August 3 – Happy Birthday Jim Hegan
Jim Hegan’s long career with the Yankees began in 1960. The then 40-year-old, five-time all-star catcher was released at midseason by the Chicago Cubs and signed a month later by New York, when both Yogi Berra and Ellie Howard went down with injuries. But Hegan never caught an inning in pinstripes because that Yankee team had a third catcher on its roster by the name of Johnny Blanchard. Blanchard had been wasting away on Casey Stengel’s bench for two seasons and when he heard New York had signed Hegan, he was irate and let Stengel and the Yankee front office know exactly how he felt. The outburst worked. Stengel finally played Blanchard behind the plate and Hegan sat the bench.
The Yankees replaced Stengel with Ralph Houk after that season and Houk asked Hegan to be his bullpen coach. Thus began Hegan’s fifteen year tenure as a coach with New York. During his seventeen-year playing career, he had established himself as one of the great defensive catchers of all-time. He was the master handler of those phenomenal Cleveland Indian starting rotations of the early 1950s, that included Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, Early Wynn, Mike Garcia and later Herb Score. These guys never shook off a sign Hegan put down and each of them credited the catcher for making them better pitchers. Hegan also had perfect technique behind the plate and a shotgun for an arm, which enabled him to throw out 50% of the runners who attempted to steal against him, a phenomenal lifetime average.
The only thing Hegan couldn’t do was hit. His lifetime batting average was just .228. The Yankee relief pitchers and catchers Hegan later coached loved the guy. His son Mike was signed by New York during Hegan’s first season as Yankee coach and was considered a top prospect in the organization for years. In 1973, Hegan followed Ralph Houk to Detroit and became a Tiger coach. He rejoined the Yankee staff in 1979 and coached for New York for two more seasons. He died from a heart attack in 1984. at the age of 63.