Ed Hearn has made the best of being part of bad deal for Royals

Former Royals catcher Ed Hearn (above) was acquired from the Mets in the David Cone trade in 1987.
Former Royals catcher Ed Hearn (above) was acquired from the Mets in the David Cone trade in 1987. File photo

Ed Hearn politely offered a counter to the “Ed Hearn World Series” alternate title for the Mets-Royals showdown.

“The Ward World Series,” Hearn said. “My nickname with the Mets.”

The second syllable of Edward and a nod to his Ward Cleaver high-moral persona that made the backup catcher the subject of good-natured ribbing in the clubhouse during the Mets’ magical 1986 season is the explanation.

Hearn’s spot in Royals history as the primary figure in the trade that brought him to Kansas City for pitcher David Cone — once known as the worst deal in Royals history — gives Hearn unique ownership in this World Series.

So does his post-baseball life, spent entirely in the Kansas City area, which became the base to battle cancer in his family, starting with him.

Two years after reconstructive shoulder surgery ended his career in 1988, Hearn was diagnosed with Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis, a degenerative kidney disease that forced him through years of dialysis and three kidney transplants.

Following that, Hearn battled carcinoma. Radiation treatments and the dozens of pills Hearn swallowed each day nearly pushed him over the edge. He contemplated suicide.

He went from a part-time role on the Mets’ World Series champion team to walking down the steps of his Johnson County home with a loaded .357 Magnum.

“I was suffering mood swings and depression because of the medication’s side effects,” Hearn said. “The sadness was deep.”

Hearn thought of his wife, Trish, and stood down.

“I had a wife, I had faith, and I wanted to keep swinging,” Hearn said.

A couple of weeks later, Hearn received a call from former Chiefs defensive lineman Dave Lindstrom looking for a Rotary Club speaker. Former pro athletes always have fun tales, but this speech wasn’t about hijinks along the minor league trail.

Hearn decided to pour his heart out, sparing no detail of his troubles and road to recovery. A motivational speaking career was born that day, and Hearn has been delivering his message of hope ever since.

He makes some 30-40 speeches per year and has authored his life story, “Conquering Life’s Curves,” which continued for Hearn when his only child, Cody, was diagnosed in 2011 with Stage 3 Burkitt’s non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system. Cody was 17 at the time, and has undergone five rounds of chemotherapy.

“He’s plowed forward with courageous determination,” Hearn said.

Hearn was 17 when he signed with the Phillies out of Central High in Fort Pierce, Fla., and played catcher and first base throughout an eight-year minor-league career. He was released by the Phillies after five years and signed with Mets in 1983, rising through the ranks and earning a roster spot in 1986 as a backup to Gary Carter.

These were the wildly talented Mets of Carter, Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry and Keith Hernandez, winners of 108 games. When Carter tore a thumb ligament in mid-August, Hearn filled in admirably.

“Guys were busting Gary’s chops, telling him he needed to keep that thumb on ice for a couple more weeks,” Hearn said. “It turned out those two weeks made me marketable.”

The Mets defeated the Astros in six games for the National League pennant, and the Red Sox in the crazy World Series when New York came back from a deficit in Game 6 with the help of Bill Buckner’s error and won in seven games.

Hearn opened spring training with the Mets in 1987, but a week before the season, the trade was announced: Hearn, pitcher Rick Anderson and minor-league pitcher Mauro Gozzo to the Royals for Cone and minor league catcher Chris Jelic.

Cone was the key, a 24-year-old strong armed righty who had attended Rockhurst High and was the best pitching prospect in the Royals organization. The rotation of the Royals, who had won the 1985 World Series, appeared set with a young nucleus of Bret Saberhagen, Mark Gubicza and Danny Jackson, along with veterans Charlie Leibrandt and Buddy Black.

The Mets were spot-on about Cone, who in 1988 finished 20-3 and went on to 194 career victories. He returned to the Royals for two seasons and captured the 1994 Cy Young Award, But the stay in Kansas City again was brief. Cone finished his career with five World Series rings, one with the Blue Jays and four with the Yankees.

Hearn? He couldn’t overcome the shoulder problems, appeared in 13 games over two seasons and was out of baseball after 1988.

“I say my life was like going from the penthouse to the outhouse and back,” Hearn said.

New York was the pinnacle. There, he met and fell in love with Trish, and he fell hard for the Mets fans.

“They were so thirsty for a winner, and they wore their heart and soul on their sleeves,” Hearn said. “That year, 1986, was just a small piece of my life, but I fell in love with those fans.”

The lowest point of his life came in Kansas City, but so did Hearn’s recovery and embrace of his life today.

“When I was down, really down, I had enough jock in me to want to crawl out of it and find my way,” Hearn said.

Now, through his autobiography and motivational speaking, Hearn chronicles the twists and turns in his life. A baseball life, playing with one of the great teams of its era and from a Royals’ perspective standing on the wrong end of a regrettable trade, provides the audience. Hearn’s life after baseball brings home the message.

“Three or four times a year I’ll get a letter from somebody, or somebody after a speech, will tell me they thought I was part of the worst trade the Royals ever made,” Hearn said. “And now they think it’s the best trade the Royals made because it brought them here.

“That’s what moves me.”

Blair Kerkhoff: 816-234-4730, @BlairKerkhoff

Other Royals-Mets deals

The Mets and Royals have been frequent trade partners over the years, including some deals that were blockbusters at the time, and others that proved fortunate for one team or the other, like David Cone for Ed Hearn. Here are two other impact deals:

Dec. 3, 1969

Mets send outfielder Amos Otis and pitcher Bob Johnson to Royals for third baseman Joe Foy

Comment: The Mets weren’t sure what to do with Otis, even trying him a third base, a persistent problem position for the team. Otis became cornerstone player for the Royals, a five-time All-Star and Johnson became a chip a year later in the deal that brought Freddie Patek to Kansas City. Foy played 99 games for the Mets and was out of baseball after 1971.

Dec. 11, 1991

Royals send pitcher Bret Saberhagen and infielder Bill Pecota to Mets for third baseman Gregg Jeffries, second baseman Keith Miller and outfielder Kevin McReynolds.

Saberhagen had two Cy Youngs and a World Series MVP on his resume and thought he’d spend his entire career in Kansas City. The Royals believed they had filled three holes. But they started the 1992 season 1-16 and never got out of the hole. None of the Mets made much of an impact in Kansas City, and McReynolds was traded back to the Mets for Vince Coleman. Saberhagen’s best post-Royals years came with the Red Sox in 1998 and 1999.