- Jim Caple, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
- 0 Shares
Editor's note: On April 7, 1989, Paramount Pictures released "Major League," one of baseball's most popular movies and a permanent part of the game's culture. Two sequels were not nearly as popular, but as we imagine in the following story, the characters' lives still have some potentially interesting plot twists in case there is yet another installment in the franchise.
The most unbelievable season in baseball history began 25 years ago today in front of a few thousand quiet, unenthusiastic fans at Cleveland's Municipal Stadium. (Or was it Milwaukee's County Stadium?)
Cleveland had already suffered through decades of disappointment, last-place finishes and losing seasons. But in 1989, new owner Rachel Phelps was determined to field an even worse team in the hope that attendance would fall below 800,000 and trigger an escape clause allowing her to move the team to Miami. Thus she assembled a motley roster of has-beens, never-weres, ex-convicts and at least one certifiably deceased player -- plus a manager who sold white-wall tires in the offseason.
Yet those Cuyahoga Warriors defied her wishes to somehow rise from last place and win the American League East title. Heroes Rick Vaughn, Jake Taylor and Willie Mays Hayes capped off their astonishing year by beating the Yankees on the final day of the season in front of a sellout crowd of passionate fans at Cleveland Muni.
Although often disputed by baseball historians and the official records -- the only Rick Vaughn listed on baseball-reference.com never played in the majors or the California Penal League -- Cleveland's legendary season was nonetheless recorded for posterity in director David S. Ward's wildly popular documentary "Major League."
What has become of that magical Cleveland team and the surrounding characters since their 1989 season ended in true Hollywood fashion? We caught up with them in this scrupulously researched investigative piece: "Major League Quatre: Where The Hell Are They Now?"
Pitcher Rick Vaughn
Blessed with Nolan Ryan's arm and Ted Kluszewski's fashion sense, the "Wild Thing" became one of the league's dominant pitchers when Cleveland manager Lou Brown fitted him with prescription glasses in May 1989. Vaughn let success get to his head the next season, however, worrying about his image and even naming his pitches. (This development is explored in greater detail in Ward's less popular follow-up documentary, "Major League II.")
Vaughn grew increasingly temperamental and ineffective over the next several seasons, setting the major league record for most home runs allowed by a pitcher in 1996.
"That was a nightmare," Vaughn recalled for ESPN.com's crack team of investigators. "I bought out the entire left-field bleacher section in Anaheim so that I would be assured of keeping the record-setting baseball. I planned to make a fortune selling the ball, but it didn't work out. One, the record-setting home run was hit to right field. And two, no one wanted the ball anyway. Not even Todd McFarlane."
As Vaughn's career and life began to spiral downward, he became hooked on many drugs, including greenies, caffeine, Flintstones vitamins and tiger blood. In fact, the former juvenile delinquent and car thief still holds the major league record for most trips to rehab (17). His career finally ended in 2004 when the Mets released him in the wake of a scandal that filled the back pages of New York tabloids for weeks. Vaughn, who had unknowingly slept with ex-Cleveland teammate Roger Dorn's wife in 1989, supposedly had sexual relations with Mets teammate Kris Benson's wife, who had famously threatened to sleep with the entire team.
Vaughn is currently on a national book tour for his New York Times best-seller, "Winning: How Being A Wild Thing Made Me And Cleveland Winners."
"I'm cleaning up my life," Vaughn said. "I've been clean and sober for much of the past week."
Manager Lou Brown
After leading Cleveland to its thrilling division title in 1989, Brown suffered a heart attack in 1990 (as chronicled in the "Major League II" documentary). He came back the next season and took Cleveland to the World Series in 1995 and 1997.
Brown was fired after the 1997 World Series because he chose to leave Vaughn in the bullpen for the final out of Game 7 and instead brought in Jose Mesa, who blew the lead and the game.
"Like I've explained over and over, I did that because Vaughn was stoned out of his mind, had smashed his eyeglasses in a temper tantrum and also had a 7.62 ERA," Brown said. "But Cleveland fans always tell me they still would have preferred him to Mesa."
Catcher Jake Taylor
The veteran catcher achieved lasting fame in Cleveland by bunting home the winning run to clinch the 1989 division title and augmented it by filling in for heart-stricken manager Brown midway through the 1990 season to lead the team to its first World Series since 1948 (see "Major League II").
Naturally, Cleveland lost. Taylor then retired from baseball to get his knees replaced and fulfill his post-career goal of marrying his ex-girlfriend Lynn Wells and raising an Olympic swimmer.
"Jake Jr. is a three-time Olympic silver medalist," the proud father said. "He was only 14 when he finished second in the 200 IM at the 2004 Athens Games, just 18 when he was second at the 2008 Beijing Games and 22 when he was second in the 2012 London Games.
"After all our close calls, we really want a Taylor to finally become a true champion rather than finish just short, so we're praying hard that Michael Phelps stays retired."
Center fielder Willie Mays Hayes
The speedy outfielder helped turn the team into a winner in 1989, but his playing career was derailed by an attempt at a film career. He was soon replaced at the top of Cleveland's batting order by the faster and much better Kenny Lofton.
After his film career tanked (his biggest role was as a double for Wesley Snipes in the 1996 movie "The Fan"), Hayes returned to baseball in 1997 and served as a designated pinch runner for Cleveland when it again went to the World Series. (He was picked off.) After changing teams several times, Hayes finally retired in 2004 while with the Expos.
"I'd already lived through one team owner who was determined to run the franchise into the ground, alienate a loyal fan base, salt the earth and move to Miami," Hayes recalled. "I didn't need to play for Jeffrey Loria too."
Outfielder Pedro Cerrano
The power-hitting Cuban outfielder who worshipped and then abandoned the voodoo idol Jobu converted to Buddhism the following season and helped Cleveland to the World Series (yep, "Major League II"). When Cleveland failed to win the title, Cerrano converted to Christianity and his career picked up again. As he aged and began to struggle with the curveball and then the fastball, along with sliders, splitters, changeups and even hanging curves, he subsequently converted to Judaism (1996), Islam (1997), Hinduism (1998), Krishna (1999), back to voodoo (1999) and Scientology (2000).
Cerrano currently is a televangelist with former Cleveland teammate Eddie Harris and longtime Durham Bulls season-ticket holder Annie Savoy on a Sunday morning religious show where the three teach followers how to hit the curveball, throw an effective greaseball and breathe through their eyelids like Fernando Valenzuela and the lava lizards of the Galapagos Islands.
"I've finally found a religion that offers permanent peace and serenity," Cerrano said. "Like Annie says, I've tried them all, I really have, and the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball."
Third baseman Roger Dorn
The prima donna third baseman dove more enthusiastically into high finance than he ever did for a ground ball. He signed a free-agent deal after the 1989 season worth enough money to buy the Cleveland team from owner Rachel Phelps then later bought the Minnesota Twins (as detailed in "Major League II" and the even less popular and also vigorously disputed third documentary, "Major League: Back to the Minors").
Dorn started an investment company along with a glossy magazine directed at millionaire athletes and celebrities. Needing more money to pay support to his 13 illegitimate children (one of whom is now a psychic detective in Santa Barbara) as well as the mortgage on the $14 million estate he bought from Alex Rodriguez, he became involved in several shady business deals. Among those was purchasing a minority share of the Mets.
Convicted for his involvement in the Bernie Madoff scandal, Dorn was sentenced to two years for embezzlement. He received an additional six months for failing to report income from signing autographs at card shows.
"I lost my family, I lost my home, I lost my savings, I lost my team, and I lost my reputation," the balding Dorn said. "And worst of all, I lost my hair."
Yankees first baseman Clu Haywood
The nasty, unpopular Yankee won the triple crown in 1989, though the Mitchell Report later revealed he had used performance-enhancing drugs allegedly obtained from Brian McNamee, a strength and conditioning coach and part-time personal trainer affiliated with the club. Haywood denied the charge and said that even if it was true, any PEDs he might have taken would have been offset by the performance-destroying drugs he obtained from Vaughn.
Despite Haywood's denials, Yankees manager Joe Torre refused to stand up for him, sparking the famous New York Post back-page headline: "Joe-less Clu."
Announcer Harry Doyle
Famous for his trademark "Just a bit outside" call, Doyle received the Hall of Fame's Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting excellence in 1999. The Hall, though, immediately stripped him of the award after he showed up at the induction ceremony drunk and delivered an acceptance speech filled with profanity and crude remarks about his fellow inductees.
"I simply said that Nolan Ryan was &@#%ing overrated because he lost 292 games and never even won a Cy Young Award," said Doyle, currently the voice of the Albuquerque Isotopes. "He had lost so many games and was so old by the time he was a free agent before our 1989 season that not even Rachel Phelps was interested in him."
Doyle's broadcasting partner, Monte, declined to comment. We would further pursue his story and those of other characters from that memorable season, but we are too busy working on our 40th anniversary investigation of what happened to the Bad News Bears, which will be posted in the spring of 2016.
"Major League" was released 25 years ago. Here's a good guess at what's become of Rick Vaughn, Jake Taylor, Roger Dorn and the rest of the boys in the last quarter-century.