Monday, March 18, 2013

#517 - Mike Hegan

Mike Hegan looks rather blasé at Yankee Stadium. That look mirrored the ones a lot of Yankees fans had back then. Mike just got back to NY during the season in a sale. An odd aspect of Mike’s travels was that he twice played for former teams. Another one is that his transactions were always for cash, never for another player. Things were a bit crowded at first for Oakland and a little messy there in NY so Mike returned mid-August with his excellent defense and streaky bat. Earlier in the year his error-less game streak ended at 178 in a call many thought was incorrect. He got the lion’s share of at bats the rest of the way since as a lefty he played against the right handers. He upped his average about 100 points and closed out Yankee Stadium as the last batter for a couple years while renovations were being done. His short run was a tad more successful than his last time in pinstripes before expansion whisked him away in the late Sixties. And this stay in NY wouldn’t be terribly long either as he’d be moving on and back to plenty of baseball elsewhere.

Mike Hegan grew up in baseball. Real baseball since as a kid he shagged flies for the Indians while his dad was a long-time catcher with the team. Mike went to St. Ignatius High School in the city where he starred in the big three sports and hit better than .500 his senior year. He got lots of looks from various colleges and opted for Holy Cross where he played football and baseball on scholarship in ’60-’61. After hitting .520 that year he was signed by the Yankees later that summer, too late to play pro ball that year. He returned to school for a semester and then got things going with a nice year in D ball hitting .306 with 18 stolen bases and a .438 OBA. In ’63 he cranked up the power in A ball with a .328 average, 28 homers, and 98 RBI’s. In ’64 he moved up to Double A but had a really tough time with the pitching, his average falling to .233 and his K totals outnumbering his hits. But he also made his NY debut that September, getting some pinch hit looks smack dab in the middle of a pennant race. He also made the post-season roster and got a couple plate appearances against St. Louis. In ’65 he went down to Triple A but after hitting only .179 returned to Double A where his .220 average wasn’t much better. Still, his defensive props were pretty compelling and in ’66 he recorded a much better season in Triple A, hitting .265 with a .393 OBA with a bit more power. He then got a second bunch of late season looks in NY.

’67 was a bit tough for Hegan. Ready to get promoted to The Show for real he instead had to do his military hitch and missed all of spring training and a bunch of the early season. When he did get to NY he did a back-up bit to Mickey Mantle at first. He didn’t hit terribly well and in ’68 he was bounced back to Triple A where he spent the year when he wasn’t doing his reserve work and there hit .304 with 17 stolen bases and a .418 OBA. Early that season he became one of the first official Seattle Pilots in a sale that allowed him to remain in the NY chain until the season ended. With the Pilots in '69 Mike stayed up and he began the season on an explosive tear, hitting the first Pilots home run and keeping his average north of .300 the bulk of the first half. Don Mincher was the regular guy at first so Mike played right field and that summer was the first Pilot/Brewer to be named an All-Star. Just before the game, though, Mike injured a hamstring and his presence in the line-up would be sporadic the rest of the season, though he finished with a huge .427 OBA. In ’70 the team moved to Milwaukee and Mincher was traded to Oakland so Mike was able to resume his regular role at first base where he got by far the most at bats of his career. In ’71 he platooned there with Johnny Briggs and a bunch of other guys to start the season before in June he followed Mincher to Oakland and spent the rest of the year as a late-inning guy and pinch hitter. He also made it back to the post-season and got an appearance against Baltimore. In ’72 he performed the same role again in pretty nice fashion as he hit .329 with a .375 OBA in limited at bats. He also got some decent Series time and even saved a win at first base by spearing a Cesar Geronimo shot down the line. And that came just after Joe Rudi made an awesome catch in left field to stop a home run by Denis Menke.

After his bi-team experience of ’73 Hegan began the ’74 season at Shea as part of a platoon at first base with Bill Sudakis. That arranement lasted until about a month into the season when the Yankees acquired Chris Chambliss from Cleveland. Shortly thereafter Mike was sold to Milwaukee in his second career round-tripper. There the Brewers had a mainstay at first base in George “Boomer” Scott and while Mike got a bit of time in the outfield, his most at bats were as a designated hitter. He did pretty well in the RBI department with 41 in 243 at bats for the year. In ’75 new acquisition Hank Aaron took most of the DH at bats and Mike split time between left field and first. In ’76 he got more time at DH as Aaron was winding down. Both years Mike hit around .250 in a bit over 200 at bats each season. That second year he hit for the cycle against Mark Fidrych. After getting very little time in the field to kick off the ’77 season he asked for his release and was done. Mike finished with a .242 average with a .341 OBA and hit .125 in 13 post-season games.

Hegan was a productive guy, finishing his degree in his first few off-seasons and then putting in some time as an announcer. He moved into that role full-time shortly after his release and continued calling games for the Brewers through the ’88 season. He then moved back to Cleveland where he has been calling games since ’89.

Mike gets some good color on the back. His dad played 15 years, almost all of them with Cleveland, and became a Yankee coach shortly after he retired. A few years ago I saw one of the ’72 Series games on ESPN Classics and Mike hit a grounder to third base. He nearly beat the throw; the guy had some serious wheels. And in “Ball Four” he comes across as a thoroughly likeable guy who is one of the few who is consistently nice to Jim Bouton, the book’s author. He also has about the best line in the book. When the Seattle players were asked the question about the toughest thing to do in baseball, Mike’s response was: “Explaining to your wife why she has to take a shot of penicillin for your kidney infection.”

Mike and Horacio actually played together in ’73 but Mike never got a lot of Oakland at bats so let’s make it stickier:

1. Hegan and Catfish Hunter ’71 to ’73 A’s;
2. Hunter and Horacio Pina ’73 A’s.  eHHeHYeHJh

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