- August 3, 1920
- 6' 2"
- 195 lbs
- Major League Debut:
- 9-09-1941 with CLE
This superb defensive catcher spent more than a decade as a Cleveland regular, catching 20-game winners Feller, Lemon, Wynn, Garcia, Score, and Bearden. Although he hit 14 home runs in both 1948 and 1950, he never had a batting average higher than .249. But Cleveland fans never booed the likable Hegan, no matter how low his average dropped. Appearing in five All Star games. As testament to his defensive skills, he never once appeared at any position but catcher in his major league career.
As Bill Dickey commented, "When you can catch like Hegan, you don't have to hit." Lithe, quick, and graceful, the durable Hegan was artful on pop-ups and balls in the dirt and was respected by baserunners. He received much of the credit for Cleveland's pitching success; fellow catcher Joe Tipton said, "Hitters who strike out against the Indians cuss Hegan."
Born in Lynn, Massachusetts, Hegan was drafted as an amateur free agent by the Cleveland Indians in 1938. He made his major league debut with the Indians in 1941. Hegan made his big league debut with the Cleveland Indians in 1941. Rollie Hemsley was the Indians first-string catcher that season. Hegan hit .319 in 16 games, by far the highest batting average of his major league career. After appearing in 68 more games in 1942, he went into the Coast Guard for the rest of the war.
Coming back in 1946, he was the first string catcher for the Indians from then till 1956. Not only a fast catcher who quickly reached bunts and pop-ups, he also was seen as a wizard for calling pitches. Opposing catcher Joe Tipton said: "Hitters who strike out against the Indians cuss Hegan."
When Hegan returned in 1946 he became the Indians regular starting catcher replacing Frankie Hayes. In his second season back after the war, Hegan was recognized as one of the top catchers in the American League when, he was selected as a reserve in the 1947 All-Star Game. He had his best season offensively in 1948, posting a .248 batting average along with 14 home runs and 61 runs batted in, as the Indians finished the season tied for first place with the Boston Red Sox.
After defeating the Red Sox in a one-game playoff, the Indians went on to defeat the Boston Braves in the 1948 World Series. Despite his low batting average, Hegan ended the season ranked in 19th place in the 1948 American League Most Valuable Player Award voting, due in part to his handling of the Indians' pitching staff which led the league in winning percentage, shutouts and in earned run average.
Hegan's pitch-calling skills continued to be made evident as, the Indian's pitching staff would lead the American League in earned run average every year from 1948 to 1951. In 1951 and 1952, the Indians' pitching staff would have three twenty-game winning pitchers. Cleveland pitchers gave Hegan credit for part of their success. Cleveland Indian Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller was quoted as saying,"He was one of the best defensive catchers in baseball history. Jim called a good game. We disagreed rarely. Jim was very good at keeping pitchers calm". Another Hall of Fame pitcher, Bob Lemon 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".
In 1954, Hegan would again lead the Indians' pitching staff to the lowest earned run average in the league and committed only 4 errors in 137 games played as, the Indians won the American League pennant with a then-record 111 victories in a 154-game season. The Indians would eventually lose to the New York Giants in the 1954 World Series. Hegan would once again guide the Indians' pitching staff to the league's lowest earned run average in 1956 as, the Indians boasted three twenty-game winning pitchers for the third time during his career.
After the 1957 season, Hegan was traded to the Detroit Tigers. He was traded several more times before ending his playing career with the Chicago Cubs in 1960 at the age of 39.
He was the catcher on the great 1954 Cleveland Indians team that won 111 games. The Indians pitching staff had a 2.78 ERA, while the league as a whole had a 3.72.
Hegan caught no-hitters by Don Black (7/10/1947), Bob Lemon (6/30/1948), and Bob Feller (7/1/1951). His catching was a key to the Indians' 1948 and 1954 pennants. When he retired in 1960, his 1,629 games caught was seventh on the all-time list.
After his playing career ended, he was a New York Yankees coach from 1960 to 1973. He spent 1974 to 1978 on the Detroit Tigers coaching staff before rejoining the Yankees as a coach for two more seasons. He later spent time as a scout.
He was the father of Mike Hegan.
He once wrote a book called Jim Hegan's Secrets of Catching. In 1949 Popular Mechanics magazine interviewed Hegan regarding the secrets of pitching. Hegan said "speed and control" were the key assets of a good pitcher.
Jim Hegan Quotes:
"As far as I'm concerned, you start and end any discussion of catchers with Jim Hegan." - Birdie Tebbetts
"In a tight spot, you always went with Jim's call," - Herb Score
"[Hegan] was the best defensive catcher I ever had." - Bob Feller
"When you can catch like Hegan, you don't have to hit." - Bill Dickey