Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh, Allegheny County
Hall of Famer Arky Vaughan played shortstop for the Pirates for most of the 1930s.
Awards: Baseball Hall of Fame
Praised as the number two shortstop in Major League Baseball history, Joseph Floyd Vaughan, better known as “Arky,” spent only one year playing minor league ball before being recruited by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1932. His best year was 1935 when he set batting and slugging records that still exist for the team today. Traded to the Dodgers in 1942, Vaughn remained with that team until 1944 and then returned to them for the 1947 and 1948 seasons. He died in a boating accident in 1952. Vaughn was elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1985.
Joseph Floyd Vaughan was born in Clifty, Arkansas on March 9, 1912, to parents Robert and Laura Vaughan. Though he lived there for only a short time, as his family moved during his infancy, Vaughan quickly picked up his family’s Arkansas accent and was most commonly known as “Arky” after his home state. One of six children, Vaughan grew up in Fullerton, California where his father worked on oilfields and he was a praised high school athlete. Many colleges desired Vaughan for his football talents. Vaughan spent one minor league season with the Wichita, Kansas Aviators after signing a contract in 1931. He batted .338 while with the affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates, after which Vaughan was signed to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1932. Though still a rookie, Vaughan’s baseball career really gained momentum at Forbes Field as he became the Pirate’s starting shortstop. Through the seasons of 1933 to 1935, Vaughan hit over 90 home runs. In 1935, Vaughan set the batting record of .385 and the slugging record of .607, for the National League as well as the Pirates. His .385 record became a 20th century National League shortstop record. Vaughan’s success immediately drew critical comparison to that of Honus Wagner, a past Pittsburgh shortstop and one of the five original inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Though Vaughan’s batting averages came close to those of Wagner’s, Vaughan was shy of Wagner’s tremendous legacy as a fielder. At Briggs Stadium in Detroit, on July 8, 1941, Vaughan became the first player to hit two home runs at an All-Star game. He was outperformed only by American League player Ted Williams, who hit a three-run homer in the ninth inning. Vaughan remained with the Pittsburgh Pirates through 1941 and played in a total of nine All-Star games in his career. Though Vaughan’s statistics were excellent, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ record was actually going downhill, and despite his two All-star home runs earlier that year, Vaughan was traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers. Playing for the seasons of 1942 and 1943, Vaughan retired for three years but returned to the Dodgers for the 1947 and 1948 seasons. The normally gentle and reserved Vaughan was reported to have lost his cool only twice. Dick Bartell, known as “Rowdy Richard” for his belligerence, told the press he would seek revenge after being hit in the head by Vaughan’s double play attempt. Before Bartell had the chance to seek such revenge, Vaughan accosted him and suggested that they settle their differences under the stands before the game. Bartell backed down, but it was Dodger manager Leo Durocher who really broke Vaughan’s even temper. The Dodger clubhouse was filled with the tension of an argument between Durocher and player Bobo Newsome. Finally, Vaughan stormed out of the house after handing back his rolled up uniform and hurling a few choice words to Durocher. The rest of the team was supportive of Vaughan, and their relationships with Durocher were strained the rest of the season. Vaughan remained uninvolved with baseball from 1944 to 1947, living on his California ranch. Durocher was suspended in 1947 as a result of his affiliations with people involved in organized crime. Vaughan would rejoin the Dodgers in 1947. After his final game on September 22, 1948, Vaughan retired from the Dodgers and the major leagues. Deciding to play closer to his home, Vaughan played on the Pacific Coast League for the San Francisco Seals. He only played for the 1949 season before hanging up his shortstop uniform for good. Vaughan’s lifetime MLB batting average, total number of runs scored divided by total number of outs, was .318, which at the time put him as the second best MLB shortstop of that time, second to Honus Wagner’s average of .328. Interestingly, both Wagner and Vaughan set their shortstop records with the Pittsburgh Pirates. In all of his 14 MLB seasons, Vaughan batted under .300 only twice. On August 30, 1952, at the age of 40, Vaughan drowned in a boating accident. Fishing with a friend on Lake Lot near Eagleville, California, Vaughan’s boat was capsized by an abrupt storm. In attempting to save his friend who could not swim, both Vaughan and his friend were overtaken by the water and drowned. A witness said Vaughan’s boat was 75 feet from shore. Vaughan was survived by his wife Margaret Vaughan and his four children. Vaughan was included in the book The 100 Greatest Baseball Players of All Time by Lawrence Ritter and Donald Honig, in 1981. In 1985, Vaughan was nominated and inducted in the National Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee. This was quite the feat as the committee usually prefers to induct living stars rather than deceased ones. According to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, one of the nine other players who signed to the Pirates in 1932, Pitcher Rip Sewell said the following of Vaughan: I’d say he was as good a man at short as I ever saw. He could do it all. And he was a good hitter. He could hit for power and he could hit for average. And could he ever fly around those bases! I never saw anybody who could go from first to third or from second to home faster than Vaughan. Like we used to say, when he went around second, his hip pocket was dipping sand. That’s how sharp he cut those corners.