked when I retired. So, I’m able to walk around now with a good positive motion. I watch baseball all the time. I look at the Mets, I really pull for the Sox – that’s where I’m from, that’s where everything started. I just wanted to let you know that.

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