ARKY : Life of Vaughan Recalled on 33rd Anniversary of Death of Baseball Hall of Famer
Had he been there, Joseph Floyd Vaughan might have chuckled at the irony.
For more than three decades, baseball’s Hall of Fame was an exclusive country club for which the man they called Arky simply couldn’t gain membership. He didn’t know the right people.
Finally, 33 years after he drowned in a crater of an inactive volcano known as Lost Lake, the doors to Cooperstown were opened to him. Arky Vaughan a Hall of Famer. Imagine that.
What some considered one of Cooperstown’s chief injustices--an oversight of major league proportions--had been righted. In recognition of this memorable event, the Hall of Fame put out commemorative envelopes bearing Arky’s likeness and career statistics. The same was done for all of the inductees during the Hall’s induction weekend. The envelopes were available at the Cooperstown souvenir store.
Above the pertinent numbers--the .318 lifetime batting average, the 2,103 hits in 1,817 games with the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Brooklyn Dodgers--were the words Arky Vaughn .
Yep. The Hall misspelled Arky’s last name.
In a way, it figured. Fame and Arky had an understanding. If their paths ever crossed, well, that was OK with him. But Arky wasn’t about to go looking for it. So, it seemed only logical that when the two finally met head-on earlier this month, when Arky was officially became famous, there would be something awkward about the encounter.
Four days after his death on Aug. 30, 1952, the Fullerton Daily News Tribune, which had chronicled his eventful career at Fullerton High School, mourned the loss of its famous former resident, and told of his aversion to recognition. The words were written in a column called “The Town Crier.” He lacked only one thing--a colorful personality. Those who knew him best believe he would have been one of the game’s greatest heroes had he been endowed with the sparkling personality that made lesser players great.
Some speculate that his soft-spoken ways were the reason it took so long for Vaughan to gain entrance to Cooperstown. But flamboyance just wasn’t Arky’s style. “No,” his daughter, Patricia Johnson, said. “In fact, he didn’t approve of that. He didn’t like showboats at all.”
Said Bob Vaughan, Arky’s younger brother: “Sitting and talking in a one-to-one situation, he was great. He just didn’t care for crowds. And he would probably avoid an interview if he could. He would just rather let his playing do the talking.”
Even then, fame found a way to keep its distance. In the 1941 All-Star game, Arky hit a pair of two-run home runs, the second of which gave the National League a 5-4 lead. But when you think of the 1941 All-Star game, you think of Ted Williams dancing around the bases in celebration of a ninth-inning, three-run homer that gave the American League a 7-5 victory. You don’t remember a Pittsburgh Pirate shortstop who became the first player ever to hit two homers in an All-Star game.
Red Smith, the late New York sports columnist, once described Arky as “baseball’s most superbly forgotten man.” Perhaps he had only himself to blame. But it just wasn’t Arky’s way to go around reminding people about Arky.
“It’s like I said when Arky was inducted to the Orange County Sports Hall of Fame (in 1982),” Bob Vaughan recalled. “If Arky would have been there, he would have said, ‘Thank You.’ And that would have been it. But he’d have meant it.”
GREAT--Truly. Floyd (Arky) Vaughan was one of the greatest athletes ever produced in Fullerton. Only one other--Walter Johnson--achieved the success he did.
He was born Floyd Ellis Vaughan in Clifty, Ark., on March 9, 1912. The name change came during his playing days with Pittsburgh, when he decided to convert to Catholicism. The nickname was a natural.
The Vaughan family moved from Arkansas to Potter Valley, a small farm town in Mendocino County, when Arky was an infant. When Arky’s father was hired by Standard Oil, he relocated to Fullerton, where Arky began a storied athletic career.
A former football teammate of Arky’s at Fullerton wrote a letter to daughter Patricia after the induction ceremonies. The penmanship was lacking, but the thought was warming to the Vaughan family.
“I was a substitute tackle on the Fullerton High School championship 130-pound team and remember Arky as our star halfback--fast, hard-nosed and even then a real professional,” the letter read. It was signed: “Sincerely, Richard Nixon.”
Arky graduated from Fullerton in 1930. Two years later, he was the Pirates’ starting shortstop and hit .318 as a rookie. He hit .314 in 1933 and .333 the following year.
In 1935, Arky had the kind of year that couldn’t help but attract attention. He flirted with a .400 batting average until mid-September, when he went into a 4-for-27 slump. Still, he finished at .385, best in the National League, with a career-high 19 home runs. He was named the league’s most valuable player.
He played for Pittsburgh for the next six seasons, and quietly went about the business of becoming one of the premiere shortstops of his era. He hit .300 or better in each of his 10 seasons with the Pirates.
In 1942, he was traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers for catcher Babe (Bad Boy) Phelps, pitcher Luke Hamlin, infielder Pete Coscarart and outfielder Jim Wasdell. It was as a Dodger in 1943 that Arky shocked his teammates by speaking out. Dodger manager Leo Durocher unleashed a lippy, verbal assault on pitcher Bobo Newsome in the Dodger clubhouse. Arky didn’t like what he heard, and let Durocher know it.
Wrote Red Smith of the incident: " . . . The quarrel between manager and pitcher raged through the clubhouse, involving other members of the team and the press and some rather free exchanges of personalities.
“At length Arky Vaughan peeled off his uniform, bundled it up and handed it to Durocher together with a suggestion regarding its disposal. Such was the respect for Vaughan among other players that the whole club promptly went on strike.”
Upper management intervened and convinced the players to take the field under Durocher that day. But Leo and Arky were never too chummy from then on.
At the end of that season, Arky returned to his California ranch, and stayed there for three years. It was a termed a voluntary retirement, which meant the Dodgers still owned his rights. It was speculated that Arky left baseball in a huff over the Durocher incident, but only he could say. And, as was his practice, he wasn’t talking. Bob Vaughan said the retirement was just a matter of priorities.
“My brother, Glenn, was taking care of Arky’s ranch for him,” he said. “He was drafted (into the military), so Arky had a choice to make: let the ranch go to pot or quit playing ball. He took care of the ranch.
“This Durocher thing, we really feel, is a myth. If he didn’t want to play for Durocher and the Dodgers in the war years, they could have sold him or traded him. He was pretty valuable merchandise. I definitely remember asking him, ‘Who was the best manager you ever played for?’ He told me it was Durocher. He didn’t say he was the one he liked best, just that he was the best he ever played for. And Arky was not the kind of guy who would hold a grudge for three years, believe me. He was slow to anger, but he could get ticked off. But when he did, he’d get it off his chest and then it was over with.”
Arky came out of retirement in 1947, the same year Durocher was suspended by Commissioner Happy Chandler for associating with gamblers. His knees were battered from years of wear and tear, so he was limited to a utility role. He appeared in 64 games that season and hit .325. He played in his only World Series that year, getting one hit in two pinch-hit appearances as the Dodgers lost to the New York Yankees in seven games.
He played his last season in the major leagues in 1948, hitting .244 as a pinch hitter and reserve outfielder. The next year, he returned to California where he signed a one-year contract to play for the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League so that he could be closer to the ranch and the places he loved to visit to hunt and fish.
With one exception, Arky had avoided calling attention to himself throughout a 14-year, major league career. When it was over, he headed for the hills, far away from limelight. But he left a lasting impression.
“He was one fellow who went out of his way to be nice to me when I was a rookie,” Jackie Robinson told a New York reporter after Arky’s death. “I needed it.”
The man who emblazoned his name in the national pastime’s record books met death on a fishing expedition. He died with his boots on.
Arky Vaughan loved to fish. When his playing days were over, he retired and bought a ranch in Eagleville, a tiny town in the northeast corner of California. Modoc National Forest, to be exact, just a fraction of an inch from the Nevada border on your California road map.
“Every vacation that Dad had, we spent in Northern California,” Bob Vaughan said. “That’s how Arky got acquainted with the country up there.”
It was here that Arky settled into a life he loved; it was a life of fishing, hunting and running his cattle ranch. It was here that, at the age of 40, he drowned in a fishing accident at Lost Lake.
Reports of Arky’s demise were greatly distorted. One story that circulated, the one that was cited at the Hall of Fame Induction ceremonies, told of how Arky and his companion were swept in a sudden storm and tossed from their small fishing boat into the cold, deep waters of Lost Lake. Wrong.
Another told of Arky becoming entangled in fishing line and succumbing before he could free himself. Wrong again.
“There was even one story that Arky couldn’t swim,” Bob Vaughan said. “Well, anything that had to do with athletics, that guy could do it.”
The story based on information gathered from the only witness to the drowning, and the one the Vaughan family has accepted as fact, is this:
Bill Wimer, Arky’s friend and neighbor, visited the Vaughan ranch to talk Arky into going fishing. Arky declined, saying he had too much work to do that day, but Wimer got him to change his mind, saying the work would be there when he returned.
Arky asked his wife, Margaret, who had grown to love the outdoors nearly as much as her husband, if she wanted to join them, but she declined. Had she gone, one relative said, they would have fished from the shore of the lake instead of from a boat.
Fishing gear in tow, Wimer and Arky headed for Lost Lake. “I had been fishing with him a couple of times at the same place,” Bob Vaughan said. “It probably wasn’t more than 40 or 50 acres of water, but it was very, very deep and very, very cold. And full of trout.”
When Arky and his companion found a place where the trout were biting, Wimer, a logger and a hulking man of more than 200 pounds, stood in the boat to cast. Verne Wheeler, an elderly man who witnessed the accident from the shore, told authorities of how the boat overturned, sending both men into the chilly water.
Arky was a good swimmer but Wimer apparently was not. Both men headed toward the shore but Wimer began to struggle long before he got there. Once he realized his plight, Wimer began to panic. Arky tried to help his companion, but, outweighed by more than 50 pounds, was unsuccessful. About 25 feet from shore, both men went under and never resurfaced. Their bodies were recovered the next day.
Those who played with him will never forget Arky. Those who were fortunate enough to watch his inspired performances on the gridiron, court and on the diamond will never forget his greatness. Today, Fullerton pays homage to a great athlete--a sportsman--whose name and accomplishments are part of the living record. The Fullerton Daily News Tribune’s eulogy four days after the death of one of its most famous sons was eloquent. Baseball’s Hall of Fame wasn’t nearly as timely or kind.
The irony of it all must have left Joseph Floyd Vaughan chuckling.
He lacked only one thing--a colorful personality. Those who knew him best believe he would have been one of the game’s greatest heroes had he been endowed with the sparkling personality that made lesser players great.
--"The Town Crier,” Aug. 30, 1952,
Fullerton Daily News Tribune.
ARKY VAUGHAN’S CAREER RECORD
YR CLUB G AB H HR R RBI BB SO SB BA 1932 Pirates 129 497 158 4 71 61 39 26 10 .318 1933 Pirates 152 573 180 9 85 97 64 23 3 .314 1934 Pirates 149 558 186 12 115 94 94 38 10 .333 1935 Pirates 137 499 192 19 108 99 97 18 4 .385 1936 Pirates 156 568 190 9 122 78 118 21 6 .335 1937 Pirates 126 469 151 5 71 72 54 22 7 .322 1938 Pirates 148 541 174 7 88 68 104 21 14 .322 1939 Pirates 152 595 182 6 94 62 70 20 12 .306 1940 Pirates 156 594 178 7 113 95 88 25 12 .300 1941 Pirates 106 374 118 6 69 38 50 13 8 .316 1942 Dodgers 128 495 137 2 82 49 51 17 8 .277 1943 Dodgers 149 610 186 5 112 66 60 13 20 .305 1947 Dodgers 64 126 41 2 24 25 27 11 4 .325 1948 Dodgers 65 123 30 3 19 22 21 8 0 .244 Totals 14 Years 1817 6622 2103 96 1173 926 937 276 118 .318