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Thursday, March 6, 2014

Charlie Vaughan: Two Games of Baseball Glory

Many children grow up dreaming of one day playing Major League Baseball. Few make it, but those that do undoubtedly savor their opportunity no matter how short it may be.

Pitcher Charlie Vaughan was one of the lucky ones. He crested baseball’s summit. However, it lasted only two games. A tantalizing taste for sure, but was it enough?

The left-handed Vaughan was a fourth-round draft choice of the Milwaukee Braves in 1965 out of Brownsville High School in Texas. He pitched well right out of the gate in the minors and was summoned to make his major league debut in 1966 (for the Braves, who had moved to Atlanta).

Vaughan took the mound on September 3rd to face Davie Giusti and the Houston Astros. Although Houston wasn’t a good team, Giusti was an up-and-coming pitcher, who would win 15 games that season.

The game couldn’t have gone much better for Vaughan, who was the second-youngest player to pitch in the majors that season—second only to a young right-hander named Nolan Ryan. He scattered eight hits, three walks and two runs over seven innings, while striking out six on his way to an easy 12-2 victory.

Unfortunately, the game wasn’t enough to gain the southpaw traction in trying to become a regular on the Atlanta staff. He was returned to the minors where he was solid but unspectacular for the next few seasons.

Vaughan appeared in one more major league game. On June 1, 1969, he allowed three walks and two runs in an inning of mop-up relief in a 13-4 loss against the Chicago Cubs.

He pitched in the minors again in 1970 but finished the year in the system of the Kansas City Royals. After the year was over, he asked for a trade to be closer to his family. The request was denied and he never signed another professional contract.

In six minor league seasons, Vaughan was a combined 27-38 with a 4.06 ERA in 117 games. His two brief stints in the majors led to a 1-0 record with a 4.50 ERA over eight innings. More information about his career statistics is available here.

Vaughan not only reached the highest level of professional baseball, he had one magical moment where he showed he belonged. He may not have been able to forge a prolonged career in the majors, but to call his experience anything other than a success would be a mistake.

Previously, I had the pleasure of asking Vaughan some questions about his baseball career. Keep reading to see what he had to say.

Charlie Vaughan Questionnaire:

How did you find out that you had been called up to make your major league debut in 1966?: I was finishing my first full season with the Braves’ Double-A Texas League team, the Austin Braves. We were on our way to play in a four team end of year playoff, when the Braves management called my Austin manager and told him to have me report to Atlanta right away.

I flew to Atlanta a couple of days later and prepared for a Labor Day weekend series against the Houston Astros. I pitched the first game of a Saturday doubleheader.

What was the strangest play you ever saw as a player?:
Eddie Mathews being thrown out rounding first base in 1966, by right fielder Roberto Clemente.

Who was your favorite coach or manager?: My Rookie League manager in 1965, Paul Snyder. He became the well-known Director of Scouting for the Atlanta Braves.

What is your favorite moment from your baseball career?: It has to be pitching in my one and only START in the major leagues, September 3, 1966. I was a month shy of my 19th birthday. Joe Torre was my catcher and he really helped me through those seven innings that I pitched. The Braves got me 12 runs, and I had a shutout for six innings. I have to admit that I tired in the seventh inning and gave up two runs. It was really hot that September afternoon!

I was excited when I got a base hit to center field off the Astros pitcher Dave Giusti. He had no idea how I could hit and he laid a fastball down the middle. Next time up, he got serious and struck me out. Ha!

What have you been up to since you stopped playing baseball?: After six years with the Braves, mostly Double-A and Triple-A minor league, I was tired of the travel and struggle to stay healthy. Elbow, shoulder and back problems haunted me, along with blisters on my pitching finger. 

The sixth year (1970) that I played ball, I was married. That part was good that my new bride got an idea of the professional ball player life style.

Before spring training of 1971, I could not agree on a contract with Minor League Player Personnel Manager, Eddie Robinson, to play another season. I asked him to trade me to the Houston Astros (close to home) but he refused. I held out and he held out and we never spoke again. Back then we didn't have player agents and there was no free agency, so I was locked in with the Braves.

I so-called "retired" (age 23) and sold real estate for five years, before joining my father's seven-store auto parts chain operation with 100-plus employees. It was a great opportunity for my family and I enjoyed 24 years of work there before really retiring in 2000 at the age of 53.

I missed baseball and the wondering "what if" I had gone back for a few more seasons. Could I have gotten healthy enough to pitch up to expectations of the scouts and the sports writers? However, the time comes for each of us to "move on" with our lives, and the reality of a more normal life of enjoying my wife and family was the best decision. Playing pro sports can really mess with your ego and professional athletes tend to think more of themselves than of others. Not all, but most I would speculate! 

If you could do anything about your career differently, what would that be?:
I would not have held out going back to spring training in 1971. Elbow problems kept me limited.

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