Jim Hegan was a five time All-Star as a catcher and he never hit above .249 in his career. His slash line was .228/.295/.344 and Hegan had a career total of 92 home runs in 17 seasons.
Hegan’s calling card was on the defensive side and not the offense – that was the domain of Yogi Berra, Sherm Lollar and a few others who were exceptional hitters that donned the tools of ignorance. Bill Dickey, the Yankees great catcher, once said “If I had been able to catch like Hegan I wouldn’t have needed to hit.” That was Jim Hegan. A defensive master and one of the best – not in his era – but any era.
Cleveland’s staff was usually at the top of the charts with fewest runs allowed and in 1951-52 the staff had three twenty game winners. In 1954 the Indians won a then-record 111 games and had a league lowest ERA of 2.78. From 1948-51 they had a league-best ERA and a key component was Hegan.
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That 1954 Cleveland staff had future Hall of Fame members Bob Feller, Hal Newhouser, Bob Lemon and Early Wynn among a group that had the likes of starter Mike Garcia and hard-throwing Don Mossi and Ray Narleski out of the bullpen. Hegan caught seven pitchers who eventually made it to the HOF. And his arm? Tossed out runners at a 50% clip.
Hegan had Boston connections, having been raised in Lynn, Massachusetts and being the catcher in that fateful 1948 playoff game when the Indians defeated the Red Sox and thus matched up with the Boston Braves in the World Series.
Christian Vazquez is getting good PR from all the right spots. The pitchers already remark on his game-calling skills and that is with little experience in knowing the opposition. Vasquez has an exceptional arm and his movements around the plate make him look like Gene Kelly in a chest protector.
Vazquez in 500 minor league games has slashed .265/.344/.392 with 2013 and 2014 showing some significant improvement as he touched into the .280 range. His short sample in Boston shows that he may be a work in progress regarding the bat.
What I have seen with Vazquez is some nice at bats. A sac fly on a tough count to bring a run in. A single up the middle or a short swing opposite field single to right. Vasquez is obviously playing to his own strength and not attempting to jack everything. A good situational hitter. Will that be enough?
I can see Vazquez having some Heganish power numbers – the home runs occasionally going over the double-digit mark and some nice gap doubles tossed in. Nothing spectacular. I can also envision Vasquez getting into a situation where his BB/K figures balance out.
Jim Hegan clearly demonstrates the advantage of a defensive catcher. Need we go back to 2013 to see how significant the insertion of David Ross was in the World Series?