He first learned of the deal on a Friday night some 20 years ago. Ed Hearn and his wife Tricia were eating dinner in their Clearwater, Fla., apartment when the phone rang.
"Ed," said Joe McIlvaine, the Mets' assistant general manager, "I have some news for you. You've been traded to Kansas City."
At the time, Hearn was New York's backup catcher -- a decent-hit, decent-field career minor leaguer who had ably filled in for Gary Carter on the Mets' 1986 world championship club. Though hardly one of the boys on the bar-hopping, beer-guzzling, cocaine-snorting Metropolitans, Hearn was respected and well-liked. His nickname was "Ward," after the squeaky-clean father on "Leave it to Beaver." "A good dude," teammate Kevin Mitchell would say years later. "Very solid."
With McIlvaine's words back on that warm spring training night, Hearn's mind raced. Traded? Why me? Why now? We're a dynasty in the making. I don't wanna leave. Upon composing himself, he asked the $1 million question.
After winning the title, no one wanted off the Mets, especially Ed Hearn (in hat).
"A minor league pitcher," McIlvaine replied. "Some kid named Dave Cone."
Though he had no reason to suspect such, at that moment Hearn was officially inducted into a secret society, one composed of good men worthy of better legacies, one headed by names like Ernie Broglio, Milt Pappas, Rick Wise, Cedric Durst, Amos Rusie and Bob Buhl.
Brother Ed, welcome to the "They Traded Him ... For You?" club.
As soon as Hearn reported to Royals' camp, the troubles began. His right arm felt sore, and with each throw the pain intensified. Though Hearn sucked it up to start the first two games of the season (he went 4-for-6 with a game-winning RBI), the mind can only overcome so much. Hearn was placed on the disabled list, diagnosed with a torn rotator cuff and shipped off to the operating room. His season ended after six games. The following year, he played seven more. With that -- poof! -- a major league career was over.
The final tally: A .263 average, four home runs and a lifetime of "Dude, I can't believe you were traded for David Cone!"
"I still get that all the time," Hearn says. "But what can I say? David Cone went on to an amazing career. He deserves credit for that. The guy was a great pitcher. If the worst thing that happened to me in my life was being traded for him, well, that's not so bad."
Hearn utters these words, knowing they serve as a gateway, not a wrap-up. Being dealt for Cone was not the worst thing to happen in Hearn's life. It was not one of the 10 worst things. Not one of the 100. It was a baseball trade. Just a damn baseball trade.
Hearn spent four years trying to make it back to The Show, and in 1991 he retired to what he thought would be a life of selling insurance in Overland Park, Kan. The following year, however, during a seemingly routine physical, Hearn was diagnosed with focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, an illness that occurs when scar tissue forms in some of the glomeruli of the kidney. Doctors placed him on dialysis and decided he needed a transplant ASAP.
He underwent one transplant.
A few years later, he underwent a second transplant.
A few years later, he underwent a third (yes, third) transplant.
With each operation, there is hope. With each failure, there is despair. On a fall day in 1993, Hearn descended the 13 steps to his basement with a loaded .357 Magnum. His plan was to shoot himself in the head. "I was suffering from terrible mood swings because of the medication," Hearn says. "The sadness overcame me." He looked at the gun barrel. He thought about his wife. He looked at the gun barrel. He thought about his wife some more. He looked at the gun barrel. "I could do it to myself," he says. "But I couldn't do it to her." As he slowly returned up the steps, three ponderings entered Hearn's mind:
• I need professional help.
• I need to return to the basics of my Christian faith.
• I need to stop wallowing and start finding positive ways to think.
Two weeks after rising from the basement, Hearn was asked by a former Kansas City Chiefs defensive lineman named Dave Lindstrom if he would like to speak at the weekly Overland Park Rotary luncheon. Surely, the Rotarians would be enthralled by tales of minor league bus rides and Big Apple high jinks and World Series moments. Heck, who wouldn't be?
Instead, they got Ed Hearn unplugged -- raw, gritty, pained.
The reaction was unlike anything Hearn had experienced as a ballplayer. The Rotarians did not simply feel Hearn's pain. They were moved by it. Hurt by it. Shortly thereafter, Hearn decided he would give full-time motivational speaking a try. More than a decade later, he speaks 30-40 times per year, to operations ranging from Nabisco and the Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation to the Boy Scouts. He is also the author of a motivational autobiography, "Conquering Life's Curves."
"This is bigger than baseball to me," Hearn says. "It's provided a sense of purpose I never had before -- not as a catcher, not as a father or husband. It has given meaning to all that I went through. Otherwise, all that suffering would have been in vain."
There should be a happy, uncomplicated ending here -- this is sports, after all. Jim Morris throws 95 mph. The Natural smashes the lights. Something, right? Sadly, with Ed Hearn life is never that simple. Three years ago Hearn was diagnosed with skin cancer, and underwent 1½ months of radiation. He suffers from sleep apnea, and before going to bed attaches himself to a BiPat machine to monitor and assist with breathing. Though he is in pretty good health, everything is relative. Hearn's body is beaten up. Physically, he is 46 going on 86.
Unlike the myriad motivational speakers who Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay their way through an hour of upbeat, you-can-do-it drivel, Hearn keeps it real. If he's feeling low, he says so. "It helps to be true," he says. "People understand that there are hard days." When he gets especially down, Hearn tries to reflect upon the twists and turns of his life. He believes, with good reason, that if he had stayed healthy, the Royals would have had themselves a starting catcher for the next decade. Then again, would he be the person he is now? The one who, through suffering, is more than just another of the world's 12,471 ex-backstops?
"I'll tell you what moves me," Hearn says. "Three or four times I've had people come up to me after a speech. They say, 'Ed, you were the worst trade the Royals ever made. But after experiencing you today, I'd say you're the best trade the Royals made. Because it brought you here.'"
"That," he says, "makes my life worthwhile. It's a reminder that, yeah, maybe my baseball career didn't go as planned. And maybe my health problems have been terrible. But I could have used those experiences in bad ways, in negative ways, in horrible ways.
"Instead, I look for the good."
Jeff Pearlman is a former Sports Illustrated senior writer and the author of "Love Me, Hate Me: Barry Bonds and the Making of an Antihero", now available in paperback. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.