Where are they now? Ricky “The Wild Thing” Vaughn

The "Wild Thing"  tattooed his unique legacy on the classic game

The “Wild Thing” tattooed his unique legacy on the classic game

Like a cowboy in the wild west, when Rick Vaughn stared you down through those spectacles it made even the toughest man quiver in their boots. Is it because he can hurl an object at your head at a hundred miles per hour? Or that he could he beat you to a pulp in the blink of an eye? The answer is yes to both. When Ricky Vaughn broke into the Majors in 1989 he was raw power. A fastball that sat at a 100 MPH was his weapon of choice, the problem is he had no idea where it was going. With control problems garnering him the infamous nickname “The Wild Thing”, it wasn’t until Vaughn was given a pair of horn spectacles that he truly became one of the game’s elite.  Armed with a fastball he called “the terminator” he helped to bring respect back to the Indians organization. After one of the best seasons as a rookie pitcher, Vaughn struggled in 1990 when he tried to “reinvent himself” by trying to improve on his secondary pitches and cleaning up his “bad boy attitude” It was a roller coaster season that led to Vaughn being demoted to the bullpen after a drop in velocity and sub par secondary pitches. However, in the Playoffs Vaughn found his velocity and attitude to once again become a force in the World Series. However, Jim Taylor decided to keep Vaughn in the bullpen, a decision he openly admits was a mistake, as the Indians would lose game seven while Vaughn, now the closer, never got into the game. The next two seasons Vaughn would win 20 and 21 games and helped the Indians to two more World Series appearances. But After the third consecutive World Series loss, Vaughn’s career would take a sharp down turn. On the way to the 1993 Spring Training, Vaughn crashed his Harley while doing a 120 MPH on the freeway. The accident caused severe head trauma and tore his rotator cuff. After rehabbing for a year and a half it looked like Vaughn would be able to join the Indians late in the 94 season, but the baseball strike that season brought that dream to an end. The late 90’s were not kind to Vaughn as he missed more time off the field with altercations, injuries, and

After years of turmoil Vaughn has found peace, for now

After years of turmoil Vaughn has found peace, for now

suspensions. These included bar fights off the field, failing drug tests, and suspended by the Indians for inappropriate “staff” relationships. After the 1999 season the Indians refused to resign Vaughn citing the off the field issues and a severe drop in velocity. With no other teams offering him a contract, Vaughn did what every washed up ball players does, head to the broadcast booth. This turned into a disaster when his constant swearing lead to a disagreement with Joe Buck. Vaughn would punch him live on TV in the face for “not shutting up” according to Vaughn. The Wild Thing has remained true to his namesake in the first decade of the twentieth century. With three different arrests including one for driving his Harley across the field during an Indians game, wearing only his sunglasses and a pair of underwear. After a second stint in rehab it looked like Vaughn was on the right track. But just as mysteriously as he arrived in the big leagues, he vanished. No one knows where Vaughn is these days, but he maintains a twitter account with over five million followers. It seems that Vaughn has been traveling around the country on his Harley occasionally posting a bizarre tweet or picture, just like last week when he posted a picture of himself giving a McDonald’s employee a wedgie. The reason? Apparently he wouldn’t give Vaughn a free meal for being a “celebrity”. Wherever he is one thing is for sure, he will always be the bad boy of baseball. “Wild Thing” you made baseball interesting.


Where are they now? Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez

Benny Rodriguez still has a major role in the game he loves

Benny Rodriguez still has a major role in the game he loves

“Heroes get remembered, but legends never die”. These were the words that Benjamin Rodriguez lived by growing up. A simple yet powerful phrase that constantly reminded him that he could always be better.

Growing up in the San Fernando valley just outside of Los Angeles, Rodriguez didn’t play but lived the game baseball. With a Dodgers cap atop his head Rodriguez spent as much time as he could on the diamond. From sun up to sun down, if you wanted to find Benny just go to the ball field. His longtime friend Scott Smalls described Rodriguez’s obsession in an interview saying “Benny would have played ball day, night, rain, shine, tidal wave, whatever. Baseball was the only thing he cared about”.

After finishing high school as one of the top prospects in the nation, Rodriguez was drafted by his favorite team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, in the second round. It didn’t take long for Rodriguez to impress to Dodgers brass. Tommy Lasorda recalls the first time he saw Rodriguez on the field. “We were playing a inter-squad game in Vero Beach that spring and I remember Rodriguez lacing a single and then preceding to steal second and third. Then I saw the lead he was getting off of third and thought there’s no way he’s crazy enough to steal home. When he swiped home I just looked  at my staff and their mouths were on the floor. After that day I knew we had a star in the making”.

By the age of 20, Rodriguez was hitting leadoff for the Dodgers and leaving his mark on baseball history. When he was 22, Rodriguez earned his nickname, Benny the Jet, by setting the Major League record for stealing home4595726 in a season. That year Rodriguez swiped home a record seven times, while hitting .355, and stealing a total of 71 bases. With Rodriguez’s unique 5 tool set, he helped the Dodgers win two World Series Championships, became a three-time MVP, and 11 time all-star. Sadly, “The Jet” was grounded before he reached pinnacle.

In pursuit of Ty Cobb’s infamous 54 home steals, Rodriguez was just two away from tying the record when he tried for number 53. This time as he slid toward home plate his right knee would connect with the catchers shin guard, his knee buckled. From that day forward Rodriguez never made a full recovery and never stole home again. Being only 31 at the time, it was only a matter of time until Rodriguez would have broken Cobb’s record.

Despite the injury Rodriguez would play for three more seasons. With his range crippled, the Dodgers moved him to first base where for two seasons he belted 45 home runs and hit for a .300 average. Despite this, the declining Rodriguez seemed destined to be moved to the American League to be the DH for the remainder of his career. However, Rodriguez wanting to only play for the Dodgers and realizing how far his skills had declined abruptly retired at 34. When he retired he had 1,301 stolen bases, 52 of which were home,with  a career batting average of .317, and 396 home runs.

Retirement was tough on Rodriguez because for the first time in his life he wasn’t playing. “At first I just couldn’t handle it. I was in a dark place for a while without baseball. I tried to separate my self from the game, but I was depressed. Heck, Smalls even tried to get me in the booth, but that just wasn’t for me”.

After years of internal turmoil, baseball brought Benny back. After being given the manager’s job for the Las Vegas 51s, the Dodgers former Triple A team, Rodriguez realized that he had found what he was supposed to do. “I realized that I could make a difference in young players lives and loved the challenge”. Now the hitting coach with the Dodgers Rodriguez’s latest triumph is the Dodger’s latest phenom, Yasiel Puig. “It’s easy working with him, I’ve never seen a player with so much talent and a love for the game. It’s easy to work with someone who loves the game so much, and he reminds me of myself when I was playing”. When asked about the possibility of leaving for a managerial job Rodriguez replied “I’d never leave this organization. I was born a Dodger, I’ll die a Dodger”.

Benny the Jet will always have his place in Dodger history and in Cooperstown. One thing is for certain, this is one legend that will never die.