Historical Hitter

Historical Hitter October 4 1925: Harry Heilmann

Rather than being a post season date, in 1925 it was the last day of the season.

Today is a day of infamy for Cubs fans for this proud franchise and the Team that won the first National League Pennant, and had for the first 49 seasons and never finished in last place. On this day the last day of their 50th season, the Cubs finished last. They did not finish last again until 24 years in 1949 and 1950.

.Meanwhile in the American League at stake was the American League batting title. It was between two Hall of Famers, Tris Speaker and Harry “Slug” Heilmann. 1925 was an historic year for Speaker, as he got his 3000 hit in May. But the season took its toll as well played his last full game on August 20, only pinch hitting/pinch running roles in the remaining games.  His last game on September 25 left him batting .389.  The question is would this number hold up.

Harry HeilmannHeilmann and the Tigers faced the Browns in a season ending twin bill. It was good news for even with the Browns finishing higher in the standings than the Tigers this team was known for great hitters, not pitching.

What complicated the matter was Cobb was also the Tigers Manager at the time, and four seasons earlier, Cobb was beat out by Heilmann in the last week of the season to take the 1921 title. Cobb hit .389; Heilmann hit .394. Heilmann’s daughter –in-law Marguerite Heilmann described the outcome:

“When he beat Ty Cobb out for the batting championship Ty didn’t really talk with him again.”

Thankfully, this season Cobb was about 10 points below and not in contention with Heilmann to win the batting title. But since Cobb the manager wasn’t speaking to his star slugger, who knew what Cobb would do. The ultra-competitive Cobb was ready for action.

On the morning of October 4, 1925 it was Speaker and his .389 average leading both Heilmann (.388) and Cobb (.373). Yet Cobb put up a good fight in only the manner he could, hitting a home run and a double going 4 for 6 raising his average to .377.

The pressure was on Heilmann to get the title. He went 3-6. Speaker who had 167 hits in 429 at bats official batted .3892.  Heilmann had 222 hits and 570 at bats for a average of.3894. He had done it!  Heilmann was the 1925 Batting champ. Knowing that Cobb had “won” the 1910 title suspicious circumstances the issue was he going to play the second game. When asked by a teammate Heilmann famously said:

“Not me,”… and … “I’ll win it fairly, or not at all. I’ll be in there swinging.”

For the record the Browns were defeated 10 to 4, and knocked out 21 hits against Brownie pitching. The Browns had just five hits.

In game two Heilmann lived up to the pressure and the Browns helped. The pitcher of the second game played only two years in the majors. He was used primarily in relief, game two would be his first start. His name was Ed Stauffer, who in 1925 pitched 30.1 innings to the tune of a 13.50 ERA and WHIP of 1.813. He lasted only 2 full innings and got two outs in the third, facing 17 batters and giving up two hits to Heilmann. Sisler ended his torture and in the third he made the call to the pen bringing in seldom used rookie Chet Frost, who was making his 13 appearance of the season. Heilmann treated the rookie roughly, hitting a fourth inning home run off him.

Harry Heilmann hittingHeilmann went 3 for 3 with a walk. His average for the year was .394, fair and square above Speakers’ .398.

This game was another laugher; the Tigers won it handily scoring 11 runs in the first 5 innings, the game ended up 11-6. What makes this last innings of the last game interesting is the Sisler a former 13-1 college pitcher who had a strikeout per nine ratio of 13.5, relieved Frost and pitched the last two innings himself. Not to be outdone, Cobb pitched the bottom of the nine for the Tigers and got the save.

Heilmann was one of the game’s best who made the transition from the dead ball era to the live ball era, his career was a robust and successful 17 seasons run from 1914 and ending in 1932. He batted over .300 a total of 12 consecutive seasons culminating with career number of .342. He won four batting titles with extraordinary averages with great precision of every other year. Moreover, he was just a dozen hits short of batting .400 three other times as he hit .394 in 1921, .403 in 1932, .393 in 1925, and .398 in 1927.

He was noted for his bravery and heroism. In 1916 he drove into the Michigan River and saved a drowning woman. And for his country he missed half of the 1918 being in the Submarine Corps.  In 1933 he became the radio announcer for the Tigers until Spring Training 1951. He had cancer and tried to hide it from all, by the time it was discovered it had metastasized and he died midseason, June 9, 1951, just a few days before the All Star Game that was held at Tiger Stadium. Before the game there was a very moving tribute and a moment of silence in honor of his career on and off the field and booth. He was elected to the Hall of Fame five years later in 1956. His hall of fame web page summarizes his career as:

“Harry Heilmann was one of the most marvelous men I ever met in baseball and one of the greatest right-handed hitters. He had a choppy stroke, but powerful. He was a tough man to pitch to.”

In his SABR BioProject report on Heilmann concludes that what world class decently and thinking more of others than himself, writing that Harry Slug Heilmann,

 …was one of the players who gave back to the underprivileged and identified himself as a Detroiter. “He invented the word class,” daughter-in-law Marguerite Heilmann said. “The man was outstanding when it came to not only his professional persona but his personal behavior was of a true gentleman.”



Baseball Hall of Fame




Dan D’Addona author, SABR BioProject  http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/7257f49c

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