Reds Then & Now: Greg Vaughn

When you spend just one season with a professional team, it's hard to be remembered. Players come and go with such regularity that it's hard to recall let alone get attached to someone who suited up for your favorite team, unless he spent a majority of his career there or was part of a championship team.

But there is an exception to every rule, and Greg Vaughn is an exception.

The former slugger's lone stint in Cincinnati came in 1999. The Reds hadn't made the playoffs since 1995 and were coming off two consecutive losing seasons, so the trade for what was viewed as a "rental" player like Vaughn came as a surprise to fans. And to Vaughn.

"A week before that, the Padres basically came out and said those words 'You're not going anywhere.' In hindsight, that means 'Pack your stuff, you're on the market.'

Vaughn continued, "I had nothing to be bitter at the Reds for, I should have been thankful because they wanted me. It was more I was just upset or bitter at the Padres. To be the only player in history to hit 50 homers and get traded when you did everything you could to warrant staying at home and staying with that team."

After a monster season individually and a World Series appearance, Vaughn arrived with some fanfare, but quickly dispelled any preconceived notions that come, often unjustified, with being one of the higher payed players on a team. The 33-year-old's work ethic was that of a rookie trying to make the roster, an approach he learned early in his career from his peers. Teammates like Dave Parker and Willie Randolph were just a couple of the many former players he credits for shaping him into the player and person he became.

"There are a lot of ways to skin a cat, but there is only one way to play, and everything else is wrong. You don't play a certain way when you're hitting .350 and another way when youre hitting .150. Adversity defines your character."

Vaughn was a driving force of that '99 team, hitting 45 home runs with 118 RBIs. He was the NL Player of the Month for September when he hit 14 home runs and had 33 RBIs, helping catapult the Reds into postseason contention. They finished the regular season 96-66, just one game shy of the National League Central-winning Houston Astros. They then fell to the New York Mets in a one-game playoff for the NL wild card berth, ending the Reds' postseason aspirations.

Despite falling short, it is nothing but fond memories for Vaughn when reminiscing about 1999. There is genuine excitement in his voice when talking about that team and his teammates.

"That was one of the most tight-knit teams that I've ever been on," he said. "On and off the field. We just marched to our own drum and it was special. But I can't take the credit for it. (Barry) Larkin is Mr. Cincinnati. And also, the young guys on that team, you gotta tip your hat to them because they were willing to listen, embrace it, and get better."

But baseball can't be all business all the time. Vaughn and his mates seemed to find that perfect balance of business and fun. And boy did they have fun.

"Each day, each minute, someone was always doing something. No one had a defined pecking order, and no one was off limits. It was non-stop laughter every single day. I mean it was just a great, fun atmosphere. It was one of those atmospheres where you enjoyed coming to work, and every day was hilarious.

"It was just a really, really good time for me and it just stinks that I only got to experience it one time, but to experience it was something that I will cherish the rest of my life."

Aside from his play on the field, what fans might remember most about Vaughn was the infamous facial hair controversy. The Reds had a strict, longstanding no facial hair policy that former owner Marge Schott was a big proponent of. But they traded for a player whose goatee a big part of his look.

"It was probably like 5:45 in the morning and my phone rings at home, and she goes `Greg honey this is Marge Schott. I just wanted to say you got traded to the Cincinnati Reds.' I was like…`hello?' It's not April 1st, you know, so I'm like what's going on," he said with a laugh.

Vaughn continued, "She says `I just want to say congratulations and welcome to the Reds.' So I was like, `Wow, thank you.' She says 'we have one problem though. There's no facial hair.' This is our first conversation, and it was no later than like 6 a.m. or so. I was like huh? You just traded for me knowing I have a goatee and I can't wear it? So I'm trying to adjust to all the different emotions that I was going through, so I was like, `Uh, get your players back because I'm not shaving.'"

Eventually, everything worked out - the Reds kept their new slugger, and Vaughn kept his signature look.

"Thinking about the facial hair now that I'm older, with all the great players they had there, I don't know if it was my place to try to change it," Vaughn said. "If I could do it over, would I? I don't know, but you talk about all the great players that have played for the Reds organization, I probably should have shaved my goatee out of respect to those guys that donned that uniform before I did."

Today, Vaughn keeps in touch with many of his former Reds teammates and is even in a fantasy football league with a bunch of them. And of course the fun and constant ragging on one another that existed in the Cinergy Field clubhouse is still there.

But prior to 2016, Vaughn hadn't actually been back to Cincinnati since his playing days. He served as the honorary captain for Opening Day 2016 and made his first Redsfest appearance this past December.

"The welcome was unbelievable," Vaughn said. "If you would've told me I would have had that impact after one year, I would've never known."

These days Vaughn resides in Sacramento, helping coach baseball at Bradshaw Christian High School. The school's field has been named after him, in honor of Vaughn's donation to help build it. He has also goes to Spring Training for some of his former teams and teaches instructional ball.

When not around the game, he spends his downtime with a little TV, a little radio, and a whole lot of golf. But other than just playing golf as a hobby, Vaughn hosts a celebrity golf outing each year for a great cause. He works closely with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and Greg Vaughn's Grand Slam Golf Tournament raises funds that are donated to the JDRF to help strike out Type 1 Diabetes.