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New Role for Former 'Cleanup Man' Ed Hearn : He's Picking Up Behind Injured Gary Carter as Backup Catcher for the Mets

August 21, 1986|SCOTT HOWARD-COOPER | Times Staff Writer

Two years ago, he was playing for the New York Mets' Double-A team in Jackson, Miss., sharing an apartment with pitcher Calvin Schiraldi and outfielder Billy Beane, "two of the messiest guys you'd ever want to meet."

A strong hand was needed to keep the place in semi-working order, and catcher Ed Hearn, who turned down an appointment to West Point to play baseball and was normally looked to as a leader on the field, figured it might as well be him playing Felix Unger to his odd couple roommates.

But this was not not your normal friend-helping-friends situation. Hearn was more like a father to these guys, offering advice and dividing the expenses, so Schiraldi and Beane decided to give him a title to match: Ward Cleaver. And it stuck.

Ward took care of the cleaning.

Ward took care of the bills.

Ward took care of the shopping.

Anything domestic, leave it to Ward.

It was a label, complete with a wardrobe that included Cardigan sweaters, that Hearn took with him when promoted to Triple-A Tidewater last year and, finally, on May 9, to the New York Mets as a 25-year-old rookie.

It was a road that included playing for three different Class A teams and missing a year and a half with shoulder and ankle injuries.

In the majors, though, he had to make a transition. His father image was not needed with Gary Carter playing in front of him. Hearn would be asked to fill in occasionally on defense, pinch hit--rookie things. It was a smooth changeover.

But when Carter was placed on the 15-day disabled list Sunday with a partial ligament tear of the left thumb, Ward had to take care of some more chores: That of a starting catcher.

As with the initial jump to the majors, this second, unexpected, transition has also gone smoothly. He came into Wednesday's game against the Dodgers with a .274 batting average in 29 games and, most notably, had hit safely in 14 of the 21 games he'd started, and then added to those numbers with a 3-for-4 performance and a run scored in the Mets' 7-5 win at Dodger Stadium.

"How tough can it be when we have an 18-game lead?" Carter said, smiling. "There's not any pressure on him at all."

Hearn said: "He said that? Only I'm allowed to make that sort of comment. But, yes, it definitely makes a difference. If we had a one-game lead or were behind, it would make things a lot tougher. It's an ideal situation for me."

That doesn't sound like Ward, disagreeing with an elder and all. But, Ed Hearn, who just this spring was questioning his future in baseball after being sent to the minors in favor of Barry Lyons, can get away with it.

"I knew that I had made a good impression this spring," he said. "I was concerned that it might have been my last chance. But then again, I knew that people were looking at me differently, that it wasn't over. But, darn it, I was back in the bush leagues. You just never know when it's going to be your last chance."

For Hearn, who grew up in Ft. Pierce, Fla., about a 10-minute drive from the Dodgers' spring training home at Vero Beach, his next last chance doesn't figure to come for a while.

"He certainly has played well," New York Manager Dave Johnson said. "I can't say enough about the job Ed has done. I'm pleased with his performance, to say the least."

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