Year Inducted: 1952 (BBWAA, ballot #12, 202/234)
The Tigers’ place in baseball history is often overlooked, especially when it comes to Hall of Fame outfielders. They’ve had some of the greatest hitters of all-time in their outfield. Ty Cobb, for one, was one of the most fearsome players of all-time and wound up with over 4000 hits. Al Kaline remains one of the more underrated stars of all-time, with 3000 hits and nearly 400 homers along with some great defense in right field. Before Kaline, in right field there was Wahoo Sam Crawford, teaming up with Cobb to form one of the best outfields of the early years of the game. But, who bridged the gap between the two right field sluggers? That would be right fielder Harry Heilmann.
Heilmann was one of the more dominant sluggers of the 1920’s-a time when power hitters were becoming more in vogue. Playing mostly for the Tigers in a 17-year career, Heilmann mashed the ball with a line of .342/.410/.520 with a wRC+ of 144. Heilmann collected over 500 doubles, 150 triples and 180 homers in his career as a mainstay in the lineup. A productive hitter, Heilmann drove in over 1500 runs and scored nearly 1300 runs. Upon Crawford’s retirement the Tigers were concerned they wouldn’t be able to find a suitable replacement to patrol the outfield; Heilmann seemed to do a decent job.
The one area that Heilmann wasn’t great at was defense. He was a big slugger, over six feet tall and nearly 200 pounds. As such, he wasn’t very agile, and so he had a negative fielding score and base running score, despite having over 100 steals in his career.
Heilmann did play at a time when offense was abundant, but still shined brighter than a lot of outfielders. The average right fielder in Heilmann’s career hit .296/.362/.426, roughly 12% better than league average offensively. Heilmann does, however, blow that line out of the water, so the luster that got removed from a lot of other players (like Bill Terry for instance) isn’t really lost on Heilmann. He also managed to drive in 600 more runs than the average right fielder and hit 200 more doubles and 70 more homers as well.
Heilmann was one of the most underrated hitters of all-time. It may come as a surprise that the BBWAA actually didn’t overlook Heilmann, rather he was inducted on his 12th year on the ballot. Still went in rather late, but the writers did eventually do the right thing.
Stay tuned for the next updates.
On deck 11/14/16:
#73- Other than Anson, this was the best first baseman of the early years.
#72- The best Yankee pitcher of all-time.