Countdown To Pitchers And Catchers: #4 Jim Hegan
Mike Brandyberry | On 16, Feb 2012
Today continues our countdown to the start of Indians pitchers and catchers reporting to Goodyear, Arizona on February 20. We’ll count down the days, profiling a former Indian who wore the corresponding number. Some players will be memorable, others just our favorites and some, the only one we could find who wore that number. Today, we chronicle the career of Jim Hegan.
The modern era would be far more cruel to a player like Jim Hegan.
The Tribe catcher for 14 seasons—11 of which were as the Tribe’s starter—may never have been more than a back up player or someone with a limited ceiling in today’s game because he lacked the offense to produce. Hegan’s intangibles proved more valuable than his bat, however.
Hegan was signed as an amateur free agent by the Indians in 1938 and debuted with the major league club in 1941. He played a part time role in 1942 before enlisting in the United States Coast Guard and serving the next four years during World War II. When he returned to the Indians in 1946, he became the starting catcher.
Defensively, Hegan was one of the best catchers in baseball and it was obvious in how he handled the Indians’ pitching staff. Hegan was selected to the 1947 All-Star Game despite only hitting .249, with four home runs for the season. His ability to call a game and his defense made up for his lack of offense. Pitcher, and Baseball Hall of Famer, Bob Lemon once said of Hegan, “When I first started pitching, I used to shake him off sometimes. Invariably, they’d get a hit. So I stopped shaking him off.”
Hegan had possibly his best offensive season in 1948, when he hit .248, with 14 home runs and 61 runs batted in, but his greatest contribution that season may have been the help and guidance he provided rookie Gene Bearden. Bearden won 20 games that season including the decisive one game playoff with the Boston Red Sox to win the American League pennant. The Tribe would go on to defeat the Boston Braves in the World Series, winning their last title as a franchise.
Despite his offensive struggles, Hegan was an All-Star five times between 1947-1952. He helped the 1954 pitching staff to an American League low ERA and record setting 111 victory regular season. He caught six 20-game winners (Bearden, Lemon, Bob Feller, Early Wynn, Mike Garcia and Herb Score) and three no-hitters (Don Black, Lemon and Feller) while a member of the Tribe. He is the team’s all-time leader in games caught.
Hegan was traded in February 1958 to the Detroit Tigers. He lasted three more seasons in baseball, catching in Detroit, Philadelphia, San Francisco and with the Chicago Cubs before retiring from baseball after the 1960 season. He retired with a .228 career batting average in 17 seasons. He served as a coach and scout with the New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers after his retirement and his son Mike, became a first baseman with the Oakland Athletics. Mike retired from announcing Cleveland Indians’ baseball at the end of the 2011 season.
Photo: Topps Baseball Cards