Mike Hegan: To the Manner Born
Vince Guerrieri | On 31, Dec 2013
In his 14-year major league career, Mike Hegan never played an inning for the Indians.
But Hegan, who died on Christmas Day at the age of 71, is remembered fondly by Tribe fans as a voice of summer.
Hegan was born in Cleveland on July 21, 1942. His father Jim had made his major league debut with the Indians the year before. Jim Hegan became the Tribe’s everyday catcher in 1946, a role he held until 1957. Jim Hegan was a Massachusetts native, but he moved his family to Cleveland in 1954, and Mike Hegan served as a batboy for the Indians that year as they won 111 games and the American League pennant.
Mike Hegan was a three-sport athlete at St. Ignatius High School, including all-state in baseball. He was named the Greater Cleveland Catholic High School of the year in 1960, and was inducted into the St. Ignatius Hall of Fame in 1989 and the Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame in 2011. Hegan spent a year at Holy Cross College in Massachusetts, and attracted the attention of multiple scouts before signing with the Yankees. After his father retired as a player in 1960, he had become the bullpen coach in the Bronx. Hegan played in the 1964 World Series for New York.
In 1969, Major League Baseball expanded, placing teams in San Diego, Montreal, Kansas City and Seattle. Mike Hegan was the first player signed by the expansion Seattle Pilots, and one of two to represent the team in that year’s All-Star Game at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium in Washington D.C.
Among Hegan’s teammates that year was Jim Bouton, who had also played with Hegan in the Bronx. Bouton kept a journal of that year, which turned out to be the only year for the Seattle Pilots (the team was sold to a car dealer named Bud Selig and moved to Milwaukee for the 1970 season, becoming the Brewers). The journal, published under the title “Ball Four,” is now regarded as one of the best sports books ever written, and a work of American literature.
The book presented a portrait of baseball unseen before, of overgrown boys taking amphetamines to keep on top of their games, drinking and carousing. In it, Hegan was quoted as saying the toughest part of playing baseball was “explaining to your wife why she needs a penicillin shot for your kidney infection,” a line later appropriated by Jimmy McNulty in “The Wire.” (Hegan and his wife Cindy were married for 50 years until his death.)
In 1970, Hegan started doing some off-season sports reporting, for WTMJ in Milwaukee. He played for the Brewers until 1971, when he went to Oakland. At the time, the Athletics were a wild team, owned by Charlie Finley, described as a “self-made man who worships his creator.” Finley was an experimental guy. Some worked (he is credited with introducing color to uniforms), and some didn’t (orange baseballs never really caught on). The team at the time was stacked, with three future Hall of Famers in Rollie Fingers, Catfish Hunter and Reggie Jackson. Hegan was on the 1972 team that won the first of three consecutive World Series. With that championship, Jim and Mike Hegan became the first father and son to win World Series.
In 1973, Hegan went back to the Yankees. After backing up former Indian Chris Chambliss at first base, Hegan asked to be sent somewhere where he would get more playing time. He ended up in Milwaukee again. Ten days after his retirement in 1977, he was in the broadcast booth at County Stadium and spent 11 seasons calling Brewers games.
Hegan’s schedule became more limited in 2011 because of health problems, and he stepped down from broadcasting duties at the end of the season, officially ending a 50-year career in baseball. But even after that, he continued to serve as an Indians alumni ambassador. He might not have played for the team, but it was almost his birthright.