Top Tigers Countdown #8: Harry Heilmann

Leon Halip

"Slug" helped bridge the gap from the Cobb era to the glory days in the 1930s and '40s, and lands the #8 spot in our countdown.

After the most contested poll of our countdown -- five players had at least 11% of the vote -- Hall of Fame outfielder Harry Heilmann was voted the #8 player in Tigers history. He spent some time playing first base, but was primarily a right fielder in 17 big league seasons. His first 15 seasons were spent in Detroit, where he earned the nickname "Slug" as a career .342/.410/.520 hitter.

Year PA HR RBI SB BA OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ WAR
1914 218 2 18 1 .225 .316 .313 .311 89 -0.2
1916 513 2 73 9 .282 .349 .410 .366 123 2.6
1917 619 5 86 11 .281 .333 .387 .348 116 2.3
1918 331 5 39 13 .276 .359 .406 .374 129 1.9
1919 594 8 93 7 .320 .366 .477 .396 133 3.6
1920 602 9 89 3 .309 .358 .429 .369 107 1.6
1921 672 19 139 2 .394 .444 .606 .472 165 6.8
1922 527 21 92 8 .356 .432 .598 .462 164 5.0
1923 626 18 115 9 .403 .481 .632 .503 189 9.2
1924 678 10 114 13 .346 .428 .533 .440 145 6.2
1925 664 13 134 6 .393 .457 .569 .465 158 6.5
1926 598 9 103 6 .367 .445 .53 .451 152 4.9
1927 596 14 120 11 .398 .475 .616 .493 177 6.9
1928 633 14 107 7 .328 .390 .507 .408 131 3.7
1929 519 15 120 5 .344 .412 .565 .435 145 3.2
1930* 539 19 91 2 .333 .416 .577 .434 139 4.7
1932* 31 0 6 0 .258 .258 .323 .262 53 -0.1
Career 8960 183 1539 113 .342 .410 .520 .427 144 69.0

*Played for the Cincinnati Reds in 1930 and 1932.

Heilmann was born on August 3rd, 1894, the second player on our countdown to be born in the 19th century. He debuted with the Tigers in 1914 at the age of 19 and hit .225/.316/.313 with two home runs and 18 RBI in 68 games. He spent the 1915 season in the Pacific Coast League -- teams didn't have minor league affiliates back then -- but returned to the Tigers on a permanent basis in 1916. Over the next three seasons, he hit a combined .280/.345/.399 with 12 home runs and 198 RBI in nearly 1,500 plate appearances. He missed half of the 1918 season due to military service in World War I.

The 1918 season would be the last time Heilmann hit under .300 in a Tigers uniform. He returned from military service in 1919 to hit .320/.366/.477 with eight home runs, 15 triples, and 93 RBI in 594 plate appearances. Two years later, a 26 year old Heilmann won his first of four American League batting titles with a .394 batting average. The runner up? Teammate Ty Cobb, with a .389 average. Heilmann started to hit for power that year too, slugging 19 home runs and finishing the year with a 1.051 OPS.

The next season marked the first of seven straight top-15 MVP finishes for Heilmann, including five straight top-10 votes from 1923 to 1927. He won his second batting title in 1923 with a .403 batting average. Ted Williams is the only American League player to hit above .400 since Heilmann, doing so in 1941 -- a year in which players were beginning to leave for military service in World War II, for what it's worth.

Heilmann had an .897 OPS or above in every season from 1921 to 1930. He won two more batting titles in 1925 and 1927, and led the American League with 45 doubles in 1924. He hit double digit home runs in nine of those ten seasons, but only once hit more than 20 homers.

Heilmann was sold to the Cincinnati Reds prior to the 1930 season, his last full season in the big leagues. He hit .333/.416/.577 with 19 home runs and 91 RBI while dealing with arthritis in his wrists. His short stint in Cincinnati also led to him becoming the first player in Major League history to homer in every ballpark. After missing the 1931 season, he led a brief comeback attempt in 1932 with the Reds but only put up a .581 OPS in 15 games.

Heilmann spent the 1930s and '40s doing radio broadcasts for the Tigers during their incredible run of success. He retired in 1950 and passed away shortly after due to lung cancer. Heilmann was inducted into the Hall of Fame posthumously in 1952, one of two players inducted that season.

Despite some incredible numbers, Heilmann owns no offensive club records for single-game, season, or career achievements. He ranks second in Tigers history in batting average, third in RBI, fourth in doubles and triples, sixth in WAR, and seventh in runs scored.

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