Baseball season is just around the corner, and thoughts of local fans turn to our beloved Buccos.
Hope springs eternal for Pirate fans. We have suffered through losing droughts before.
Do you remember the “Rickey-Dink” Bucs of the 1950s?
But fans take comfort with the knowledge that the Bucs did win a handful of world championships over the past hundred-plus years: 1909, 1925, 1960, 1971 and 1979.
Additionally, the Bucs were graced with many Hall of Fame players over the years. Their greatest was one of the first five elected: Local (Carnegie, Allegheny County) hero
Honus Wagner, arguably the greatest shortstop ever to play the game.
The Bucs have been blessed with several noteworthy slick-fielding (and some respected hitters) playing at shortstop, including Jack Wilson, Gene Alley, Dick Groat and the second greatest Pirate shortstop (after Honus): Arky Vaughan.
Back in the 1980s, I asked my dad who his favorite Pirate was growing up in Pittsburgh. His answer was quick and decisive: Arky Vaughan, who played shortstop for the Pirates for
10 seasons, from 1932-1941.
Dad, who was born in 1928, literally grew up watching Arky play for the Bucs at Forbes Field. I never asked Dad why Vaughan was his favorite, I just assumed he was a good player.
I did not realize how good he was until I started looking at his statistics and records, including one that still stands: The highest single-season Pirate batting average (.385 in 1935) of all time. In fact, Vaughn hit .300 or better his entire time in Pittsburgh.
Arky Vaughan was a remarkable ballplayer and athlete. He was only 20 years old when he joined the Bucs as a rookie.
Blessed with good speed, range, batting eye, offensive power and clutch hitting, Vaughn had it all. The Pirates even hired the legend himself, Wagner as a coach to mentor Vaughan to refine his fielding ability.
Add to that, Vaughan was a noteworthy individual as well. He commanded the respect and admiration of teammates and opposing players throughout his career.
A quiet, unassuming and loyal individual, Vaughan was a player’s player.
Former teammates such as pitcher Rip Sewell spoke of Vaughan in superlatives in every facet of his game.
Legendary sportswriter Red Smith called Arky “baseball’s most superbly forgotten man.”
And former Brooklyn Dodgers’ rookie Jackie Robinson remembered Vaughan’s kindness years later.
“He was one fellow who went out of his way to be nice to me when I was a rookie,” Robinson recalled.
The one thing that bugged Dad was that despite Arky Vaughan’s many accomplishments he was never voted into the Hall of Fame. Finally, in 1985, the Veteran’s Committee corrected that gross injustice. I was happy for Arky and for Dad. Justice finally prevailed for the quiet man from Arkansas.
Vaughan died tragically at the age of 40. An avid outdoorsman, Vaughn died trying to save a friend from drowning when he capsized the boat they were fishing in. While 5-feet-10 and 175 pounds, Vaughan’s much larger friend panicked and pulled both men underwater.
After Vaughan was voted into the Hall, Arky’s family received a handwritten letter from a former high school teammate who played football with Arky in California. He spoken in glowing terms of Arky.
The letter writer was former President Richard Nixon.
Arky Vaughan had fans from all walks of life.
Bill Eggert is a Johnstown resident. He writes an occasional column.