Born a generation apart, Ron Hunt and Bret Saberhagen never interacted on the baseball field. Both are former Mets, but the connection ended there until Saberhagen, through his foundation, became aware just over a year ago of Hunt’s health problems.
Hunt needed help. The former infielder — best known for establishing a National League record by getting hit by a pitch 243 times in his career (a mark that was later eclipsed by Craig Biggio) — was suffering from Parkinson’s-like symptoms, and his daughter Tracy Hunt Quinn, who served as his primary caregiver, wasn’t sure where to turn as her father’s quality of life diminished.
After Saberhagen learned of Hunt’s illness through his connection to Mets alumni director Jay Horwitz, the former two-time Cy Young Award winner’s SabesWings Foundation then interceded.
Hunt, who in 1964 was the first Mets player to appear in the All-Star Game, is enjoying better days as a result, according to his daughter.
Living on a farm near St. Louis, the 81-year-old has traded his walker for a cane and regained the ability to hold a pen and write, according to Quinn. During the holidays he went fishing, with his son, for the first time in several years.
SabesWings, launched in May 2021, was created to help families burdened by medical finances. The idea for it arose after Saberhagen’s wife, Kandace, received three breast cancer diagnoses that left the family with bills surpassing $20,000 each month for various treatments. The foundation provides funding for treatment that major medical insurance won’t cover.
“You are doing great things for these families,” said Saberhagen, who pitched for the Mets from 1992-95 as part of a 16-year major league career. “But some of these stories and what some of these families are going through, it’s heart-wrenching. I have cried more in the last year-and-a-half than I cried in the first 56 years of my life.
“But it was very gratifying to help out a former New York Mets player. It put a smile on my face, but all of them put a smile on my face when we are able to actually help and seeing them and hearing the stories.”
In this case Saberhagen arranged for Hunt to receive holistic treatment in Hollywood, Fla., from Dr. Robert Fishman. Included were sessions in a hyperbaric chamber. Originally diagnosed with Parkinson’s due to his symptoms, Hunt has since been told by two other doctors that his condition likely stems from head trauma he sustained as a player.
Though Hunt was hit in the head by pitches several times in his career, his family believes the evidence of a contusion in his brain — as revealed by an MRI in recent years — was the result of a play that occurred while playing for the Giants on Aug. 6, 1969. As he slid into home plate, Hunt got drilled in the head by Cookie Rojas’ relay throw. Hunt was admitted to the hospital and remained in Philadelphia as the rest of the team returned home.
“When they did the MRI on his head down in Florida they found a big contusion and it never healed properly,” Quinn said. “We’re getting another MRI to find out how much it has improved since he’s had the treatments. I know physically and mentally he has improved, but I want to see it from the scientific perspective.”
Along the way, Quinn set up a GoFundMe page to help with additional expenses, such as lodging and food during Hunt’s seven-week stay in Florida. But Quinn has suffered her own health setback, diagnosed last year with a neurological disorder that has affected her ability to look after her father. Quinn, who has been bedridden since September, recently returned from the Mayo Clinic, where she was diagnosed with Meige disease, which limits her ability to keep her head up — she wears a neck brace.
“I am trying to get well so I can take back over my responsibilities with my parents,” Quinn said. “Now I have got my poor mom that is going to be 82 taking me and my dad to doctors’ appointments.”
She wants to take Hunt back to Florida for further treatment in the spring and is hoping the fans’ generosity will help cover the non-medical expenses.
“My dad talks about the Mets all the time, out of his whole baseball career that is what I hear about most,” Quinn said. “When I started the GoFundMe, I reached out to everyone and thanked them personally. He had always said the Mets fans were the best, and I didn’t experience it, because I was too young, but … I came to realize why my dad loved New York and why he loved the fans so much. It was his favorite place to play and he never wanted to be traded.”
Diaz had plenty to say during a season for the ages — which ultimately earned him a new five-year contract worth $102 million in November — but it was the manner in which the All-Star closer conducted himself during his rougher times with the Mets that swayed voters. That is, Diaz showed professionalism by standing at his locker after late-inning meltdowns in previous seasons, answering every question and never hiding from reporters. It’s an example of accountability that younger players can follow.
xPete Alonso and Brandon Nimmo are other Mets players who have won the award in recent seasons.
Others to be honored at the BBWAA dinner include Buck Showalter (NL Manager of the Year) and Justin Verlander (American League Cy Young winner). Aaron Judge also will attend to claim his American League MVP award. Tickets are still available for the event. Information is available at NYBBWAA.com.
The biggest question once Carlos Correa’s contract gets finalized with the Mets — and there’s still every reason to believe a deal will be struck — will be how the team should proceed with Eduardo Escobar, who is under contract through next season.
Escobar is likely to be traded, but keeping him as a right-handed DH option could make plenty of sense for a team that never received the spark it needed from J.D. Davis or Darin Ruf last season.
Less likely is the possibility the Mets will trade Luis Guillorme, who has endeared himself with team officials thanks to his strong defense and ability to play multiple infield positions at a high level.