It took nearly seven full seasons until the Milwaukee Brewers had a player hit for the cycle, and it came from an unexpected member of the team on September 3, 1976. Light hitting first baseman/outfielder Mike Hegan had 10 seasons behind him in the majors with just a .244 batting average. He made a career out of his defense, often subbing late in games for his stellar glove work.
Hegan always seemed to get stuck behind a superior player at first base, no matter what team he played on. He backed up Mickey Mantle, George Scott, and Mike Epstein. Even when he played with the Seattle Pilots in 1969, he couldn’t crack first base due to the power hitting Don Mincher. Hegan played some outfield that season, but only managed to get 334 plate appearances. He played a lot more when the team moved to Milwaukee in 1970 – 148 games all told – but had his customary .244 batting average.
“My first full season in the majors was 1967,” said Hegan. “Unfortunately, that just happened to be the year they switched Mantle to first base. It’s sort of been downhill ever since. I’ve played behind Mantle, Epstein with Oakland, and Scott. You’re talking about three pretty good first basemen. With Oakland, it was easier because I knew exactly what they expected of me – I was a late inning defensive replacement.”
Hegan came back to the Brewers on May 13, 1974, when the team purchased his contract from the New York Yankees. He was unable to crack the everyday lineup, and never made more than 250 plate appearances a season with the Brewers. In 1976, the Brewers had problems with the left field position, and Hegan played there a bit. When rosters expanded, Dan “The Sundown Kid” Thomas was called up to fill the position, and had one hit in four at bats in his first game.
Thomas sat on the bench the next night while Hegan started in left field, hitting in the No. 6 spot in the lineup. Von Joshua, Robin Yount, George Scott, and Bernie Carbo batted in front of Hegan against the Detroit Tigers and rookie phenom Mark “The Bird” Fidrych. Both teams were well below .500 with similar records – Milwaukee at 58-71 and Detroit at 61-70. Still, 32,951 fans came to Tiger Stadium, mainly to see the 15-6 Fidrych pitch.
It only helped Hegan that Fidrych was on the mound – and that all of the Brewers in the starting lineup had at least one hit, except Darrell Porter, who went 0 for 6. Sixto Lezcano and Robin Yount had two hits apiece, but the night clearly belonged to Hegan with four hits in five at bats, and 10 total bases.
“You have to be keyed up,” Hegan said. “You had 40,000 people, Fidrych was pitching. It was like a World Series game. You have to get a little tingle. If you don’t feel anything on a night like that, you’re not human.”
The 34-year-old Hegan had a two-run double in Milwaukee’s four run first inning, a solo homer in the third inning, and a three-run triple in the fourth inning. By then the Brewers had a 9-0 lead, and Hegan’s triple sent Fidrych to an early shower. The faithful Tiger Stadium crowd still gave Fidrych a standing ovation when he left the mound, and chanted “Go, Bird, Go.”
Hegan and Fidrych had one thing in common that night – both their fathers were in attendance. Fidrych’s father was in the stands and Hegan’s father was a member of the Tigers coaching staff.
“I have to give Hegan credit,” said Fidrych. “He did what he wanted to do. He showed his father what he could do – just like I showed my father what I could do. I feel shell-shocked. It just felt like the roof caved in.”
The Tigers called on Bill Laxton to replace Fidrych and put a halt to Milwaukee’s scoring. He finished the fourth inning, got around two singles in the fifth, and then came out for the sixth inning. Needing just a single for the cycle, Hegan waited on deck as Carbo led off the inning and struck out. Hegan laced an opposite field single to left and the milestone was his.
“The fourth time I went to the plate, I knew I had an opportunity for the cycle and I just wanted to make contact,” Hegan said. “I don’t know what I would have done if it had looked like an extra base hit. Maybe I would have tripped or fallen down.”
Hegan flew out and walked his last two times to bat in the game. The Brewers tacked on a couple of late runs, and the Tigers managed to finally put two runs of their own on the board. Milwaukee won by a final of 11-2, with Jerry Augustine throwing a complete game. In winning his 6th game in his last 8 decisions, Augie only allowed five hits.
Hegan reflected on his big night after the game with reporters. He said, “Somebody asked me if this was the best night I ever had. I said if I had gotten just two hits it would have been the best night I ever had. Henry Aaron said he never hit for the cycle. It’s something everybody thinks and dreams about, but never expects to happen.”
Hegan was not the most likely of candidates for the cycle, mainly due to his lack of career triples. He logged just 18 triples in a 12 season career. In fact, the triple he hit as part of his cycle was his last career three-bagger.
After the next day when he again played left field, Hegan went back to bouncing between giving George Scott an occasional day off at first base, playing right field, and designated hitter. Dan Thomas played left field for the remainder of the month and hit .276, giving the Brewers hope they had finally found an answer for the position. His story had a tragic end, and you can read about it here.
Hegan was released the following July after a feud with manager Alex Grammas over playing time, and retired as a player soon afterward. Hegan then enjoyed a long career in baseball broadcasting until his passing in 2013. He will be forever known as the first Brewers player to hit for the cycle.
My book Building the Brewers: Bud Selig and the Return of Major League Baseball to Milwaukee is available to be ordered on the McFarland website.
(The story you just read is not part of the book)