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Meet the Met they all seem to forget


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Meet the Met they all seem to forget

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


Star-Ledger Staff





Tonight they will meet at Fenway Park, the Mets and Red Sox, with the memories and subplots piled as high as the Green Monster seats. Fans will buzz over Pedro Martinez's first game in Boston tomorrow night since he helped the Red Sox win the curse-busting 2004 World Series. They might even talk about Tom Glavine's return to his New England roots Thursday.


Network videotape will drift back 20 years and replay images of a hustling Mookie Wilson, a hobbled Bill Buckner and baseball's most celebrated and simultaneously painful ground ball, which turned the course of the 1986 World Series and sentenced the Red Sox to 18 more years of misery.


People will speak the names of Gary Carter and Kevin Mitchell and Ray Knight and just about every player on that Mets roster, the franchise's last World Series championship team. On a night when the Mets will daydream about Game 6 of that World Series and one of the unlikeliest comebacks in the history of the game, no one will mention Ed Hearn.


That's because he is easy to forget. Twenty years ago, Hearn was the Mets' backup catcher, a skinny, bookworm-looking rookie in wide-rimmed glasses who played in only 49 games, hit only four home runs, drove in only 10 runs and had an unremarkable .265 batting average. If he were one of Snow White's pals, he would have been Bashful, the dwarf nobody remembers.


But on a team known for its unbelievable comebacks, none has been more incredible than his.


Diagnosed in 1991 with focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, a kidney disease, Hearn has endured three kidney transplants and two bouts with cancer. He often needs the aid of a breathing machine and takes more than 50 types of medication daily in his home in Lenexa, Kan., a suburb of Kansas City.


Tonight, when the three-game series starts in Boston, he will watch the crawl on ESPN, look for a score and feel a pang as the forgotten Met. He hopes this will be an excuse for someone to call.


"I'm doing good for how I feel," Hearn said from his home. "Twenty years? Heck, it feels like it's been 40. I hope the next 20 years aren't as tough as the last 20 years. But somebody has to take the bullets and I was chosen.


"It would be great to hear from an old teammate. It would be great for someone to pick up the phone and say, 'Ed, how are you doing, man?' But life moves on. And I know there are a lot of guys on that team who wouldn't ever give a hoot."


For all their grittiness, the 1986 Mets, Hearn says, really weren't that tight. They were 25 guys committed to winning, but driven mostly by individual statistics and the lure of a big contract. When the team dissolved, so did a lot of the friendships.


"I see guys at card shows, guys who were very tight when they played together, and they're hugging each other and saying, 'Hey, man, I haven't talked to you in 10 years!' How does that happen?" Hearn said. "How can you be close to someone and let them drift out of your life like that?


"But I figure, 'Hey, if they were really close and they haven't spoken in years, then I can't take it personally that no one has called me.' I was a rookie. I wasn't a main cog. I was traded the next year."


Hearn, 45, will join the team at Shea Stadium for its 20-year reunion in August, but he has left his Mets days behind. He is an inspirational speaker, making about 50 appearances a year, mostly on behalf of his two charities -- the NephCure Foundation, a nonprofit organization raising money to eliminate kidney diseases, and the Bottom of the Ninth Foundation, which is trying to rebuild the nation's character by funding unique role models and their kid-shaping programs.


He said his file drawer is filled with cards and letters and e-mails from kidney patients who mustered the strength to fight after a pep talk from Hearn. They don't care that his career ended after three seasons, with a .263 batting average.


"I could have had 20 more years in the big leagues and not made the difference I have in people's lives," Hearn said.


Maybe he could have made an impact on the Mets, though, if he had lasted longer. The 1986 team had the talent to establish a dynasty, but it self-destructed. The partying and boozing and womanizing that made the Mets colorful during their championship season, caught up with them in 1987. So did the egos, Hearn said.


"We had characters, but not a lot of players with character," Hearn said. "I don't know about winning another championship, because you have to be lucky and good, but that team should have gone deep into the playoffs for the next five or six years. We had an arrogance in 1986 that helped us to win. But it was probably the same arrogance that destroyed that team.


"Most guys were in it for themselves. But that's the way the game was going. You had to get the big contract. But to build a team for long-term success, you need players of a certain mind-set. I'm not sure that team had that kind of makeup."


After the celebrations and ticker-tape parades, Hearn was sent to the Royals in a trade for pitcher David Cone. After two seasons in Kansas City, he retired. Since then, life has been a struggle.


"I've had flash points in my life when I've thought, 'Why me?' I'm not going to lie," Hearn said. "I'm human. I've gone through it all -- cancer, kidney transplants, dialysis. And I've done it multiple times. Any man would start to question why he had to endure so much."


And when he watched the sports world congratulate former teammates Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden each time they screwed up and saved themselves, only to fail again, Hearn wondered about justice. But that never stopped him from leaving supportive messages for Strawberry and Gooden. Neither ever called back.


Owner Fred Wilpon helped Hearn before his first kidney transplant, but that was about the only contact he has had from the Mets, he said.


"I've watched guys get second, third and fourth chances, when people have bent over backwards for guys who have screwed up over and over again, and I've been very bitter," he said. "I mean, I've fought just to stay alive. Nobody gave me million-dollar contracts. Nobody gave me jobs. Nobody has given me anything, really."


Said Mookie Wilson: "I know Ed has had some health problems, and maybe we should have called. But everyone is trying to live their lives. It's tough keeping up with people in your family, let alone people you played with 20 years ago for a season."


Hearn understands.


"I'm not complaining," he said. "I've moved on. Do you know what it's like to get a letter from someone who says, 'Ed, thanks to you, I'm alive today'? It's an incredible feeling."


Now, if he could just get that call from an old teammate.

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