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12/31/08 11:46 AM EST

Vaughn gets first crack at Hall ballot

Slugger piled up 355 homers during his 15-year career

SAN DIEGO -- It was September 1998 and the Padres, while enjoying a comfortable lead in the National League West, weren't exactly priming themselves for the playoffs with a strong final month of the regular season.

The Padres were just 8-15 entering the final game of the regular season in Arizona and general manager Kevin Towers was a little concerned, even with a playoff berth in the bag. Then Greg Vaughn took care of his worries with one swing.

Vaughn drilled his 50th home run of the season, a two-run shot in the eighth inning to give the Padres the victory and, more important to Towers, much-needed momentum going into the postseason, where they advanced to the World Series.

"We hadn't been playing well in September, but that home run really ignited us," Towers said recently. "Vaughnie hit some big home runs for us."

Vaughn, who is on the ballot for the Hall of Fame for the first time, made hitting home runs look easy during a 15-year career that saw him hit 355 dingers in 15 seasons with Milwaukee, San Diego, Cincinnati, Tampa Bay and Colorado from 1989-2003.

Vaughn was a four-time All-Star and finished fourth in the MVP vote in the National League during that blissful Padres run in 1998 that saw them advance to the World Series for only the second time in franchise history.

Now, Vaughn will get his first crack at Cooperstown.

A candidate must get 75 percent of the vote to gain election, with former Red Sox slugger Jim Rice (72.2 percent), former Expos and Cubs outfielder Andre Dawson (65.9 percent) and former Twins ace Bert Blyleven (61.9 percent) standing as the top three returning vote-getters.

Rickey Henderson, whose career spanned 25 years and nine teams, headlines the newcomers to the 2009 Hall of Fame ballot. Henderson, who has never announced his retirement, last played for the Dodgers in 2003. The 1990 American League MVP is the all-time leader in runs scored (2,295), stolen bases (1,406) and is second in walks (2,190).

Live coverage of the Hall of Fame's announcement on Jan. 12 can be seen on MLB.com.

Towers, for his part, will always have a special place in his heart for the 1998 team, one that included Tony Gwynn, Wally Joyner, Steve Finley and Vaughn in the same lineup. And he'll always remember the monster home runs Vaughn hit, even at roomy Qualcomm Stadium.

"He made Qualcomm look small ... those home runs he hit, they weren't wall-scrapers. It was a different sound when a ball came off his bat," Towers said.

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.