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Hunter Pence, Von Hayes, and the Mists of Time

4-for-1! 4-for-1! Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-US PRESSWIRE
4-for-1! 4-for-1! Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-US PRESSWIRE

Once upon a time, long before Crab Fries(TM) and "ill" shirts, there was a Phillies player named Von Hayes, a slender fellow from California with a sweet left handed swing, a good eye and patient approach, and adequate defense at each outfield position, as well as first base. Hayes mostly played offensive sidekick to the late-period Mike Schmidt, and had a few pretty impressive seasons in the mid to late 1980s.

Here's the thing: Hayes was extremely unpopular with fans. His "cool" demeanor on the field rubbed people the wrong way (remind you of anyone?), coupled with rumors of a prickly personality off the field, meant that the fans never really warmed to this fixture in Phillies lineups. But the open loathing had more to do with something else.

Hayes also acquired the nickname "5-4-1" as in "Five For One," in reference to the December 1982 trade that brought Hayes to Philadelphia from the Cleveland Indians in exchange for five players from the Phillies.

Those five players -- Jay Baller, Julio Franco, Manny Trillo, George Vukovich, and Jerry Willard -- all went on to varying levels of success in Major League Baseball, with Franco playing into his 49th year and accumulating nearly 2,600 base hits. Trillo, the popular shortstop second baseman from the 1980 World Champions, would post a handful of modestly productive seasons before retiring in 1989. Vukovich would have a couple decent seasons before leaving the game after the 1985 season. Baller and Willard were both journeymen, logging some big league time but failing to establish quality big league careers.

Even though Von Hayes never turned into the tremendous player that the "five for one" trade implied he would be, he was still a solid big league player and did not deserve the scorn heaped on him during and after his nine years in a Phillies uniform.*

*Interestingly, Hayes left Philadelphia by trade in 1989 1991, going to the California Angels in exchange for pitcher Kyle Abbott, and another guy whose name you might know.

Now fast forward to 2011. A Phillies team acquires another young, peculiar-for-the-game outfielder in trade, this time a four-for-one swap. Except this time, the player became instantly beloved, spawning all manner of t-shirts, merchandise, and bric-a-brac, and a couple regrettable catch-phrases.

That man, of course, was Frank Stallone Hunter Pence. It also helped that Pence hit like a man possessed after last year's trade, and the team went on to win a franchise record 102, thanks in large part to their new outfielder. Everything looked great.

The cost was steep: Two Top 100 prospects (Jonathan Singleton and Jarred Cosart), reliever Josh Zeid, and a high-ceiling player to be named later named Domingo Santana.

Then 2012 happened. Almost everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong. Pence, victim of unreasonable expectations after his first two months with the team the previous season, merely performed around his career averages. The bloom fell from the rose. The gawky kid from North Texas bore a disproportionate amount of the fans' displeasure, and found himself traded to the San Francisco Giants on July 31st deal that was mostly greeted with indifference.

And the full impact of the trade will not be known for years. Both Cosart and Singleton are looking like, at worst, Major League caliber players, while Santana, who just turned 20 on Sunday, has an .875 OPS for the High-A Lancaster JetHawks (a very hitter-friendly environment).

Hayes and Pence will both be remembered, quite unfairly, as being huge disappointments, even though both were solid to very good players. With Pence, we just saw a time compressed cycle beginning with Infatuation With the New Guy, and ending in Get Rid of the Bum, that Hayes endured over parts of nine seasons. Again, fair or not, both will be remembered for the questionable decisions of the management staff that brought them to the team, rather than on their own merit. Which is regrettable.

At least Pence won't be around to hear the "4-for-1!" chants.