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Subtle excellence: Indians broadcaster Mike Hegan passes away

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Mike Hegan (far left), with Jim Rosenhaus and Tom Hamilton (photo: MLB.com)

Mike Hegan (far left), with Jim Rosenhaus and Tom Hamilton (photo: MLB.com)

The Cleveland Indians’ longtime broadcaster Mike Hegan, 71, passed away from heart failure today at his home in Hilton Head, South Carolina. The news was reported first via the Cleveland Indians twitter account earlier Wednesday evening.

Hegan’s heydey began in 1998, when he joined Tom Hamilton full-time in the booth once Herb Score officially retired.

Hegan was the quintessential partner for Tom Hamilton, as the calm and the cool and the collected professor to Hammy’s exuberance. For the majority of any game, the two worked off of each other very well, and Hegan’s information as an ex-player behind the plate was top-notch and ran with the flow of a conversation.

Hegan never tried to show up his broadcasting partners, and never came across as a pompous, “I know more than you know” sort of announcer, as other local color men have come off in recent years.

Matt Underwood joined the booth with Hegan and Hamilton in 2000.

I don’t think Hegan will ever be considered a top four or five all-time announcer in Cleveland, but his best compliment, at least in my eyes, is that he was never bigger than the game, he rarely made mistakes, he always gave subtle and effective information, and was insightful.

Announcers should never be bigger than the game, and Hegan understood that as a former player. Perhaps his role as a reserve first baseman and DH allowed him to understand how to fit within the mesh of a team, rather than overwhelm it, which he did with a refreshing serenity.

During the calm stretches of any game, Hamilton and Hegan had a refreshing and relaxing conversational tone in which Hamilton respected the knowledge of his partner, while Hegan reciprocated that respect, rather than act as though he was the only member of the booth that had anything to offer.

There weren’t many better teams in Cleveland announcing history than Hamilton and Hegan.
Here is the Indians twitter announcement:

Hegan, the son of former Indians’ great Jim Hegan, spent his formative years here in Cleveland, starring at St. Ignatius in football and a baseball. He would head off to Holy Cross for a year on scholarship, but was signed by the New York Yankees in 1961.

He would receive a cup of coffee for the Yankees in 1964, but would never really get a foothold with the Evil Empire. His contract was purchased by the Seattle Pilots in 1968, and would spend the next nine seasons playing for Seattle, Milwaukee for two stints, Oakland, and a return engagement with the Yankees. In all, Hegan would play 12 total seasons, with seven total in Milwaukee.

Hegan would then spend the next 12 years as a broadcaster for the Brewers, before returning home to Cleveland in 1989. He would spend the next 23 seasons broadcasting games for both television and radio for the Tribe, and he was ecstatic to “come home” to the Indians.

Hegan stepped aside as a broadcaster at the end of 2011 due to health concerns, and was already working a limited schedule of home games, and road games in Detroit and Chicago at the time. He was inducted into the Greater Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame in 2011.

Hamilton believed that Hegan was as good or better than any player ever to make the transition to the booth, and included such broadcasters as Tim McCarver and Steve Stone into the equations. According to a piece that Paul Hoynes wrote in 2011, “No one is better than Mike,” Hamilton said. “I just don’t think he’s gotten the recognition.

There were a lot of different things that made Hegan special, but at the top of the list was the fact that he not only was a color analyst, but he transitioned very easily into the play-by-play role, and kept things simple.

I’ve always been intensely annoyed by analysts that always acted like they knew more than anyone, and wouldn’t shut up trying to explain that to the world. Hegan never tried to talk above the fans that were listening.

Simple…and to the point, which is just the way it should be.

RIP Mike Hegan, and thanks for your understated brilliance.

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