Mehring Monday: Goodbyes

The home of the West Michigan Whitecaps was damaged by a fire last Friday. (WOOD-TV)

By Chris Mehring / Wisconsin Timber Rattlers | January 6, 2014 2:10 PM ET

I really wanted to start 2014 with some positive comments and a look ahead to a fast-approaching Opening Day. However, there was bad news over the holiday break and all of it should be talked about here.

Mike Hegan passes away - Mike Hegan was an original Milwaukee Brewer and returned to the team as both a player and a broadcaster. 

Hegan, the son of a Major League player, spent his life in baseball. This SABR bioproject piece on Hegan notes that his first taste of the big leagues came at Yankee Stadium in 1954. His father, Jim, was playing for Cleveland and the Indians were without a batboy. Twelve-year-old Mike was pressed into service and was interviewed by Yankee broadcaster Red Barber in the pre-game show.

Just over ten years later, Hegan made his MLB debut at Yankee Stadium for the Yankees. Hegan spent parts of three seasons with the Yankees before becoming a Seattle Pilot in 1969. He came to Milwaukee with the franchise when the Pilots became the Milwaukee Brewers for the 1970 season.

Oakland purchased his contract in the middle of the 1971 season and Hegan was an Athletic for 1971 and 1972. In 1973, he was sent to the Yankees. The Brewers purchased Hegan's contract from the Yankees during the 1974 season and he spent the final three and a half seasons of his career with the Brewers.

One of the highlights Hegan had as a member of the Brewers happened on September 3, 1976. He became the first player in franchise history to hit for the cycle. It happened at Tiger Stadium with a double in his first at bat, a home run in his second, a three-run triple in his third, and a single in his fourth. Oh, and the three extra base hits in his cycle came against Mark "The Bird" Fidrych, who was the hottest pitcher on the planet in 1976.

"The fourth time I went to the plate, I knew I had the opportunity for the cycle and I just wanted to make contact," he said. "I don't know what I would have done if it looked like an extra base hit. Maybe I would have tripped or fallen down."

That sense of humor allowed Hegan to make an easy transition to the broadcast booth. He had started work as a sportscaster during the 1976 off season. He was released by Milwaukee in the middle of the 1977 season and a few days later he was in the TV booth calling games with the legendary Ray Scott.

He was a Brewers TV broadcaster from 1978 to 1980 and again from 1982 through 1988. He went home to Cleveland to work as their radio and TV broadcaster in 1989 and worked for them through the 2011 season.

The Brewers released a statement about Hegan and gave Bob Uecker, who both called games Hegan played and worked with Hegan as a broadcaster, the last word. 

"Mike was a friend for a long time as a player and also as a broadcaster," said Uecker. "My condolences to (wife) Nancy and the rest of the Hegan family."

Jerry Coleman passes away - Jerry Coleman is a legend. He was a Marine pilot during World War II and the Korean War. He played second base during the glory years of the Yankees. But he is beloved in San Diego.

He was the Ford C. Frick Award winner in 2005 and is in the broadcasters wing of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The last part of his plaque reads:

In 1972, Coleman became the voice of the Padres in the club's fourth season. In 1980, Coleman left the broadcast booth to become field manager for the Padres, a stint that lasted just one year after Coleman guided the club to a sixth-place finish. He returned as voice of the Padres in 1981. Coleman's work with CBS Radio Game of the Week continued through 1997, with additional assignments for The Baseball Network (1994-1995). He broadcast two World Series and 18 League Championship Series.

That doesn't tell the whole story. It takes another hall of fame broadcaster to do that.

"Bottom line: People loved Jerry and respected him, because you could tell from listening to him what a wonderful person he was," said Vin Scully, the legendary voice of the Dodgers for 65 seasons. "I considered it a great privilege for me to be one of those who voted for Jerry's induction into Cooperstown. What an amazing life."

When Vin Scully says you've had an amazing life...

Fifth Third Bank Ballpark Fire - The news started to trickle in on twitter last Friday. The home of the West Michigan Whitecaps was on fire. Fortunately, no one was hurt in the fire, but the photo up at the top of this article shows the injury sustained by the ballpark.

The Rattlers are scheduled to be in West Michigan for their home opening game on April 8. The Midwest League is also scheduled to get together at West Michigan for the 2014 MWL All-Star Game. This leaves them with a very tight timeline to get ready for the season.

In my many travels to West Michigan over the years, I have had the opportunity to get to know a lot of people in their front office. And if they say they will be ready for Opening Day, they will be ready for Opening Day. They will deal with this and thrive.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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