SABR

Mike Hegan

This article was written by Joseph Wancho.


During the summer of 1954 the Cleveland Indians visited New York to play a three-game series against the Yankees with both teams in contention for the American League pennant. The story of the second game wasn't the Yankees' 4-1 victory, or Eddie Lopat outdueling Mike Garcia, but the twelve-year-old batboy in the Cleveland dugout, Mike Hegan, the son of the Indians' starting catcher Jim Hegan, who was pressed into service due to the absence of the normal visiting team batboy, Mike Morton. The Little Leaguer became a celebrity when Red Barber interviewed young Hegan on his pre-game television show. Yankee batboy, eighteen-year-old Joe Carrieri, heaped praise on his younger counterpart by saying "considering his lack of experience, Mike showed some real promise." Little did Mike Hegan know he would make his major league debut ten years later in the same stadium, and become part of Old Yankee Stadium history.

James Michael Hegan was born July 21, 1942, in Cleveland, Ohio, the son of Jim and Clare Hegan. Jim Hegan, a five-time All-Star, played on Cleveland's last World Championship team in 1948. One of the best defensive catchers ever to play, Jim was a fan favorite in Cleveland for his all-out play and professionalism. His career lasted seventeen years, fourteen of them with the Indians.

During Mike's early years, the Hegans made their off-season home in Lynn, Massachusetts, while spending their summers in Cleveland, where it was common to see Mike hanging around the clubhouse or shagging fly balls in the outfield at Cleveland Municipal Stadium.

In 1954 Jim and Clare Hegan relocated their family of three children (Mike, Patrick, and Catharine) to Lakewood, Ohio, after Jim became involved in a business venture with Cleveland Browns quarterback Otto Graham. Their business was called Hegan-Graham Inc., and later became Hegan-Graham Appliance, a retail appliance store located at 1747 Euclid Avenue in downtown Cleveland, that sold sporting goods, luggage, and jewelry in addition to appliances, and urged customers to "Get the right pitch, before you buy."

In 1956 Mike enrolled at St. Ignatius High School, located on Cleveland's near west side. While at St. Ignatius he was a star athlete, excelling in football, basketball and baseball. He pitched and played first base on the baseball team, and made several local and state all-star teams following his junior and senior years. In 1989 he was elected to the St. Ignatius High School Athletic Hall of Fame.

In the fall of 1960, Mike went to Worcester, Massachusetts, after accepting a dual scholarship for football and baseball from Holy Cross. Mike spurned offers from Notre Dame, Stanford, Syracuse, Maryland and Wisconsin to play for legendary baseball coach Jack Barry, who had been a shortstop for the Philadelphia Athletics from 1908-1915 and started in Connie Mack's famed "$100,000 Infield." While attending Holy Cross for one year, Hegan played freshman football and baseball, and hit .510 while playing first base for a baseball team that finished 6-10.

In August of 1961, Mike Hegan was offered contracts by no fewer than fifteen major league clubs, and chose to sign with scout Bill Skiff of the New York Yankees, even though two other teams offered more money. He felt the short distance down the right field line at Yankee Stadium would be to his advantage since he was a left-handed pull hitter, and accepted the Yankees' offer of a minor league contract with "a substantial bonus." The following year, Mike was off with the rest of the Yankees to Fort Lauderdale for spring training, and during the spring General Manager Roy Hamey said of Hegan, "we'll play him as high as we can."

As Mike's professional baseball career was beginning, his father's had just ended. Jim Hegan was asked by his former Indians teammate and current Cubs manager Lou Boudreau to play for Chicago in 1960. After the season he retired and was hired as the bullpen and catchers coach for the Yankees, who were managed by Ralph Houk. "I felt I had to be better to justify being the coach's kid," Mike said. "But Dad treated me just like any other player."

Mike returned to Cleveland to continue his college education and enrolled at John Carroll University in University Heights, Ohio. "My father and mother told me that when you take that step to play professional baseball, you'd better have something to fall back upon. One of their stipulations was that I finish my college education."

Mike thought of his father as a disciplinarian, but fair. "He didn't yell or scream, but when he gave you that look, you didn't go any further." Mike was living at home when he came in one morning at 2:30. "When I pulled into the driveway, I saw a light on in the kitchen," Mike said. "My father was sitting at the table." Jim was not happy and let Mike know it. "You've got your whole career in front of you, and I don't want to see you start screwing up," Jim said. "I don't want to see you coming home this late again." Mike understood his father's message.

In 1962, while playing for Fort Lauderdale in the Florida Class D league, Mike hit .306 and walked 100 times in 121 games. Assistant General Manager Dan Topping Jr., was thrilled with Mike's progress. "He's got terrific determination and great coordination," said Topping. "Everybody who saw him in his first year as a pro agrees he's a big league fielder right now." Yankee instructor Joe DiMaggio was equally impressed by Mike's season in Florida. "I'm almost certain right now that he'll wind up a better hitter than was his old man," said DiMaggio.

In 1963 Mike was promoted to Idaho Falls of the Pioneer League. In 126 games, he hit .323, smacked 28 home runs, and had 98 RBIs. His 123 runs led the league and was named to the Pioneer League All-Star team. Idaho Falls won the league title, besting Billings Montana, two games to one in the final series.

As Mike's pro baseball career began to take off, so did his personal life. Following his successful season at Idaho Falls, he married the former Nancy McNeill on October 12, 1963, at St. Pius Church in Lynn, Massachusetts.

The next season Hegan began the year in Class AA, at Columbus of the Southern League, and was a late season call up to the Yankees. On September 13, he made his major league debut against the Minnesota Twins as a pinch hitter for Whitey Ford in the fourth inning and flied out to right field. Although Mike went zero for five with one walk at the plate in five games in his initial stint, he was added to the World Series roster when Tony Kubek suffered a sprained wrist. The Yankees played the National League Champion St. Louis Cardinals. In Game One in St. Louis, Hegan pinch-ran for Johnny Blanchard, who was on second base after getting a pinch-hit in the eighth inning, and came around to score on a Bobby Richardson single. The Yankees lost the game, 9-5, and the Cardinals went on to defeat the Yankees, four games to three, to claim the World Championship. Hegan had the distinction of scoring a run in a World Series game before getting his first regular season major league hit.

Mike returned to the Columbus Confederates in 1965, and earned a midseason promotion to the Triple-A Toledo Mudhens. He returned to Toledo for the start of the 1966 season and led the International league in triples and walks, and was a late season call up by the Yankees. He collected his first major league hit on September 15, 1966, two years and two days after his debut. Batting first in the order and playing first base, Hegan singled to lead off the fifth inning, and scored on Clete Boyer's hit. In the seventh inning he singled and scored on a Joe Pepitone hit.

When the 1967 season began, Mike was completing his active duty with the Army National Guard and did not join the Yankees until May 12. He hit the first home run of his career on September 1 off of Dick Lines of the Washington Senators in the twelfth inning to provide the Yankees with a 2-1 win.

On February 23, 1968, Mike and Nancy welcomed their first son, Shawn Patrick, three days before Mike was to report for spring training. First base was becoming crowded with Mickey Mantle starting, and Andy Kosco and Joe Pepitone backing Mantle. At the end of spring training the Yankees assigned Hegan to Syracuse, where he hit .304 with 11 homers and 39 RBIs, while mostly stationed in right field. He was selected to play in the International League All-Star Game, but was unable to play due to military reserve commitments. On June 14 the Yankees sold Hegan to the expansion Seattle Pilots for $25,000. The one caveat to the deal was that Hegan finish out the year in Syracuse.

Mike Hegan was the first player to sign with the Pilots, who would begin play one year later in 1969 in Seattle's Sick's Stadium. He was thrilled to join the expansion Pilots. "It's a mental lift to be with the Pilots," Hegan told The Sporting News. "While I was with the Yanks, I put a lot of time into the service and couldn't get rolling. And then, I always had to back another first baseman. When I came up, they had Moose Skowran. Then they had Joe Pepitone. Then I was a fill-in when they shifted Mickey Mantle to first. What if Mantle retires? Then I would have to back Pepitone again. Here I may be in a similar situation with [Don] Mincher on first. But I played more outfield than first in Syracuse, so right field would suit me fine."

Hegan would find familiar faces in Seattle. Also coming over to the Pilots from the Yankees were pitchers Jim Bouton, Steve Barber, Dooley Womack, and Fred Talbot, infielder John Kennedy, and outfielder Steve Whitaker. Garry Roggenburk, also from St. Ignatius High School, was on the Pilots pitching staff. Scout Bill Skiff, who signed Hegan to his first pro contract, was now a scout with the Pilots. Former Cleveland Indian broadcaster Jimmy Dudley was the radio voice of the Pilots.

Managing the Pilots was Joe Schultz, who came to Seattle from the St. Louis Cardinals, where he served as the third base coach for the 1968 National League Pennant winners. Schultz brought the same running style to the Pilots, who led the American League in 1969 with 167 stolen bases. Unfortunately for the expansion club, they batted .234 as a team, grounded into 111 double plays, and led the American League with 1,015 strikeouts. The pitching staff yielded 172 home runs.

Mike had his finest year to date in the major leagues. He hit the first home run in Pilots history on opening day off Jim McGlothlin of the California Angels in the first inning, following Tommy Harper's leadoff double. He led the Pilots in batting average, slugging percentage, on base percentage, and was selected to represent the Pilots in the All-Star Game, but had to withdraw due to a hamstring injury, and was replaced by first baseman Don Mincher. Hegan would miss 67 games that year, partly due to injuries.

Just prior to the 1970 season the Pilots were sold to Milwaukee car dealer Bud Selig, who moved the club to his hometown, where they became the Milwaukee Brewers.

On September 24, 1970, Hegan began a streak of playing in 178 consecutive games at first base without committing an error, and the streak went into 1973 when Hegan was a member of the Oakland Athletics. The record stood as the major league mark for twelve years, and was the high water mark in the American League until 2010 when it was broken by Seattle's Casey Kotchman.

Also in 1970 Mike got a glimpse of his career after baseball. During the off-season Mike began doing drive time sports reporting and TV interviews for WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee.

Hegan started 1971 in Milwaukee before being sold to the Oakland Athletics on June 14. Before Mike was sent to the Bay Area, Nancy gave birth to the couple's second son, James Joseph (known as JJ), on May 18.

It was a break of sorts for Hegan to go from the struggling Brewers to the A's, who would claim their first of five consecutive A.L. Western Division crowns in 1971.

In 1972, the Oakland A's adopted the moniker "the Mustache Gang." Reggie Jackson reported to spring training with a full-grown mustache. Although no official rule banned players from wearing facial hair, it was more or less an unwritten rule. A's owner Charlie Finley didn't like the look of Jackson's mustache, but instead of making Jackson shave the facial hair, he told a couple of other players to start growing a mustache. It was Finley's hope that Jackson would not feel like an individualist, and would shave his whiskers. Instead, the strategy backfired, and all the players grew a mustache. Finley began to like the idea and offered a cash incentive to any player who successfully grew a mustache by Father's Day, or "Mustache Day." True to his word, the players found $300 apiece in their lockboxes after the game. In addition, Finley extended his idea to the fans, and any fan bearing a mustache was granted free admission.

Hegan shaved his mustache off shortly thereafter, giving into a higher authority than Finley, his wife Nancy. "My wife didn't like it," admitted Hegan.

On the field the Athletics stormed through the American League West, winning 101 games despite 49 players going through a revolving door on the roster. After Oakland defeated Detroit in the American League playoffs, the National League Champion Cincinnati Reds awaited them in the World Series. Hegan appeared in six of the seven games, mostly as a defensive replacement for first baseman Mike Epstein. At the plate he got a single in game five, his only hit of the series, won by the A's four games to three, the first of three straight World Championships for Oakland.

Jim and Mike Hegan claimed a first in Major League history by becoming the first father and son combination to each win a World Championship. There have been only six other such combinations in major league history.

As the 1973 season commenced, Hegan was again a back-up at first base, this time to Gene Tenace. On June 3, Hegan's streak of consecutive errorless games at first base ended. The error occurred in the eighth inning when Carl Yastrzemski hit a ground ball to Hegan, who threw late to pitcher Vida Blue, who covered first base.

On July 18 in Baltimore, a glimpse of Mike Hegan's future was on display. A's radio announcer Jim Woods was ailing, and Oakland Manager Dick Williams instructed Hegan to report to the radio booth to call three innings. After three innings, he went to the clubhouse, put on his uniform, and reported to the dugout.

On August 18 Mike returned to New York after the Yankees purchased him, which reunited him with his dad, who still served as the Yankees' bullpen coach. The left-handed Hegan would primarily bat against right-handed pitchers, and hit .275, with 6 homers, 14 RBIs, and 36 runs. On September 30, Mike became a bit of Yankee trivia as the last batter in Old Yankee Stadium when he flew out to center field in an 8-5 loss to the Tigers.

Mike opened the 1974 season platooning at first base with Bill Sudakis until April 26, when the Yankees acquired first baseman Chris Chambliss from the Cleveland Indians. Chambliss, the 1971 American League Rookie of the Year, commanded most of the playing time, and Hegan asked the Yankees to move him to one of three teams: Boston, where his wife Nancy's family lived, or Milwaukee, where Mike and Nancy made their off-season home, or Detroit, where his father joined Ralph Houk, as was the Tigers bullpen coach. The Yankees granted Hegan's request and sold him to the Brewers, where George Scott was getting most of the playing time at first base.

In 1975 and 1976, Hegan split his time between first base, designated hitter, and the outfield. He became only the sixth player (all left-handed batters) to pinch-hit for Hank Aaron, on July 8, 1975, against Kansas City at Royals Stadium. On September 3, 1976, Hegan became the first Brewer to hit for the cycle by going four for five with six RBIs and scored two runs against Detroit's Mark Fidrych, at Tiger Stadium.

As the 1977 season unfolded, Hegan was dissatisfied with his diminished playing time, and with the direction of the team under manager Alex Grammas. On July 8, Hegan played in his last major league game, getting his release from the Brewers a week later.

Hegan had done the sports news at WTMJ-TV during the off-season in 1976, and had decided to stay in broadcasting. Ten days after his release, he was in the broadcasting booth with sportscaster Ray Scott, providing color commentary for Brewers games, and the next season he started doing some play-by-play. In all, he handled Brewers games for eleven seasons.

Broadcasting major league baseball was not all that kept Mike Hegan busy. For fifteen years he owned Grand Slam USA in suburban Milwaukee, which housed indoor baseball and softball batting cages, and pitching machines. Grand Slam USA also offered instruction on hitting, pitching and fielding techniques throughout the year.

In 1989, Mike returned to Cleveland to broadcast Indians games on WUAB-TV. A generation of Tribe fans have grown up listening to Mike Hegan describe the action for the Indians. Later he moved to the radio broadcast team. He has shown his versatility in the booth by calling play-by-play and color on both television and radio.  Hegan retired from broadcasting after the 2011 season.

Mike Hegan passed away as a result from heart complications on December 25, 2013.  He was survived by his wife of fifty years, Nancy, and their two sons, Shawn and JJ, and four grandchildren.


Sources

Bob Dolgan, Heroes, Scamps and Good Guys. Gray & Company Publishing, 2003.

Nick Rousso, An Exhilarating Big League Bust. University of Nebraska Press, 2006.

Various New York Times articles, dating from 1954 to 1974.

Dick Shippy, "Hegan Returning as an Estabished Pro." Akron Beacan Journal, April 2, 1989.

Bruce Markusen, "Thirty Years Ago...Birth of the Mustache Gang." Historical Hot Stove. March 14, 2002.

"Two All-Stars Miss Game," The Sporting News, August 3, 1968, p. 31

"Pilots Gleeful Over Hot Swinger Hegan," The Sporting News, March 29, 1969, p. 26.

Byron Rosen, Washington Post, July 13, 1977

Byron Rosen, Washington Post, July 16, 1977

Interviews with Mike Hegan May 19, 2007 & August 1, 2007.

http://www.thebaseballcube.com

http://retrosheet.org/newstl16.htm

www.ignatius.edu

www.retrosheet.org

http://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/IdahoFalls Yankees


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