Hayes is in game for the long haul

Waiting out a rain delay, Von Hayes can enjoy the scenery: The Benjamin Franklin Bridge looms above Campbell's Field.
Waiting out a rain delay, Von Hayes can enjoy the scenery: The Benjamin Franklin Bridge looms above Campbell's Field.
Posted: August 04, 2010

Von Hayes excused himself for being tired.

The Camden Riversharks manager was coming off a tough weekend series in Lancaster, and that had little to do with the play on the field. The Riversharks bused 80 miles to Lancaster, and this being the independent minor leagues, with no funding from a major-league parent club, they took that journey six times rather than book a hotel.

Round trips for the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night games. Leave around 1:30 in the afternoon, get back around that time the next morning, and do it three straight days. It was difficult, Hayes said.

As hardships go - and longtime Phillies fans know this only too well - Hayes has endured much worse. This was, after all, the player known derisively nearly three decades ago as "Five for One." Acquired in a landmark five-players-for-one trade with the Cleveland Indians in 1982, Hayes never met fans' expectations in his nine seasons with the Phillies, and was booed lustily at times.

Fatigue notwithstanding, Hayes, 51, says he is "alive and well and enjoying life" in his first year with the Riversharks and his sixth season overall as a minor-league manager.

"We've had a great experience here," Hayes said. "We haven't had anybody showing up and yelling stuff, or just come in here to rag Von Hayes or anything like that.

"The fans here have been outstanding, and I'm really enjoying the relationship that we're building."

The Indians drafted Hayes in the seventh round in 1979. He played his first full major-league season in 1982, batting .250 with 14 homers, 82 RBIs, and 32 stolen bases. At a lanky 6-foot-5, with a sweet lefthanded swing, he was drawing comparisons to Ted Williams.

On Dec. 9, 1982, the 24-year-old outfielder was traded to the Phillies for second baseman Manny Trillo, an all-star the previous two seasons; outfielder George Vukovich; and three prospects: pitcher Jay Baller, catcher Jerry Willard, and infielder Julio Franco.

Getting traded for five players made Hayes feel as if he was placed on a pedestal usually reserved for high draft picks.

"When you're already in the major leagues and all of a sudden, boom, something like that happens - you go from just one of the players to all of a sudden now you're a number-one-pick type - then it becomes kind of tough to deal with," Hayes said.

Phillies fans, he was sure, were expecting "a perennial most-valuable-player-type" performance from him.

But he injured his right shoulder early in spring training. Then he suffered a thigh injury and aggravated the shoulder again. He didn't make his regular-season debut with the Phils until their sixth game. After going 0 for 4 against San Diego on May 20, 1983, Hayes was batting .111. By that point, fans at the Vet were practically booing themselves hoarse.

Asked if he sensed a disconnect between the fans and him, Hayes said, "Disconnect as far as being booed out of the stadium and not being happy about it? Yeah, there was definitely a disconnect there."

Hayes said he was certain that others on the team gave him advice on dealing with the issue. Whether he listened well, he didn't know.

"I was pretty hardheaded, and felt like - it was almost like it was touching your manhood. I have to be able to deal with this. I've got to figure out a way to deal with this on my own," Hayes said. "My whole career was like, if I could figure this out, it'll make me better in the long run. Hitting, anything.

"So I was very stubborn about getting advice, or getting help from the outside. It's probably one of my worst traits."

Hayes went on to hit .265 with only six home runs and 32 RBIs in 351 at-bats, and was benched during the playoffs. He batted only twice in four games during the National League Championship Series against Los Angeles, and three times as Mike Schmidt, Pete Rose and company lost the World Series to Baltimore in five games.

Hayes said that there was no doubt that he felt pressure in his first Phillies season. He attributed that pressure to his desire to please himself, his teammates, and the tens of thousands of fans.

Starting the next season, he promised, he would go back to being the player he really was, one who hit line drives and hard ground balls, compiled a high on-base percentage, and stole bases. His best season with the Phillies came in 1986 (.305, 19 homers, 98 RBIs), and he made his only major-league all-star appearance in '89.

He ended up hitting .272 with 124 homers and 568 RBIs in his 1,208-game Phillies career. Not bad numbers, but not MVP-level, and never fan-satisfying.

Traded to California in December 1991, and suffering from a lingering wrist problem, he played only 94 games in 1992, and was released. He attempted a comeback with Milwaukee in 1994 but reinjured his wrist and retired.

While with the Angels, he and his teammates rode buses to Baltimore after a 12-inning night game in May at Yankee Stadium. The lead bus swerved off the New Jersey Turnpike and wound up on its side. Thirteen people were injured. Driver fatigue was cited in the crash.

Hayes was in the second bus, which pulled over, enabling those players to help crash victims.

Since the accident, Hayes says, he cannot sleep on a bus.

After spending more than a half-dozen years at home in Florida helping his wife raise their two children, and selling boats for a while, Hayes returned to baseball in 2002, as hitting coach for single-A South Bend, Ind., in the Arizona organization, and managed the Silver Hawks in 2003.

That September, he participated in the closing ceremonies for Veterans Stadium - the first time he appeared before a large Phillies crowd since he had left town. As former players were being introduced, Hayes was anxious.

"I was a little concerned - what's the reaction going to be like?" he said. "I was very, very, very pleasantly touched with the reaction. Of course, you're going to hear something. But I felt very good about it. I felt like 85 to 90 percent were very positive.

"I closed a chapter on that day."

Hayes left South Bend for the Oakland A's system, guiding single-A Modesto, Calif., for one season and then double-A Midland, Texas, in 2005 and '06. His teams finished first all three seasons, and won league titles the first two years.

He hoped to get promoted to triple-A Sacramento in 2007, but in December 2006, he learned that the A's were leaving him with Midland.

Ted Polakowski, Oakland's director of minor-league operations, said that Hayes did an "outstanding job as a motivator" but that there wasn't a managing vacancy in triple A.

Hayes decided to resign, because he no longer could tolerate Texas League bus trips, which went as long as 12 hours. Ever since the 1992 crash, he said, "I just cannot trust the bus driver to stay awake, so I sit there and talk to him all night while we make these trips."

He sat out the 2007 season and managed Lancaster for one-plus seasons. He was named Camden's manager in October.

Hayes looks fit enough to play, still lanky, still wearing No. 9 on the field, a gray-speckled goatee the most obvious change from his playing days. He maintains his home in Florida - his family is there, he says - and lives in an area hotel during the season.

Camden catcher Shea Harris, a Washington Township graduate in his fourth season of minor-league ball, describes Hayes' managing style as "different than anybody I've encountered. It's laid-back but intense."

The Riversharks are 9-16 in the second half of the Atlantic League season. In the first half, Camden went 39-31, third-best in the eight-team league.

Hayes sees his future heading in one of two directions.

He has organized a local group that is trying to buy most of the Camden franchise. In another only-in-the-minor-leagues quirk, the Riversharks are half-owned by a group, Opening Day Partners, that owns three other teams in the Atlantic League: Lancaster, York, and Southern Maryland.

But Hayes also would like to return to the big leagues as a manager or coach.

Any team in particular he'd like to join?

"I would love to get back with the Phillies in some capacity," he said. ". . . But I grew up in the San Francisco area, so that wouldn't be a bad program, either, to get back with the Giants. I like the National League. But believe me, at this point, I'm not real picky."

Contact staff writer Lou Rabito

at 215-854-2916 or rabitol@phillynews.com.

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