Hegan a Player of a Different Era

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 FellerEarly WynnMike 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

Related Posts

Barker’s Perfect Game in 1981 Remains Last No-No for Tribe

Today we remember Len Barker’s perfect game against the Toronto Blue Jays in 1981, the last hitless game tossed by an Indians pitcher. This story was originally…

Caldwell Gave an Electrifying Performance on the Mound for the Tribe in 1919

On the anniversary of a bizarre event in baseball history, Did The Tribe Win Last Night shares a story originally posted on August 24, 2016, by guest…

Carl Mays: My Attitude Toward the Unfortunate Chapman Matter

We continue our look back on the death of Ray Chapman on the 100th anniversary of the tragedy. This supplemental interview appeared in the November 1920 issue…

League, City Plunged into Mourning after Chapman’s Death

This story was originally published on December 26, 2014, as part of a series of stories by Did The Tribe Win Last Night’s Vince Guerrieri on the…

Tragedy Struck Tribe with Chapman Beaning

This weekend marked the anniversary of a tragic event thankfully never replicated on a Major League field. This story of the death of Ray Chapman was originally…

Don’t Call It A Comeback!

Today’s trip down memory lane takes us back to a story published on August 5, 2011, in the infancy stages of the Did The Tribe Win Last…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.