By Father Gabe Costa
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1941 was one of those magical years in baseball.
That was the year, of course, when Joe DiMaggio would set one of the most “unbreakable” records ever, when he would get at least one base hit for fifty-six straight games. The only feat that would rival the Yankee Clipper’s performance was Ted Williams’ chase of the elusive .400 seasonal batting average. The Thumper would go six-for-eight on the last day of the season, winding up with a mark of .406.
Since that year, no batter has come within ten games of DiMaggio’s record or within 15 points of the Splendid Splinter’s average.
Yes, it was quite a year. To top it off, the Fall Classic would feature the first of many Yankee-Dodger World Series.
And even the All-Star game was something special.
Over 54,000 fans attended the Mid-Summer Classic hosted at Detroit’s Briggs Stadium. The National League held a 5-3 lead going into the bottom of the ninth inning. The Junior Circuit rallied for four runs, capped by a walk-off three run homerun which Ted Williams blasted off Cub pitcher Claude Passeau.
As Williams joyfully galloped around the bases, the National League squad was devastated. One player, in particular, must have wondered what more he could have done to help his team win. He had had three hits, nine total bases, four runs-batted-in and swatted two home runs. He was the shortstop for the Pittsburg Pirates, Arky Vaughan. Surely he would have been the MVP of the game, had such an award existed and, of course, had the National League prevailed.
Just who was Arky Vaughan?
Joseph Floyd Vaughan was born in Clifty, Arkansas in 1912. He was called “Arky” because of his home state.
Vaughan played shortstop and third base for fourteen years in National League, beginning in 1932. After ten successful years with the Pittsburgh Pirates, he went to Brooklyn Dodgers for the remainder of his career.
Vaughan was selected for nine All-Star squads and finished third in the National League MVP voting in both 1935 and 1938. He played in over 1800 games, had more than 6600 at-bats, hit nearly 100 lifetime homeruns and drove in well over 900 runs for his career. His lifetime batting average was .318 and he had an on-base-plus-slugging mark of .859. He also stole 118 bases.
In 1952, at the age of 40, Vaughan died in a freak drowning incident in Eagleville, California.
By all accounts, he was well respected by all who knew him.
Arky Vaughan was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1985 by the Veteran’s Committee. While he was certainly deserving of this honor, this particular choice was not really expected. After all, he played his last game in 1948 and he had been dead for well over three decades.
And yet, it may have very well have been because of President Richard M. Nixon, that Vaughan was eventually enshrined into Cooperstown.
Perhaps no President in history has been as well versed in the National Pastime as our thirty-seventh Chief Executive. In the early 1970’s, Nixon had been asked to name his All-Time All-Star Team. He actually chose four squads (AL 1925-1945, NL 1925-1945, AL 1945-1970 and NL 1945-1970)…and on the earlier NL squad, he placed Arky Vaughan at shortstop.
It seems that after Nixon’s choices were published, people started to ask, “Just who was Arky Vaughan?”
They found out.
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