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Mudville: October 19, 2020 11:25 pm PDT
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Conquering Life’s Curves, Ed Hearn

“From the penthouse to the outhouse."

In 2020, the adjectives Mets fans use to describe their team generally cannot be printed on a family website.

However, there was a time when the words “Amazin’” and “Miracle” were natural prefixes to the word Mets.

There was a time when “Ya Gotta Believe” was a familiar chorus around the franchise. Mets fans haven’t been able to use those words since 2015 when talking about their play on the field, but any of them can be used to describe former Mets catcher Ed Hearn and the story of his life after baseball; the non-offensive adjectives, anyway.

Hearn, a key member of the historic 1986 Mets World Series championship team, joins Spitballin’ for a special two-part edition.

Today, we’ll cover his time with the franchise and growing up as a gifted athlete in South Florida.

Next Friday, we take a look at his heroic battle with multiple health ailments, a fight for his life that he still wages today, his honorable crusade to build character in our country and how he became one of the most respected public speakers in America.

Hearn’s inspirational speeches are dotted with phrases and sayings, some familiar and some you’ll hear for the first time.

All of them make perfect sense and Hearn has a way of weaving them together to draw a connection with his audience to inspire them.

He likes to say that the way you become a public speaker is a lot like the way one becomes a prostitute—more on that next week—and that you can always count the seeds in an apple, but you can’t count the number of apples in a seed.

Pres. Ronald Reagan hosts the 1986 New York Mets in the Rose Garden of the White House. Vice President George Bush, Mets owner Fred Wilpon, Gary Carter, Dwight Gooden, Howard Johnson, Bob Ojeda, Jesse Orosco, Rich Aguilera, Ed Hearn, Roger McDowell, Lee Mazzilli, (Photo By: /NY Daily News via Getty Images)

Another saying prevalent in Hearn’s speeches that he has gone from the penthouse to the outhouse.

That might be more familiar than the hooker/public speaker angle, but it’s just as relevant to Hearn’s story, nonetheless.

Hearn’s trip to the penthouse culminated as a 25-year old catcher on one of the most storied World Series winners in baseball history, the 1986 Mets.

His trip to the outhouse began shortly after as an unfathomable amount of health problems set in just as his baseball career ended with an injury.

This week, we’re headed to the penthouse, so join us as we go Spitballin’ with Ed Hearn to remember the good times of the 1986 Mets and growing up in South Florida.

“ I started when I was about 5 or 6 years old ” – Ed Hearn

Thanks for joining me today, always a thrill to talk to a former Met with a World Series ring. There aren’t many. I wanted to start off at the beginning and learn how you got your start playing baseball as a kid.

I started when I was about five or six years old in tee ball then moved up through Little League down in Southeast Florida. We played in the Babe Ruth and Little League system.

There wasn’t any of this travel stuff where you play 100 games a year. People often say, “You grew up in Florida, you play year-round baseball.” That’s not true, I played everything.

The thing that really got me going in sports competitively was actually Punt, Pass and Kick.

My dad took me one year before I was eligible and asked if I was interested. My parents expected us to do the best we could in everything we did.

Punt, Pass and Kick was the first competition where my dad taught me how important it was to just go and compete.

I learned that becoming good at sports or anything else was done through preparation, practice and making adjustments.

My dad and I would practice year-round for Punt, Pass and Kick and I was very successful.

We seemed to have gotten away from kids playing multiple sports as they grow up, but I think there’s a movement to avoid specialization and get kids to play all of the sports growing up, the way you, I, and basically anyone over the age of 40 did.

Yes, I went to sports camps in the summer.

Bob Griese, Miami Dolphins quarterback, had a sports camp that I went to for three years. Former University of Florida coach Ray Graves and Steve Spurrier had sports camps that I went to.

Little League had their camps and I would do all of it. And my parents would support all of this for me, my brother and sister.

They had a ma’ and pa’ print shop they started with a $500 loan, got married at 18. They pinched every penny to support us kids.

Without them, there’s absolutely no doubt that me, my brother and sister would not have had the opportunities to do the things we did.

They allowed us to have the successes we did growing up that led to the success we had in adulthood.

Did you have any favorite players or teams growing up?

Well, my aspiration as a youngster was to become a quarterback.

I idolized Bob Griese and followed the great championship teams of the Dolphins with Griese and Don Shula.

As a kid I knew several of those guys from being a kid in their camps.

From a baseball standpoint, my favorite team was the Cincinnati Reds.

My idol, without a doubt, was Johnny Bench. On the field I wanted to look like Johnny Bench, I wanted to hit like Johnny Bench,

I wanted to throw like Johnny Bench. I watched every move he made. I first met him in Spring Training one year when I was with the Mets and it was a real thrill.

When we shook hands, his hand swallowed my hand. He had those massive hands that could palm seven balls.

Since then, I have gotten to know him pretty decent and a year or two ago got to speak at an event with him in Wichita where they give out the NCAA Catcher of the Year Award.

I was the keynote speaker for that event and we got to spend some real good quality time together. In my house, we had three signed jerseys that were mounted and framed and each had a little gold engraved plaque.

The first one on the left was Johnny Bench and the plaque said, “Daddy’s Hero.” The middle was Gary Carter’s signed jersey and it said, “Daddy’s Mentor.” Then the third jersey was mine from the 1986 World Series and the plaque just said, “Daddy’s.”

Those are some great role models in your parents and also the people you looked up to in pro sports. How did that play a role in your dreams to become a pro athlete?

I don’t think I ever really thought I was going to make it, but you have those dreams. I wanted to be a solid, good guy that was a role model that others could look up to, like I looked up to those guys.

One guy in particular who made a big impression on me from a faith standpoint was Norm Evans, Miami Dolphins All-Pro tackle. He signed my first autograph.

It was a muddy day in Coral Gables, Florida and all these guys were running past me.

I had this brand new autograph book and this big old guy muddies up my book, writes his name and something under it. On the hour and a half drive back home, I said, “Dad, look here, this guy wrote something next to his name. What’s this say?”

My dad told me it was a Bible verse and that I oughta look it up when I got home, so I did.

To this day, I still remember it.

It was Romans 1, Verse 16, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ.”

So, I did dream of being a professional athlete, what kids don’t? But I also dreamt of one day being a guy that kids can look up to.

Jumping ahead to high school when you were now established as a legitimate pro prospect as a catcher. You ended up being one of the top high school catchers drafted when the Phillies picked you in the fourth round of the 1978 MLB Draft. What were your expectations going into the draft?

Well, my freshman year of high school I was on a split session schedule and I went in the afternoon, so I couldn’t play baseball because I couldn’t go to practice.

I was able to play golf because that’s more of an individual sport.

I was good at golf too and for years, my coach tried to convince me and my parents that I should give up football and baseball to focus on golf. That was truly my game and coach was just convinced that I was something special at golf.

My sophomore year I started to get scouted quite a bit. Andy Seminick [member of the 1950 Phillies Whiz Kids team] the scout who eventually signed me was with me from my sophomore year on.

By the time I was a senior, there were probably 15-20 scouts at every game.

The ironic thing was the first half of my senior year I was hitting about .170. It was just crazy. I was panicking.

Now you never want to hear this from anybody about your hitting, especially from your mom, but she said to me, “Eddie, you oughta get your eyes checked.” We can laugh about it today, but she was right! I went to the eye doctor and had a stigmatism, so I got glasses and everything turned around. But by then, most of the scouts were gone.

I knew that I was highly regarded as a catcher and hitter, but I feared I scared everyone off.

But as the season ended and they started having invitational tryout camps, Andy would tell me, “Don’t go to the Reds camp, don’t go to the Cardinals camp. You’re gonna get invited to everything, don’t go!”

I told him I had been terrible [during the high school season] and the scouts left.

Andy said, “Look, I didn’t leave and the Phillies are going to draft you in the top three or four rounds.” I said, “Andy, that makes me feel great, but I’m still going to go just in case.” He saw me one day in the parking lot going to a Reds camp and started yelling at me not to go.

He said, “Just go in there and hit a few ground balls. Don’t be hitting those bombs over the wall!” Of course, I ignored him, but it all worked out like he said.

Looking back at my high school career though, I had a bad virus between my junior and senior years. I think that was the beginning of my kidney problems.

They found something on my physical on the urine test and that could have even affected my vision.

So, you were overcoming obstacles long before the problems you faced after your playing career ended.

Honestly, I look back on all those years and what happened to me in high school. I look back at one year in Spring Training the people who made my glasses put the wrong prescription on each side of my glasses, they flipped the lenses and I couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn.

Through all of that and all the injuries I had as a minor leaguer, I should have never made it to the Majors.

But I just kept hanging in there.

The only thing I can say is that God had a plan for me.

I wanted to a big leaguer. I wanted a long career and wanted to make lots of money, but he had a different plan. Fortunately, that included a little opportunity to play in the Major Leagues, win a World Series ring in 1986, get traded to the Royals to get a starting job and that’s where it all fell apart.

Really, everything that happened after that trade, where everything fell apart, is what my story is all about. But you know, I could have played 15 years in the big leagues and I would not have even come close to impacting the amount of lives that I have had the opportunity to impact.

Not because of the Mets or the World Series, but that was part of it. The opportunities came not when I was in the penthouse with the World Series, but when I was in the outhouse and things were tough. That’s most important, making a difference in this world.

FLUSHING, NY - Jeffrey Leonard #20 of the San Francisco Giants scores a run against Ed Hearn #49 of the New York Mets during the game on June 1, 1986 at Shea Stadium in Flushing, New York. (Photo by B Bennett/Getty Images)

That’s amazing. Now, moving on to your Mets career. You were the catcher on that Single A Lynchburg Mets team in 1983 when Dwight Gooden came in as an 18-year old and struck out 300 batters in 191 innings. What did you see in Gooden as his catcher during that incredible season?

It was pretty phenomenal.

We produced 15 Major Leaguers off that team, and I split time with Greg Olson catching.

Dwight Gooden was definitely the most phenomenal talent on that team and there was a lot of talent on that ballclub. Doc was absolutely mind blowing.

Now I got to catch him, but I am just thinking how it would have been to try to hit off of him. I just can’t imagine how nasty that would have been to try to hit. He was 18 that year and I can’t imagine how it would have been for other guys who were 18 or 19 to try to hit against him.

The great thing about Doc is that he was a really great kid.

He’s still a really good guy with a big heart. He’s the prototype for someone who is such a good person who struggled with the challenges he ran into with drugs and alcohol. Doc was not a bad guy, he was a great guy and still is today.

He just struggles with the demons that come with drugs and addiction.

The rest of that team was just incredibly fun, Lenny Dykstra, Randy Milligan, to win 96 games in a minor league season was incredible.

You made it up to the Majors in 1986 and that was your only Major League season with the Mets, but I guess if you’re going to pick one season, that would be the one. I know a lot of the team stuff would be up there, but if you had to pick your own personal individual highlights of that season, what would they be?

My first game against the Dodgers in LA was special, even more so because my first two at bats I got two hits.

It was the NBC Game of the Week, this was before you had 42 channels covering every single game. Another positive memory was my first Major League home run was on Father’s Day and my parents had flown up from Florida to be there.

I hit a home run of Cecilio Guante who was a former nemesis in the minor leagues. He was tall, lanky and pretty nasty.

The grounds crew got the ball for me, so I was able to give it to my dad afterwards. I didn’t know that was gonna happen. All of a sudden, the ball shows up in the locker room and I gave it to dad after the game. That was really special. Those were two of my biggest highlights.

Of course, in August Gary Carter injured his thumb so I moved into the starting role.

All the headlines, probably Kevin Kernan too, wrote that this was the worst thing that could happen to the Mets, that Gary Carter went down. But it was fulfilling to come in after the doubleheader that Gary got hurt in.

I was surrounded by about 15 members of the media and they were asking if I could fill Gary’s shoes. I was like, “Heck no, nobody can fill that dude’s shoes!”

My job was to be Ed Hearn and if I could just be average Ed Hearn, we’re gonna be alright.

The way I looked at it was, “This is my team now.”

For as long as Gary was out, this is my team.

That’s the attitude a catcher has to have. I was just gonna give it the best shot I can. I am not gonna try to be Gary Carter, I’ll try to be Ed Hearn and we’re gonna be OK.

It’s funny, we ended up doing better than OK. We were playing great!

Gary was getting treatment in the training room towards the end of the 14 days and guys walked by and joked, “Hey Kid, don’t you think you should stay out a few more days?”

That really made him mad too!

Those are great memories.

Mets fans obviously have incredible memories on and off the field from that season. As a 12-year-old, I loved the Let’s Go Mets video and you had a big role in that. How did that all come about?

That was crazy.

There’s a picture of me and Rick Aguilera somewhere that I have and we’re sitting on the floor of the clubhouse and it’s the day they came and pitched this idea. I remember looking around at those guys faces and they were all thinking “What the heck? No. These guys are idiots.”

I am surprised we did it honestly.

But one guy said that it might be a good idea and then another said it would be fun. I was surprised and we had a lot of fun doing it.

Of course, it came off as cocky.

Once we realized it wasn’t something that was stupid or foolish, we got into it. I got a lot of play in it, playing the bat as a guitar and juggling.

My biggest memory from it was that there was a doubleheader and the film crew did a lot of the B-Roll during that game.

They shot the crowd going, “Let’s go Mets!” There was a guy on a bullhorn getting the whole stadium to chant it. I was underneath in the clubhouse, and that place was shaking. Clothes were rattling in the lockers. It was reverberating through the stands and through the walls into the locker room and it gave me goosebumps.

Experiencing that, the ride from Shea Stadium to the ticker tape parade and then being on the field when we clinched against the Cubs were three things that happened during the year that gave me goosebumps like that.

PITTSBURGH, PA - 1986: Catcher Ed Hearn of the New York Mets throws the ball back to the pitcher during a Major League Baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Three Rivers Stadium in 1986 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)

As a fan, I always had this question about the 1986 Mets. To me, you always seemed like a team of destiny. That somehow, you were always going to find a way to win it all. But there’s the narrative that if you don’t win Game 6 of the NLCS and you had to face Mike Scott in Game 7, you had no shot. To me, I always thought you would have found a way to win Game 7 if you needed to. Even if it was an unearned run or taking a 0-0 tie against the Astros bullpen. What are your thoughts on that potential Game 7 matchup with Mike Scott that didn’t materialize?

Man, Game 6 was just a great game.

It was sold out in the Astrodome and you could not talk to the guy next to you. You’d holler in his ear and he still couldn’t hear you.

It was amazing, 16 innings back and forth, the home run [Kevin] Bass hit off the foul pole, all of that was prototypical ’86 playoffs.

Of course, this is not the first time I’ve been asked this question and I have never said this to anybody. You said, as a fan you think we still would have come back to beat them. To be honest with you,

I have never said that at all. I don’t think we would have beaten him. That guy was so deep in our psyche. It was really bad. When we were home, I was the guy who found the scuffed baseballs.

They were tossing balls into our dugout and I was looking at them and realized they were all scuffed in the same spot. I showed Keith [Hernandez] and Davey [Johnson] and collected dozens of balls and we were all so into that.

So, I don’t think there was any way we could have beaten him, but I understand your mojo and like your confidence that we would overcome, because we always did. But that guy had us totally psyched out, right down to the best players on the team. And if any hitter on the 1986 team ever tells you otherwise,

I would like to hear about that.

This must be a mandatory question asked of any member of the ’86 Mets, but where were you during the rally and what was going through your head during Game 6 of the World Series?

There are so many storylines just about that inning that it’s crazy.

My friend Calvin Schiraldi, we played two and a half years together with the Mets, was their stopper. He came up in the second half of the year for the Red Sox and was just killing it. But I told the guys before the game,

I know Calvin and he’s a starting pitcher. He does not have the makeup to be the stopper, so we got a shot.

Never give up. If he’s in the game and we’re down, don’t give up. I gave that input before hand and I called it.

So, we get to the tenth inning and the wild pitch ties the score, sometimes people forget that. Now I told you earlier that I believed we wouldn’t have beat Mike Scott in Game 7 of the NLCS. I’ll tell you now, once we tied that score on the wild pitch, I guarantee that we were winning that game and going to play Game 7.

It was just a phenomenal playoff, the whole time. Game 7 we were behind again and came back.

Through all of this though, I just can’t imagine being you, being a fan of the New York Mets in that situation.

I just can’t imagine. It was probably crazier for you and fans twice your age that had been through some of the long, long years of losing.

Boston hadn’t won in so long too. It’s one thing for us players to be going through, but, and I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone this, but man what the fans were going through during that may have been worse for them than it was for us.

I think it’s worth noting that the excitement for people who were young like you were or people have been around since the early ‘60s it had to be incredible. Fans had seen so much loss and so many bad teams and then to have a dominating team like we were that year. Then it was all in our grips but was almost gone. As a player you’re focused on the task at hand and most of that other stuff is blanked out. I have heard so many people tell me where they were at, what they were doing and thinking, and I can’t remember it like that. Part of it being our job was that we had to be locked in and focused. You know it’s great, but we’re in the middle of a game.

We can’t jump around and dance in a college apartment watching on TV and have three more beers. We’re playing and focused, so I think or fans, the feeling of winning that game might have even been greater than it was for us, and that says a lot.

One final question about the Mets and 1986. That team is one of the most covered and examined teams in baseball history. Is there anything unique to your experience or about that team that isn’t reported often?

I’ll go with something known as The Curse of Ed Hearn. It’s something a writer brought up years back.

My first year with the Mets was 1983 in A Ball and we won a championship.

I moved up and we won one the next year in AA in ’84. In 1985, I was in AAA and we won a championship there too.

Then of course, there was 1986. I went through four levels of the franchise from A Ball to the Majors in four years and we won a championship each year.

Then they traded me to the Royals for David Cone, and they haven’t won since.

The Curse of Ed Hearn!

 

Next week we’ll take a look at the incredible story of Ed Hearn’s post-baseball life and how he overcame dozens of life-threatening physical ailments to become one of the leading motivational speakers in the country.

Hearn is the only professional athlete from the four major sports to receive the prestigious Certified Speaking Profession (CSP) designation from the National Speakers Association. He is the author of Conquering Life’s Curves – Baseball, Battles & Beyond and can be reached through his SpeakerHub page here: https://speakerhub.com/speaker/ed-hearn.  

Rocco is a baseball writer with too much time on his hands who lives in the dusty corners of Baseball Reference. He was one half of the battery for the 1986 Belleville Recreation Farm League Champion Indians. He likes early 20th century baseball nicknames, pullover polyester jerseys and Old Hoss Radbourn. He works as a College Athletics Director and his second book will be out in April 2021.

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