Von Hayes was one of the more intriguing players in the history of the Phillies. Actually, it’s Hayes’ legacy as a Phillie that is the interesting part. That’s much more the case than Hayes’ actual baseball performance. Hayes was a good player – there’s nothing more to parse in that statement. Perhaps if he had played for another team he would be remembered differently. Perhaps with less animosity.
Apparently, Hayes heard a boo or two at the ol’ Vet.
That last part might have more to do with Philadelphia and the Phillies than Hayes. After all, it wasn’t Hayes’ fault the Phillies sent five players to the Indians in the trade for him. It also isn’t Hayes’ fault that he landed in Philadelphia when the Phillies were transitioning from their golden age to mediocrity.
Anywhere else Hayes would have been a nice complimentary player – maybe like Jayson Werth for the current club – and not counted on to be a star.
Again, not Hayes’ fault.
But there certainly are perks to showing flashes of brilliance on the field in Philadelphia. Hayes, of course, once belted two home runs in the first inning of a 26-7 victory over the Mets in 1985. For many adolescents of the ‘80s who followed baseball religiously before the proliferation of cable TV and the mass media, that two-homer inning was enough to make fans for life. Back then there wasn’t a game on TV every night, so we lived vicariously through the box scores in the paper. Here in Lancaster, on the distant end of the Philadelphia media market, Hayes’ name stood out.
Actually, the positive media reports regarding Hayes’ potential was what made the most impact. He had a swing like Ted Williams, we were told. A contender for the rookie of the year in ’82, the Phillies were right to deal five guys (Manny Trillo, Julio Franco, George Vukovich, Jay Baller and Jerry Willard) to get him, they claimed.
Based on the numbers – which look quite skimpy in the post-steroid era – Hayes seemed like the quintessential Phillie of that age. He was a .267 lifetime hitter, but hit .305 in 1986. He hit 124 home runs in 9½ seasons for the Phillies, (an average of around 13 per season), but in ’89 he slugged 26 to finish seventh in the National League.
There were the flashes of brilliance, but mostly Hayes never quite lived up to the hype. In hindsight, those flashes proved to be aberrations.
But one of the best parts about sports is romanticizing the past. Playing remember-when works well in any time regardless of demographics or media dynamic. Though the games look different and our experiences with them have morphed from following along on the radio and newspapers and TV to the Internet, but the sentimentalizing transcends all that. For instance, yesterday I was visiting with a friend who is going to a game at Yankee Stadium this week for the first time since he was a kid in the early 1960s. He remembered the last trip so vividly it sounded damn-near Rockwellian.
Mantle, Maris, Yogi, Rizzuto and his dad. Top that. I’m anxious to hear about how his return trip went.
Anyway, what stirred the Von Hayes memories was a story written by Jeff Pearlman for ESPN.com, about a group of guys that formed a lo-fi alt-rock combo named for the ballplayer. No, they aren’t a Hayes tribute band or anything silly like that. They just claim to be inspired by the old Phillie.
There were two things that piqued my interest about the story. One was the subject matter. These days Von Hayes is the manager of the Lancaster Barnstormers, who play in the independent Atlantic League. The Barnstormers ballpark is located just on the other side of Franklin & Marshall College from my house. From a second-floor window I can see the light towers from the ballpark and on weekends the non-stop fireworks shows launched after ballgames annoy the crap out of the entire town.
But think about that for a minute… Lancaster, Pa., Von Hayes and fireworks. If I had a Turkey Hill slushey, some Atari games or APBA baseball, I’d hop onto my Mongoose bike and roll over to the games. It would be like I was 13 all over again.
The most interesting part about Pearlman’s story, however, was the few grafs near the end where he wrote about his attempts to contact the club’s front office. Apparently, the PR department or some other group in the team office didn’t return Pearlman’s calls.
And here I thought it was just me.
Pearlman and I are in the same boat in this regard. The fact is, I’ve called and e-mailed the Barnstormers’ president and a few folks in the PR department and have never, ever had my messages returned.
Look, I just work for Comcast SportsNet. We’re bigger than anything in Lancaster, but we’re not as big as ESPN. Nor are we as big as Pearlman’s former employer, Sports Illustrated. So if the Barnstormers aren’t returning calls for Jeff, I guess I shouldn’t be so upset.
Pearlman just finished up an in-depth book about the glory days of the Dallas Cowboys. He also wrote a book about the 1986 Mets and Barry Bonds. He famously wrote about John Rocker for SI and even cracked The New York Times best seller list. Not too shabby.
Meanwhile, I’m just used to professional courtesy. In fact, every team in Major League Baseball has always returned my calls or e-mails (some faster than others), and every U.S. Representative, Senator and governor I ever have needed a response from has followed through promptly, too. But if the Lancaster Barnstormers don’t call back Jeff Pearlman for a fun story for ESPN, I guess that Von Hayes story I wanted to write is a no-go.
Here’s a funny part: As I was preparing research and awaiting a reply for access from the Barnstormers for a potential story on Hayes, I contacted the front office of Oakland A’s, whom Hayes worked for as a manager in the minors. Not only did someone from the A’s return my call, but actually showed up in Philadelphia at the ballpark to answer a few questions and talk about baseball. It was a really fun afternoon.
I was told the A’s liked Hayes, among other little nuggets. It might have made for a nice story.
Instead, this is all I got out of it…
And you just got a little whine.
P.S. One more thing about Von Hayes: When I was a kid I was a prolific letter writer. I wrote to anyone and everyone. Once I even wrote a letter to Von Hayes, and guess what?
He wrote back!
Based on that, what’s he doing with the Barnstormers?