Ed Hearn was 25 when he finally got his shot in the big leagues, and, as life would have it, he won a World Series later that year.
The following spring, at 26, the Mets’ backup catcher was traded for one of the best pitchers in New York history — and, in turn, helped complete one of the most reviled transactions in Kansas City Royals history. It also was that season, 1987, when his baseball life effectively ended.
Six years later — after battling disease, undergoing his first kidney transplant and dealing with the mood-altering medication keeping him alive — he tried to take his real life, too.
Those are the things most people don’t see when they think about the spring training trade of David Cone, considered one of the most lopsided deals baseball had ever seen.
But that doesn’t tell the whole story, either. It was Hearn who, with the help of his beloved wife, Tricia, a hospital nurse from Lindenhurst, came back from the brink of suicide to help others struggling with life and death.
For those down in Port St. Lucie, Florida, a few months back, at Mets fantasy camp, he was the guy catching Dwight Gooden for six innings despite his hip replacement.
And it’s Hearn — now 58, living in Shawnee, Kansas — who can look back on the struggles in between with a measure of gratitude and hope.
He has survived skin cancer twice, two more kidney transplants, sleep apnea and a slew of other hardships. But at the same time, he’s established himself as a premier motivational speaker and author, all in an attempt to live in line with a longtime belief that life is as good as the good you do to others.
“When we think outside of ourselves and do things for other people, it comes back to us,” he said last week. “When you go through [things], it’ll either grind you up or polish you up . . . I’ve been polished up and because of that, I’ve been able to turn the things I went through to something positive.”
That means he doesn’t mind talking about the things that so many athletes prefer not to discuss: How hard it is after a dream ends, what it’s like to have your name plastered in the newspaper (and not favorably), and the way depression can take hold and not let go.
He doesn’t mind, but he’d rather talk about Tricia, whom he credits with saving his life over and over.
She’s the reason, he said, he was polished, not ground up. She’s now taking care of her dad, who’s seriously ill, and her brother, who just got admitted to the hospital. Before that, it was Ed, and then their son, Cody, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma at 17 (he’s 24 now and cancer-free, according to Ed, but lives with the aftereffects of chemotherapy treatment).
Tricia’s always taking care of someone, he said.
“Physically, I still struggle, and I would have given up mentally, but I didn’t because of her,” Hearn said. “The best medicine I’m able to take and have available is to touch other people’s lives . . . but none of that would have been possible without the love, support and encouragement of my Tricia, my Long Island girl.”
CAREER CUT SHORT
Hearn’s rookie year was as memorable as they come: He backed up Gary Carter, became something of a fan favorite in his own right and gave indications that he could be a legitimate starting catcher. By the time the Cone trade was coming together, Hearn was of two minds: He loved the Mets’ potential but really wanted to start, and working with the Royals’ young and talented staff was the chance of a lifetime.
Meanwhile, Cone had his chance to make his mark on the Mets’ starting rotation, and the organization was smitten.
On March 27, 1987, Cone and Chris Jelic packed their bags for Mets camp and Hearn, Rick Anderson and Mauro Gozzo moved on to the Royals. Cone went on to be a five-time All- Star, a five-time World Series champion and a Cy Young winner and pitched a perfect game for the Yankees. Anderson pitched in only 13 more major-league games, Gozzo pitched in 48 over six years, and Hearn tore his rotator cuff, ending his season six games into the year.
He played in seven games the year after that, but the road back from surgery was arduous. Finally, in 1990, he felt he was truly healthy and ready to compete — only to see that year’s work stoppage cost him his chance. Hearn retired and sold insurance.
“I was very, very close to coming back," he said. “I was told by the Royals that I had a great spring, but they had to make decisions.”
Tricia Hearn’s voice is a little tired on this day — her sick father and brother weigh heavy on her mind, and she works as a nurse with the VA, too — but still, she speaks with conviction about coming to the aid of others.
From her days as a Long Island nurse — when she was set up with Hearn — to now, she has embodied some level of caretaker, both professionally and personally. She does not think this is incredible, she said — frankly, some days, it can be exhausting, but it’s also part of a series of pivotal choices that have allowed her family to survive.
And now she uses her husband’s story to help others, including those who are contemplating suicide — thoughts of doing it themselves, or plagued by the thoughts of loved ones who have.
“You have to choose to go on, you have to choose life,” she said, telling of a conversation she had just had with a struggling veteran. “I use [Ed’s] story every day . . . Just because people appear ‘normal’ doesn’t mean they’re not going through suffering.”
The years were hard after Ed lost his baseball job, and health problems cropped up, one after another. Tricia stayed by his side throughout — making it clear that when she married her husband in 1987, she wasn’t marrying a pro ballplayer, but Ed Hearn the southern gentleman from Florida.
“I think that health problems will either draw you closer or break you,” she said. “I’m one of those people, it isn’t going to break me. I won’t let it.”
That proved to be pivotal when the medication he took after his transplant caused side effects that included depression and mood swings, both of which hit Hearn hard.
One day in 1993, when Tricia wasn’t home, he went to the basement of their home and pulled out a .357 Magnum and fed a bullet into the chamber. “I didn’t want to fight. I wanted to quit,” he said.
Then he thought of Tricia and his faith in God. He put the gun back down and began the long climb up the stairs.
Three days later, his buddy Dave Lindstrom, a former Kansas City Chiefs player, asked him for a big favor: A guest speaker at the Rotary Club had bailed, and he asked if Ed could fill in. “I said, ‘Dave, I really don’t feel good,’ ” Hearn said.
Lindstrom pressed, saying, “All you’d have to do is tell your story.”
And Hearn did.
Afterward, Hearn said, the president of the Rotary Club gave him a business card and told him he should do this sort of thing regularly. Hearn, though, still was in the depths of his battle and didn’t get back to him for six months. Finally, he did. One speech became another and another and then another. And then it became a livelihood.
He’s since earned the certified speaking profession designation from the National Speakers Association. “There are emails I have in a file, they say, ‘You saved my life,’ ” he said. “I feel very, very humbled.”
ROYALTY WITH METS
As part of a 150-year retrospective, the Kansas City Star ran a two-page spread on the biggest mistakes in the city’s history, and Hearn saw that he’d been listed at No. 4, under “The Ed Hearn Trade: Too Unbelievable.” The lead paragraph in another Star article from 1997: “Ed Hearn. The name makes Royals fans cringe.”
“I tell people I was one of the best trades in Mets history,” he said with a little laugh.
Hearn is one of the few people to have ever won a championship at all levels of pro baseball. “Four consecutive — Single-A, Double-A, Triple-A [and the World Series],’’ he said. “Then they trade me, and they haven’t won a World Series since.”
It’s an affectionate joke, in the truest sense. He still has strong ties to the Mets and looks back on that rollicking 1986 team with fondness (he tended to stay away from the team’s more risqué pastimes, he said). Hearn still thinks about that parade, how he saw people hanging out of buildings, and though he couldn’t hear them individually, he could see each one mouthing “Let’s Go Mets!”
“We were kings,” Hearn said.
As for everything after, there’s really no escaping being the guy in the David Cone trade, or having a promising baseball career stall, but hey, Hearn was a catcher first of all. All these years later, he’s still proving he can handle the tough breaks.