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Harry Heilmann

Positions: Outfielder; Infielder
Teams: Detroit Tigers, 1914-1929; Cincinnati Reds, 1930, 1932

Harry Heilmann was the last right-handed batter in the American League to hit over .400. Had he made just one more hit in 1927 and four more hits in both 1921 and 1925, he would have been the only player in major-league history to top the .400 mark four times.

As it was, he won four AL batting titles and became the first player to hit at least one home run in every major-league park in use during his career. Yet, for all his accomplishments, Heilmann was not elected to the Hall of Fame until 1952, the winter after his death. Critics claimed that his .342 career batting average was inflated because he played during the 1920s when astronomical averages were the norm.

Harry Heilmann seemed destined to head back to the minors until Ty Cobb came along.
Harry Heilmann seemed destined to head
back to the minors until
Ty Cobb came along.

Born in San Francisco and raised in Oakland, Harry Edwin Heilmann (1894-1951) signed his first professional contract with Portland of the Pacific Coast League. Optioned to the Northwest League, he hit .305 in 122 games and tagged 11 home runs, prompting the Tigers to draft him. Heilmann was a bust in 1914, however, his initial season in the majors. Moved from the outfield to first base in 1919, he topped the .300 barrier for the first time when he posted a .320 average with 95 RBI for Detroit.

When Ty Cobb became the Detroit manager in 1921, he returned Heilmann to the outfield. Cobb also spent considerable time tutoring Harry at the plate. The extra instruction paid immediate dividends when he won the AL batting title in Cobb’s first season at the Detroit helm, a feat Heilmann would repeat every other season for the next six years (1921, ’23, ’25, and ’27).

He also had more than 200 base hits in each of the four years that he won the hit crown. One consequence of the successful teacher-pupil relationship between Cobb and Heilmann was that the pair became lifelong friends. Heilmann was also close to Babe Ruth and may have been the only contemporary of the two temperamental superstars who was on excellent terms with both.

Following the 1929 season, Harry was waived out of the American League despite hitting .344 for the Tigers and netting 120 RBI. Picked up by Cincinnati, he batted .333 and set a new Reds record when he hammered 19 home runs. Unfortunately, arthritis caused him to miss the entire 1931 season. After playing just 15 games in 1932, he stepped down as an active player and became a coach for the Reds.

In 1933, the Tigers hired Heilmann to announce their games on the radio. He remained at the Detroit microphone until his death from lung cancer on July 9, 1951.

Here are Harry Heilmann's major league totals:


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