John Hiller: Come Hiller High Water

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Let's face it - I'm not much of a numbers girl. Just ask my grade 10 math teacher, lacrosse legend, John Tavares (seriously).

Mr. Tavares did everything he could to try and help me pass, and thankfully, it worked. He assigned me a tutor and even implemented a hockey "wingers" style seating arrangement in class. Naturally, the weakest student was seated in between two math wizards in an attempt to help the middle student gain more math momentum.

Guess who was the chosen one to call that middle seat their throne?

It wasn't for lack of trying - the subject just never came easily to me and I always found myself excelling at anything that involved being expressive through writing. But when I research baseball players' batting averages or pitchers ERA, those numbers just make sense. They help paint a picture of what that baseball season or player career looked like.

Oct. 10 marked the 50th anniversary of the 1968 Tigers clinching a nail-biting World Series championship against the St. Louis Cardinals. This is one of the most talked about seasons in Tigers history and I constantly feed my curiosity for this team by indulging in years that I'm not entirely familiar with.

While the '68 Tigers roster was dressed with a multitude of notable names, southpaw John Hiller caught my attention. Not just because of the Toronto connection, but also the more I researched, the more I became captivated by Hiller's unexpected story.

Hiller proved to be an influential reliever for the Tigers' championship win. But according to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, and the real kicker in the story, Hiller suffered what should have been a career-ending heart attack at the age of 27 in 1971.

1973 was a year in which Hiller continued to dominate Major League batters. He mowed down opposing hitters with ease, and ended the year with a remarkable 1.44 ERA. It was obvious that no health scare or team of doctors would stand in the way of his stellar baseball career.

What stood out to me the most was Hiller's career ERA. He managed to post a 2.83 ERA over the course of 15 seasons, playing 545 games with 1242 IP, all while showing Major League Baseball that suffering from a heart attack in between would not slow him down.

I could talk Tigers baseball and read about their history all day long, but when I stumble upon an interesting baseball statistic, I often challenge myself with comparing numbers and stories to other prominent MLB players.

Take Trevor Hoffman - San Diego Padres relief pitcher with notable numbers too. Hoffman played in 1035 games, pitched 1089.1 innings, ending his career with an impressive ERA of 2.87.

There's also Dennis Eckersley, reliever with the Oakland A's, 1071 games played, 3285.2 IP, and a career ERA of 3.50. Amazing numbers, but what's even more remarkable is his ability to keep the same haircut and facial hair years later.

But there's one player whose career numbers speak volumes. Who's considered to be one of the best, if not the best, relief pitchers in Major League Baseball?

Mariano Rivera.

Rivera spent the entirety of his career with the Yankees, and one Google search of his name brings about endless career statistics. Rivera played in 1115 games, pitched 1283.2 innings, finishing his career with a 2.21 ERA.

Reading these career stats has my mind blown, and I find myself comparing Hiller's stats to those of Rivera. I took a closer look at the amount of games played and while both career numbers stun me, I have to wonder, could Hiller maintain that performance level over another 550 plus games?

Hiller's determination alone makes me believe that he could have pulled it off.

There's no doubt that Hiller was meant for the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and the several accolades he received throughout his career. He embodies what it means to be a persistent Canuck, but also personifies the strong-willed spirit of the 1968 Tigers and the future of the current Tigers too.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of the <em>Bless You Boys</em> writing staff.