Jim Hegan - Defense Personified
March 23, 2011
by William Szczepanek
How can you play 17 seasons in the big leagues as a non-pitcher with a career .228 batting average? Not only did Jim Hegan survive he was an All Star 5 times and in the MVP voting twice. You do it by being one of the top defensive catchers of all time.
Hegan played primarily for the Cleveland Indians from 1941 through 1957. Afterward he had short stints with the Tigers, Phillies, Giants and Cubs. For the Indians three times, in 1946, 1949 and 1950, he would lead the league in percentage of runners caught stealing. In 1947, 1948 and 1949 he would lead the league in putouts for catchers. In 1948 , 1949 and 1950 he would lead the league in assists for catchers. In 1953 he would have the fewest errors for the season. In 1954 and 1955 he would lead the league in fielding percentage as a catcher (.994 and .997), committing only 4 errors in 1954. When Hegan retired in 1960, his .990 career fielding percentage was second to Buddy Rosar.
While he did not hit for average he did have some power. He hit a 3-run homer in the fifth game of the 1948 World Series, in front of 86,288 Cleveland fans.
Jim Hegan caught for three Hall of Famers from the Cleveland Indians, Bob Feller, Bob Lemon and Early Wynn. We must remember he also got to catch Mel Harder, Allie Reynolds, Mike Garcia, Herb Score and Satchell Paige. Pitching for Cleveland alone, these hurlers combined for 1,112 wins while only losing 764 (.592). Cleveland pitchers give Hegan a great deal of credit for their success. Three times Hegan would catch for three 20 game winners in a season, from six different pitchers: Gene Bearden, Bob Feller, Mike Garcia, Bob Lemon, Herb Score, and Early Wynn.
Cleveland Indian Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller said, "He was one of the best defensive catchers in baseball history. You couldn't throw a ball past him."
In 1960, Hegan was the bullpen coach for the New York Yankees, working with Thurmon Munson and Rick Dempsey. In 1973 he coached for the Detroit Tigers for five years. He finished his career back with the Yankees as a coach, and a scout.
Mike Hegan, his son, played from 1964 to 1977, and is a radio announcer for the Indians.
You can check out Hegan's stats at Baseball-Reference.com.