It’s natural for fans to have favorite players and it follows that there will be athletes that do not invoke feelings of sympathy. I like to think that in the last decade or so that the people on the Mets that I detested all earned those feelings from me by their performances on the field. There was Rey Ordonez and his inability to hit. There was Guillermo Mota and the gas can he brought to the mound with him when he pitched. And there was the cult of Jeff Francoeur.

But my hatred of Richie Hebner was not quite so rational.

If Hebner played now, there’s little doubt that he would be a fan favorite and the mention of his name would not make my skin crawl. You frequently hear hard workers described as “blue collar guys” and it’s hard to think of a professional baseball player in the late 20th Century who fit that description better than Hebner. During the offseason, Hebner worked as a grave digger and it’s difficult to imagine a more blue collar job for a pampered athlete than that.

On the field, Hebner was a solid hitter who really hit well against RHP but probably should not have been allowed to face many lefties. He made good contact throughout his career and generally did a good job of getting on base. He didn’t have great over-the fence power but he posted ISOs over .200 in three consecutive seasons and finished with a respectable .162 career mark in the category.

So then why all the disdain, from me and countless others, for poor Richie Hebner? If you were there, no explanation is needed but if you weren’t it’s not really that much of a mystery. Hebner committed the one Cardinal Sin of a ballplayer, one that if he was playing in the 21st Century, either he or his agent would have had the required media savvy to prevent from happening.

When the Mets traded for him, he made no secret that he didn’t want to be on the team.

Now, it’s hard to blame Hebner for wanting to be somewhere, perhaps anywhere else, besides Queens in 1979. He’s a guy who grew up playing with Clemente and Stargell and made the postseason five times in eight years with the Pirates. Then he went to the Phillies, joined Carlton and Schmidt and made the playoffs both years he played in Philadelphia. Then he joined a Mets team coming off a combined record of 130-194 the past two seasons, one that did not have any stars, either in the majors or high minors, and a team that was disorganized both in the dugout and the front office.

Hebner looked at his situation, came to the only rational conclusion and then voiced his displeasure. Now, if this situation happened in 2011, the ballplayer would talk about being grateful that his new team wanted him, he would talk glowingly about one or two teammates, praise the knowledge of the fans and immediately instruct his agent on getting him out of Dodge ASAP.

But in 1979, Hebner came out and said the obvious and the fan base had an understandable reaction – Hey, what’s so bad about us? So, the Mets tried everything in their (limited) power to woo Hebner. He had more PA in 1979 than he had in any of the previous four years, he batted cleanup and if he did anything that remotely helped the team win a game, it was highlighted to ridiculous lengths.

“We love you Richie! Please don’t go.”

Now, I’m sure that might have worked on some people who thrived on having their ego stroked. But it was mentioned above that Hebner was blue collar and he was less likely than most to have this attempted flattery work. In the words of Josh Wilker, Hebner seemed like a guy who “just roasted one in the parking lot with a couple of buddies while cranking some Styx on the eight-track.”

Despite his desire to be on a team that would play meaningful games after the All-Star break, Hebner got off to a good start with the Mets in 1979. He had a four-hit game with two doubles and a HR on Opening Day. He had strong months in May and June and in games through July 10th, he posted a .284/.375/.412 line – perhaps a little less power but generally right in line with what he had done previously in his career.

And then to the average fan, it seemed like Hebner just gave up. In retrospect, I have no doubt that it was merely a slump. But in 52 games and 194 PA, Hebner posted a .190/.281/.256 line. The Mets went 13-39 in that span and it should be pointed out that they won the first three games of Hebner’s slide. Over the previous two seasons, fans had been accustomed to seeing some rotten, uninspired play. But that stretch right after the All-Star break seemed even worse than what had become accepted as normal.

Hebner, the guy we gave up popular Nino Espinosa to get, the guy who didn’t want to be here, the guy who had been praised beyond all reasonable limits earlier in the season – seemed to be the biggest reason why the team was extra lousy.

Then, just for one final kick in the pants, Hebner turned it up for the final few weeks of the season. It’s like he figured out that if he continued to stink that no team would have him as a starter in 1980. In his final 13 games, Hebner went 22-48 with 3 HR and 14 RBIs. That worked out to a .458/.500/.771 line.

It felt like a two-handed, one-finger salute to the fans on his way out the door.

Today is Richie Hebner’s birthday and he’s now 64 years old. Maybe it’s the influence of the McCartney song that references Hebner’s current age – “Indicate precisely what you mean to say…” – but it’s time to bury the hatchet and not directly in his back, either. I’ve hated this man I’ve never met for over 30 years now and I don’t want to do it anymore.

As my birthday present to this senior citizen, I’m taking Richie Hebner off of my personal “On Notice” board. Happy Birthday, Mr. Hebner – let’s both pretend that the 1979 baseball season never happened.

25 comments on “Reviewing my 33-year-old grudge against Richie Hebner

  • met fan

    Hebner and Willie Montanez,right? 2012 might b4 deja vu all over again.

    • Bus

      I hope I don’t drift in this direction with a Mr. Jose Reyes…

    • Geoffrey Fanning

      tRichie Hebmer was a great athlete and a better person

      • Jeffthepug

        Only someone closet related to Hebner could view him as anything more than pond scum, worthy of endless contempt. I was a 10-yr old Mets fan in 1979 and after seeing and hearing how he dogged it – a .940 fielding percentage???!!! Are you serious???!!! – he deserves never-ending hated. I hope he gets Ebola.

  • John

    I was at a Met game in 1979 when Hebner hit a double to drive in a couple of key runs. The Sign Guy — who was awesome — held up the perfect sign: “You’re Still A Bum.” I hated Hebner too. No reason to feel bad about it.

    • Les Taranto

      The sign guy is probably no longer with us, but I’ve always wondered what had happened to him and how long did he keep going to Mets games with his wonderful signs. Did the late Ralph Kiner ever have him on Kiner’s Korner or did anyone ever get his name and bio?
      For many years he was an institution at Shea camped along the 3rd base dugout box seats area and he always held up the appropriate sign for the game situation.
      I was part of a group of guys that would hop the left field parking lot chain link fence at Shea during the baseball season and also for the Jets football games too. We’d catch foul balls during batting practice & averaged about 50 home games a year during the 1967,68 and of course the Miracle Mets of 1969.
      It was a great time to be a Mets Fan but eventually I started to sell beer at Jets games and moved on…

  • The Hat of the Three-Toed Man-Baby

    Sad and pathetic is a good description of people who hate people they don’t know. Hebner doesn’t work for you and never did. Get over your sad little life.

  • James Preller

    Love this piece. Nice job.

  • robbie malcolm

    Richie Hebner was one of my favorite players as a kid growing up a Pirate fan,part of that “Pittsburgh Lumber Co.” that instilled fear in pitchers in that glorious 1971 season.I seem to recall he was also one of the game’s great flakes & a fan darling. I later remember him joining the Phillies where he fit right in, & later Detroit. The 1979 season where he was a Met eludes me as it was another banner year for Pittsburgh. Listen , Mets fans, you have much else to cry & complain about besides Richie Hebner..get over it!

  • Brian Hickman

    Just saw this. Richie Hebner was an “awsome” athlete when i was growing up in West Rox. He was the talk of the Boston Area (West Rox.) Just retired after 39 yrs as a police officer and it seems like “Yesterday”. i was watching u play Hockey and Baseball. Say hello to the Downing Family. Knew them when i was very young! Follow this kid “Dave Warsofsky: of the Providence Bruins and BU. Same type of skater and Personality as You. Oldest Daughter married into his Family. Take Care Ritchie and Patty!

    • Ken Adams

      Brian – is that how people actually talk in Mass.?

  • Jim Delbou

    have some and say it to his face Hey !!!!!

    • MIKE

      Exactly Big Jim , people don’t realize that Richie could have been a professional hockey player as well and kicked their ass as well of course great response still remember your big swing in Manchester and the arms raised classic and I get chills how you guys without Mike got Coach Wall to Nationals

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      • Jim Delbou

        The best part of that story was Richie Hebner just happened to be our third base coach, and when I rounded third to shake his hand, he ripped me a new ass, for the way I was celebrating the grand slam, but even after that we were very close, even worked W/ Richie, Denny and of course his father “Wild Bill” @ the family’s cemetery in West Roxbury … and who knows what would have happened if Mike Wall wasn’t drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates that summer of ’87

  • Cubs Fan

    I was doing some research for a article (bio) on Richie Hebner when I ran across your blog article. Good stuff! I knew Richie didn’t want to play for a non contender like the Mets but felt he had a decent (not great) season in 1979. I obviously slept through those dog days in 1979, not realizing how bad Richie played during that span. I feel the same way about some athletes as you do Richie. It is really hard to bury the hatchet, if you will, especially when you feel they have Wronged your favorite team. Glad to see you have come to grips with it and Hebner. Good Luck to the Mets…. better luck to the Cubs! 😉

    • Brian Joura

      Hey Cubs Fan – thanks for reading and commenting! Good luck with your article.

      Whenever I think about the Cubs, I think of Pete Rose. Here’s what Charlie Hustle said about them:

      Rose: Did you hear what God said to the Cubs? Don’t win until I get back!

  • Harry Samuel

    Just found this page.

    I watch Richie Hebner play baseball, and watch him play hockey too. I only wish my children, and my players had his drive. I actually think he was a better hockey player than a baseball play. And when you consider he played baseball for 18 years with over 200 home runs, well he was a great ballplayer.

    For Mets fans who did not like him, my biggest disappointment was getting tickets. The average fan, me who actually was at the 1969 playoff game. A few years after that season tickets skyrocketed and I stopped watching. Lucky for me I moved to Atlanta and now get great seats at Mets games. The last was a 10 inning win 10-7 that was a great game.More Mets fans than Braves fans, the car in front of me drove down from NJ for the game. Better than playoff game 3 tonight, but this was a big win after the disaster in LA.

    Anyway Richie Hebner played 18 years with a record I am sure every Dad dreams his sons would achieve. I can not imagine what his hockey record would have been, I know it was his best sport.

    And not sure why but I really like Bartolo Colon, hope he plays into his 50’s

    And of course the entire 1969 Mets, whose names I will never forget.

    Oh, I married a Met fan, and my two sons wear their Mets shirts at Braves games. And I had my patch of grass from that one playoff game, way back in 1969 when it was a 3 game series.

    So give Richie Hebner the respect he earned as a truely great athlete.

  • Frank Surette

    I went to both grade school and high school with Richie in Norwood, Mass.
    I was lucky enough to be a sports reporter for the local town newspaper at the same time.
    Some friends and I went to NY once to watch him play the Mets while still with the Pirates.
    Richie told us years later he just flat out hated NY. Not the Mets so much. The city.

    • Brian Joura

      Thanks for sharing, Frank. It’s always great to hear from people who know the players.

    • Jeffthepug

      He played like it too. That speaks to a profound lack of character. Don’t like where you are? STFU, play hard and have your agent get you out of there. 940 fielding percentage in 1979 is the kind of I-don’t-give-a-shit number that make fans hate certain players who are obviously capable of more. Deserves all the shit he gets and more. I’m a middle-aged guy, not a tough guy, but I would gladly tell Mr. Hebner what I just wrote right to his face. It’s the truth, every bit of it.

  • […] of Yoenis Cespedes and retention of Plain Jane Jay Bruce – the modern day version of Richie Hebner (Bing it, youngsters) there is but one player that can fill that void. The Dark Night Must Rise […]

  • scott

    I was a little kid when Hebner was a Met and I, too, hated him. I don’t recall his voicing displeasure over coming to NY. I was excited when the Mets got him because he had been a great player and, as Bob Murphy would repeatedly say, “Hebner has never played for a team that finished lower than 2nd place.” So in my fragile 10 year old mind I thought the Mets would at least finish in 2nd. I remember opening day when he hit the HR and a pair of doubles at Wrigley. I got excited. And then there was nothing the rest of the season. Hebner was not only bad defensively, but he rarely came through in the clutch. I expected a lot of home runs, and except for the Opening Day homer and the 3 in the end, he only hit 6 home runs for most of the season. I recall him hitting two at a home game in the next to last week, on Fireworks Night II, and Bob Murphy saying, “it’s too little, too late for Hebner.” Just looking at his stats I was surprised to see that he had a career high 79 RBI and only struck out about 50 times the whole season. But I was expecting more than 6 HR’s for the majority of the season.

  • Bob

    Richie was a tough ,dependable ballplayer but I always liked Richie Hebner probably because we share the same birth date 26 November 1947……..LOL

  • Tom Callaghan

    Happy birthday Richie. I got excited every time you came to the plat and waited for you to tug at your collar of your shirt, Then … many many time wham! It’s outa here. God Bless You were my favorite Buc

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  • Mario Russo

    When the Mets got Richie Hebner, I was 15 and I went crazy. I loved him and I was so pumped to see him in a Mets uniform. I was puzzled when they traded him, but somewhere along the line I read a story or saw something on TV where he admitted he tanked so they would get rid of him. I hated him for years and years after that. The funny thing is that at 54, I can understand why he wouldn’t want to be there. That organization was horrid, and someone who was used to winning, it must have been terrible. I can’t put myself in his shoes and all in all, I’m glad I got to watch him for that disgusting season. He was a bright spot.

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