“They can do whatever they want. I’ll still be eating steak every night,” Von Hayes said after one of the many times he faced the boo-birds of Philadelphia.1 His quote about sums up the career of a stoic but confident kid from the West Coast who rocketed to the majors and unwittingly moved east in an infamous trade. Underappreciated in his day, Hayes, whose “classic baseball name” preceded him, has developed a second life as a generation of fans, including the creators of a rock band and three hit sitcoms, remain drawn to his legacy.
Von Francis Hayes was born on August 31, 1958, in Stockton, California. His mother, born Leonor Rosario in Puerto Rico, was one of 13 children. Growing up on a rural country farm without electricity, Leonor determined to use her fierce independence to get an education and pursue a life helping others. After receiving a college degree, she migrated from Puerto Rico to Stockton at the age of 22. She landed a position as a nurse at San Joaquin General Hospital, where she was employed for over 30 years. In Stockton, Leonor met Von’s father, Donald Hayes. Donald was a tail gunner on a B-17 in World War II. After being shot down, he was a POW for 11 months. One of his fellow prisoners was named Von.2
Leanor and Donald had three daughters, Maureen, Donna, and Naomi, and two sons, Von and his older brother, Mike.3 Mike played football for the undefeated 1971 St. Mary’s High School team. Decades later, Mike was inducted with the whole team into the Stockton Athletic Hall of Fame.4 As a kid, Von followed his brother by participating in CYO basketball, Little League, and Babe Ruth Baseball. Unlike Mike, Von was undersized. While his future athletic prospects were minimal, his family believed in the younger boy and encouraged him to work harder if he couldn’t grow bigger.5 Donald, originally from Brockton, Massachusetts, pushed Von to bat left-handed and modeled his swing after Ted Williams. Years later, many others would make the comparison.6
Going into his junior year at St. Mary’s High School, Hayes was 5-feet-7. By the time he graduated, he had shot to 6-feet-1. He was a pitcher for his high-school team and by his own account “a bad one.”7 Hayes stayed in the system, attending St. Mary’s College of California in nearby Moraga. On a team with future big-league knuckleballer, Tom Candiotti, Hayes experienced another growth spurt that sprang him to 6-feet-5, and he moved off the mound, to first base and then to third. With his size and position now matching his desire, he became a key part of the St. Mary’s lineup and found himself a major-league prospect. Hayes was named the MVP of the US-Japan College World Series in 1979.8 In three seasons with St. Mary’s, Hayes set school records for triples (17) and slugging percentage (.609) that still stood as of 2020.9
Hayes was taken by the Cleveland Indians in the seventh round (163rd overall) of the June 1979 amateur draft. To start his professional career, he was assigned to the Waterloo (Iowa) Indians of the Class A Midwest League. Over 134 games, Hayes lit the league on fire by becoming a multidimensional threat, leading all players in batting average (.329), doubles (33), and hits (162), while finishing in the top 10 in homers, RBIs, stolen bases, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. He displayed strong plate discipline by walking three more times (66) than he struck out (63). After the season, Hayes was named the Midwest League Player of the Year. Most games he occupied third base, but he also spent time at shortstop. His ability to play around the diamond was an attribute that followed him throughout his career.
Coming off the success of his first season, Hayes blossomed into a highly-touted prospect. To start the next season, the Indians skipped Hayes over two minor-league levels and retained him on the major-league roster out of spring training. He saw action in just one game, making his debut on April 14 as a defensive replacement in the ninth inning. He did not record an at-bat.
Cleveland sent Hayes back to the Triple-A Charleston Charlies (International League), where he remained until mid-August. In 105 games with the Charlies, Hayes held his own among a handful of future All-Stars, including Cal Ripken Jr. and Brett Butler, by finishing in the top 10 in stolen bases, triples, and OBP. His .314 batting average was good for fourth in a category led by Wade Boggs.
By August, with the Indians off to a winless start in the second half of a split season, Hayes was called up. He recorded his first major-league at bat as the starting designated hitter on August 11 in the second game of a doubleheader versus Milwaukee. His first try ended in a groundout, but in his second at-bat he singled to center off Jim Slaton, and followed that with a walk in the seventh inning. For the rest of the season, Hayes became a staple in the starting lineup, alternating between DH, left field, and third base. In 109 at-bats he hit .257 as the Indians finished above .500 but near the bottom of a competitive American League Eastern Division.
Going into his official rookie campaign in 1982, Hayes started on the bench, but by mid-May he had won a full-time job, showcasing his versatility by playing all three outfield positions and both infield corners, and batting throughout the lineup, including leadoff. As Cleveland lingered near the bottom of the standings, Hayes was a rare bright spot. He finished the season batting .250 with 14 home runs, 82 RBIs, and 25 doubles to go along with 32 stolen bases. He finished seventh in the Rookie of the Year voting, behind the likes Ripken Jr. and Boggs.
After more than a decade barely above water, Cleveland saw an opportunity to leverage its promising young star for multiple valuable assets. During an otherwise uneventful Winter Meetings, the Indians pulled off an unexpected trade with the Philadelphia Phillies, exchanging Hayes for five players: pitcher Jay Baller, outfielder George Vukovich, catcher Jerry Willard, “established second baseman” Manny Trillo,10 and future All-Star Julio Franco. Even with the large return, excitement surrounding Hayes was so high that when a Cleveland radio station polled fans, 87 percent viewed the deal unfavorably.11
“The first thing I told myself,” Hayes said, “was, ‘You’re not going to try and go out there and prove you can play as good as those five combined. You’re going to go out there and play your own game. …’ They got me to be Von Hayes.”12 However, while only Franco bettered him statistically, the move stalked Hayes for the next decade. Arriving in camp as the kid who was dealt for 20 percent of an active roster, Hayes was nicknamed “5-for-1” by veteran teammate Pete Rose. The name stuck.
Hayes was thrust onto a team that, unlike Cleveland, was coming off years of sustained success that included a World Series win in 1980. Nicknamed the Wheeze Kids because of their ages, the roster was filled with future Hall of Famers: Tony Perez, Joe Morgan, Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, and Rose. To add to the pressure that came from his trade, Hayes went from a team perpetually rebuilding to one expected to contend for a title immediately.
After a strong start to the 1983 season, a summer slump put the Phillies in a tight race with the Montreal Expos and the Pittsburgh Pirates. It took until mid-September for the favored Phillies to pull away and clinch a postseason berth. Hayes managed to get into the star-studded starting lineup 86 times, but his numbers in key categories regressed from the prior season. He hit just 6 home runs, had 32 RBIs, and stole 20 bases. More promisingly, his batting average and OBP both rose. Julio Franco, one of the players traded for Hayes, bested him in every major statistical category and finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting.
As the Phillies beat the Dodgers in the NLCS, they trusted Hayes with only two at-bats (each off the bench). He did not get on base. The story was the same in the World Series, as the Phillies lost to the Baltimore Orioles in five games and Hayes did nothing in his three plate appearances. It proved to be the first and last time Hayes participated in the postseason.
In his second season with the Phillies, Hayes was firmly entrenched as a starter. Playing primarily in center field, he kicked off a four-year stretch of at least 620 plate appearances. He raised his numbers across the board by hitting .292 with 16 home runs, a .359 OBP, 27 doubles, and major-league career-highs in triples (6) and stolen bases (48). With veterans like Joe Morgan and Pete Rose leaving and ace Steve Carlton showing signs of wear, the Phillies finished 81-81, fourth in the division, their worst record since 1974. While Schmidt still put up impressive numbers, Hayes emerged as arguably Phillies fans’ most important position player when looking toward the future.
The 1985 season found the Phillies’ core stars, Carlton and Schmidt, another year older and fighting to stay relevant in a division now controlled by the St. Louis Cardinals and the young New York Mets. In contrast to the Phillies, the Mets had two straight Rookie of the Year winners, including Dwight Gooden, who had an all-time-great 1985 season. Philly put much of its hopes on the shoulders of Schmidt, Juan Samuel, and “5-for-1” as a speed/power engine to propel the middle of the order. On June 11, against the upstart Mets, Hayes became the first major-leaguer to hit two home runs in the first inning of a game.13 However, there weren’t many more bright spots in a disappointing season; Hayes batted just .263 and his home run (13) and stolen base totals (21) each declined.
In 1986 Hayes finally put together the kind of season Phillies fans had been waiting for. But as the calendar went to June, his team remained stuck near the bottom of the Eastern Division, 10½ games behind the dominant New York Mets and three games below .500. On June 21, Carlton threw his last pitch for the Phillies, drawing his release and ending 15 seasons with the team and spelling the official end of an era.
By September, the Phillies had risen in the standings, led by Hayes and eventual MVP Mike Schmidt, moving Philadelphia into second place. But being 19 games out of first place, Philadelphia stood no chance of catching New York. Hayes led the National League in doubles (46) and runs scored (107). He also batted a career high .305, with 19 home runs, 24 stolen bases and a career-best (to that point) .379 OBP. Hayes finished in eighth place in the MVP voting. “That would’ve been my year to get recognition,” Hayes said. “The problem was, I had a teammate (Mike Schmidt) who was the National League MVP.”14
In Philadelphia’s end-of-season highlight video, Hayes did get some recognition, at least from his teammates, when Glenn Wilson said, “I wouldn’t be surprised to see Von Hayes win a Triple Crown. That’s the kind of ability and determination he has.”15
After the team got off to a 29-32 start to the 1987 season (including 1-10 in the first 11), the Phillies fired manager John Felske and replaced him with Lee Elia. Club President Bill Giles said, “Lee was the only candidate I wanted. Lee is the perfect man for the job.”16 Elia managed to finish above .500 the rest of the way (51-50), but all told, the Phillies still were 80-82, fourth in the Eastern Division and never really in serious contention. For his part, Hayes had another steady, if not remarkable, season. He hit 21 home runs, the most of his career to that point. He stole 16 bases, his fewest in six seasons, while batting .277 and, for the only time in his big-league career, accumulating an OBP over .400.
Now, five years removed from the trade that brought him to Philadelphia, Hayes had established himself as a flexible, above-average player whose breakout always felt just a year away. In the Allentown Morning Call’s 1987 season wrap-up, Hayes’ name is not mentioned once, as a positive or a negative on a team that “seemed lifeless, like they’ve been invaded by body snatchers.”17
After a contract dispute, the Phillies re-signed Mike Schmidt to a one-year deal.18 With manager Lee Elia set for his first full season with the club, Philadelphia had hopes of contending in 1988. However, things went from bad to worse as the Phillies spent the majority of the season near the bottom of the standings. In June Hayes got into a squabble with Elia after being reprimanded for throwing his helmet in frustration. In perhaps an apt metaphor for the team’s entire season, sportswriter Peter Gammons reported that this was the “fourth time in two weeks that Elia … had been pelted by a flying helmet.”19 Just two months after getting a contract extension, the manager was fired with nine games left to play. The Phillies finished 31 games under .500, last in their division. In his worst season since 1983, Hayes snapped a streak of playing over 150 games (104), hit only 6 home runs, and stole 20 bases.
Early in 1989, his age-30 season, Hayes gave Phillies fans reason to believe his breakout had really arrived. In April he hit .382, homered seven times (besting his entire 1988 total), and stole five bases to go with a .505 OBP and 22 RBIs. He was named the National League Player of the month.20 But the outburst was short-lived: He combined for just 6 homers and 23 RBIs over the following two months.
On May 20, off to a terrible start, Mike Schmidt abruptly retired during an emotional press conference. The announcement officially left the team on the shoulders of Hayes, whose first-half numbers were good enough for him to be named to his first and only All-Star team. He was joined by Schmidt, in a selection owing more to his overall career than this particular season, as the Phillies only representatives. On June 15 the Phillies announced they had signed Hayes to a contract extension worth $6.4 million over three years. He became the second player on the Phillies (after Schmidt) to receive $2 million per year.21 “I really think Von Hayes is going to get better and better,” said general manager Lee Thomas as he made Hayes “the No. 1 guy in this most demanding of sports towns.”22
Hayes finished with a career-high 26 home runs, along with 78 RBIs, a .259 batting average, a .376 OBP, and 28 steals. He walked 101 times and struck out only 103 times. Across the board, 1989 was arguably Hayes’ most successful season yet.
With a newly developing core of John Kruk and Darren Daulton, Hayes was no longer part of the Phillies future but the anchor on a squad moving toward a new phase. In 1990 the Phillies’ updated foundation led the team to 10 more victories, but Hayes played only 129 games because of nagging injuries, including a freak accident involving the chain of an exercise bike that cut his hand and required 12 stitches.23 Nonetheless, Hayes’ numbers remained consistent, including a .261 batting average, a .375 OBP, and 16 steals. His home run total fell to 17, closer to his career average, but likely owing some to his injuries.
Though they finished 18 games out of first, Phillies fans had a glimmer of hope heading into 1991. The team had created a new bad-boy identity with the likes of Daulton, Kruk and Lenny Dykstra. They also had promising pitching in youngster Terry Mulholland and recently acquired All-Star closer Mitch Williams.
Hayes was off to his worst start in years when, on June 14, a Tom Browning fastball hit him in the right wrist and broke his ulna bone, forcing him onto the disabled list. Without Hayes, the Phillies didn’t see a major dip. They played close to .500 baseball and, while it was clear that the team wasn’t ready to compete for the division, it ultimately finished third at 78-84. Hayes returned on September 6, but by then his season was lost. He became the first player in baseball history with zero home runs following a season when he hit 17 or more.24
On December 8, 1991, nearly nine years to the day since they made Hayes “5-for-1,” the Phillies traded him to the California Angels for Kyle Abbott and Ruben Amaro Jr. Angels general manager Whitey Herzog believed Hayes had several good years left and handed the starting right-field job to the veteran.25 New Phillies manager Jim Fregosi put a stamp on Hayes’ tenure by saying, “It was very, very difficult for [Von] to play in Philadelphia. … I think he put too much pressure on himself.”26
Over 94 games with his new team, Hayes hit .225 and his power was completely sapped, something he attributed to the injury from the year before. Overall, he managed just four homers and had a .305 OBP.
Before the 1992 season ended, and just two years removed from saying he had “four more peak years left,” Hayes was released by the Angels.27 While he didn’t officially retire, none of the 28 major-league teams had a place for him. “I tried to hook on somewhere,” Hayes said in 1993. “But there were no takers.”28 As if out of a bad joke, the following year the Phillies went back to the World Series for the first time in 10 years. Believing his wrist injury ended his career, Hayes said, “I broke my arm when I was hit by a pitch from Tom Browning … and I was finished. I tried to make a comeback in 1992, but it was no good.”29
In 12 seasons, Hayes proved himself a consistent and versatile contributor who could bat anywhere in a lineup and play five positions. All told, he saw 555 games in right field, 401 at first base, 398 in center field, 207 in left field, and 23 at third base. He struck out less than 100 more times than he walked. His lifetime OBP was a respectable .354 as he homered 143 times and stole 253 bases. Regardless, his involvement in a controversial trade to a team at the tail end of major success left him a disappointment to many.
“Because the Phillies went from perpetual contenders from, say, 1976 to 1983 and then became mostly disappointing for the next several years, Hayes had to live with being both second fiddle to Schmidt (as well as not as good as Schmidt) and (briefly) the best player on a bad team,” Bill Conlin wrote in the Philadelphia Daily News. “Someone fans couldn’t appreciate while he was here, but was so frequently part of the city’s baseball fortunes that he cannot be forgotten either.”30
Hayes eventually made peace with his time in the City of Brotherly Love. “Philadelphia fans are the same as fans in other cities. … the bottom line is winning,” he said. Describing the “lean seasons” he endured with the team in the ’80s, Hayes added, “Whenever that happens, people point fingers. I suppose it was tougher on me … because of the trade, but I believe I was a better player because of them.”31
Early in the 2000s, Hayes managed in the minor leagues. After a season with the South Bend Silver Hawks, he led the Modesto A’s to a California League championship in 2004. He followed with a Texas League championship for the Midland Rockhounds the next season. Both teams were Oakland A’s affiliates.
In 2008 Hayes took a job as the manager of the Lancaster Barnstormers of the independent Atlantic League. After two middling seasons, he was hired by the Camden Riversharks. Again, he stayed on for two mostly unsuccessful seasons. His final stint on the independent circuit was with the Alexandria Aces of the United League.32 His last coaching gigs were in the Mexican League with the Puebla Pericos, first in 2015 and then in 2017.
On November 17, 1990, Hayes married Stephanie Elisabeth Pesce in St. Petersburg Beach, Florida.33 The couple has a daughter, Taylor, and a son, Conner. Hayes’ nephew, Brandon Hayes, was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the 49th round of the 2007 amateur draft but never appeared in the majors. In 2015 Hayes was inducted into the Stockton Athletic Hall of Fame during the same ceremony as his brother Mike’s high-school football team.34
While his stay wasn’t always welcome, when Hayes re-signed with the Phillies in 1989, he said, “I like Philadelphia very much and I’m ecstatic. …”35 The years since have proven that Hayes remains an important figure in the memory of fans as well.
In 2008 a Philly-based indie rock band named “Von Hayes” released its first record. About the irony surrounding the name, guitarist Peter Bothum said, “I think [the band members] both like [Hayes] in a certain way.”36
The musicians weren’t the only artists to find inspiration in Von Hayes years after his playing career ended. In a 2008 episode of the NBC spy-comedy, Chuck, a wealthy software magnate is called Von Hayes. Then, in a 2010 episode of FX’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, the main characters, Mac and Charlie, are told that a Christmas gift is sold out in a toy store, to which Charlie responds that if Mike Schmidt asked for the gift, the store would have it. When the toy store employee says he doesn’t know who Mike Schmidt is, Charlie yells in disbelief, “Next you’re gonna tell me you don’t know who Von Hayes is. …”37
Next, in a 2017 episode of ABC’s The Goldbergs, a grandfather tries to explain the “Who’s on First” skit to his grandson by using Phillies action figures. Each time the grandfather asks, “Who’s on first?” the response is always Von Hayes and he “doesn’t even need to ask [about who’s at third base]” because that’s Mike Schmidt.38
In a twist of pop culture fate, Ruben Amaro Jr., whom the California Angels traded for Hayes, is a recurring character on The Goldbergs and even appears as a guest star in multiple episodes. The creators of these shows all grew up near Philadelphia and as two of the sitcoms cite the great Mike Schmidt with Von Hayes, they exemplify that perhaps nobody not named Schmidt has stuck in the imagination of Philly’s 1980s baseball fans more than Hayes.
Last revised: December 18, 2020
This biography was reviewed by Paul Proia and Len Levin and fact-checked by Chris Rainey.
1 Ian Riccaboni, “Exploring ‘5 for 1’ 31 Years Later,” Phillies Nation, philliesnation.com/2014/05/exploring-5-for-1-31-years-later/, May 1, 2014.
2 Mark Whicker, “Von Hayes Joins Fast Company,” Philadelphia Daily News, January 18, 1983: 71.
3 “Obituary,” Legacy.com (legacy.com/obituaries/recordnet/obituary.aspx?n=leonor-hayes&pid=194402689 : (Published November 10, 2019), Leanor Hayes, Died October 31, 2019.
4 1971 St. Mary’s Golden Rams Football Team, Stockton Athletic Hall of Fame, stocktonhalloffame.com/1971-st-marys-golden-rams-football-team/, 2015.
6 “Von Hayes Joins Fast Company.”
7 “Von Hayes Joins Fast Company.”
8 “Von Hayes Joins Fast Company.”
10 George Vecsey, “Phillies Trade Trillo for Hayes,” New York Times, December 10, 1982: B7.
11 “Von Hayes Joins Fast Company.”
12 Jayson Stark, “Hayes Is Out to Prove He’s Worth the High Price the Phils Paid,” Philadelphia Inquirer, July 6, 1983: 27.
13 Ed Eagle, “Players with Two Home Runs in an Inning,” MLB.com, mlb.com/news/two-home-runs-in-an-inning-c266221190, April 9, 2019.
14 Bruce Lowitt, “Hayes’ Slow Road to Stardom,” Tampa Bay Times, October 17, 2005
16 Mike Conklin and Robert Markus, “Phillies Fire Felske, Make Elia Manager,” Chicago Tribune, June 19, 1987.
17 Don Bostrom, “Elia No Great Emancipator; But He’s Laid ’88 Groundwork/Phillies Floundered Because of a Lack of Heart,” Morning Call (Allentown, Pennsylvania), October 11, 1987.
18 Alan Solomon, “The Philadelphia Phillies and Mike Schmidt Reached…,” Chicago Tribune, December 7, 1988.
19 Peter Gammons, “Baseball,” Sports Illustrated, July 11, 1988.
20 Baseball Reference Bullpen, baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Von_Hayes.
21 Joe Cialini, United Press International “Hayes Signs New Contract with Phillies,” June 15, 1989.
22 Frank Dolson, “The Pressure Mounts for a Big-Money Man,” Philadelphia Inquirer, July 3, 1989: 52.
23 “Hayes’ Slow Road to Stardom.”
24 Jayson Stark, “Homerless Hayes a Puzzle,” Scranton Times-Tribune, January 19, 1992: 48.
25 Mark Maska, “Finally, a Trade: Angels Get Hayes,” Washington Post, December 9, 1991.
26 Bill Conlin, “No More 541 Here to Kick Around,” Philadelphia Daily News, December 9, 1991: 86.
27 “Hayes’ Slow Road to Stardom.”
28 Mark Kram, “Paradise Lost,” Philadelphia Daily News, June 18, 1993: 124.
29 Russell Schneider, Tales from the Tribe Dugout (Champaign, Illinois: Sports Publishing LLC, 2002), 82.
30 Bill Conlin, “Hayes Deserves a Little Praise,” Philadelphia Daily News, April 6, 1990.
31 “Paradise Lost.”
33 “Weddings,” Tampa Bay Times, December 16, 1990: 162.
35 “Hayes Signs New Contract with Phillies.”
36 Daniel Rubin, “Von Hayes,” Philadelphia Inquirer, December 5, 2006: E4.
37 “A Very Sunny Christmas.” It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, season 6, episodes 13 & 14, FX, December 9, 2010.
38 “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” The Goldbergs, season 5, episode 10, ABC, December 13, 2017.