Harry Heilmann Game Used Bat

Posed full-length shot with bat of Detroit Tigers Harry Heilmann, 1923

1921-22 Hillerich & Bradsby Harry Heilmann

Harry Edwin Heilmann, nicknamed "Slug", was an American baseball player and radio announcer. He played professional baseball for 19 years between 1913 and 1932, including 17 seasons in Major League Baseball with the Detroit Tigers (1914, 1916–1929) and Cincinnati Reds (1930, 1932). He was a play-by-play announcer for the Tigers for 17 years from 1934 to 1950.


Heilmann won four American League batting championships, securing the honors in 1921, 1923, 1925 and 1927. He appeared in 2,147 major league games, including 1,525 games as a right fielder and 448 as a first baseman and compiled a career batting average of .342, the 12th highest in major league history, and third highest among right-handed batters. At the time of his retirement in 1932, Heilmann ranked sixth in major league history with 542 doubles and eighth with 1,543 RBIs. He remains one of only six players in American League history to hit .400 for a season, having accomplished the feat in 1923 with a .403 batting average. He also hit .394 in 1921. At his peak from 1921 to 1927, Heilmann compiled a .380 batting average, .452 on-base percentage, .583 slugging percentage, and averaged 116 RBI, 41 doubles, 11 triples, and 104 runs scored per season. From 1919 through 1930, Heilmann hit over .300 for 12 consecutive seasons.


After retiring from baseball, Heilmann ran unsuccessfully for the office of Detroit City Treasurer and operated a semipro baseball team in 1933 and, in 1934, began a career as a radio broadcaster. From 1934 to 1941, he was play-by-play announcer for the Tigers on station WXYZ and the Michigan Radio Network, covering parts of Michigan located outside metropolitan Detroit, while rival Ty Tyson called games for station WWJ in Detroit exclusively. From 1942 to 1950, Heilmann was the exclusive radio voice of the Tigers throughout the state. Heilmann died from lung cancer in July 1951; he was posthumously elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame six months later in January 1952 after garnering 86.75% of the votes. (From Heilmann's Wikipedia page.)

This bat was purchased from a seller in the Detroit area along with game used bats of Larry Woodall, Frank O'Rourke, and Harry Rice. All the bats were in impeccable condition with great use characteristics and the Heilmann was no exception.


At 34 1/4" and 35 and a half ounces, this signature model Hillerich & Bradsby is a picture perfect example. The labeling period is widely considered to be 1919 to 1922, but since Harry Heilmann signed his signature endorsement contract with Hillerich & Bradsby in October of 1920 any signature endorsed bats would most likely not have been turned until the orders were for 1921 were being filled. The era is estimated to be 1921-22.


The era could possibly be narrowed further by examination of Heilmann's ordering records. I believe this model would be referred to as "His Blue Model 8/23/17 a.k.a His Old Blue Heilmann or his Fournier (Jack) & Blue (Lu), Square End" which was indexed at 34". The Vince Malta Guide has no orders of this model listed for the 1921 season but that doesn't mean that there weren't any as the records are known to be incomplete (including missing the entire log book for 1924). In 1922, Heilmann ordered 34" bats in weights that were n/s (not specified) ounces, 38 ounces, and 40 ounces. Considering the length & current weight of the bat match closely to these ordered specs for 1922 the bat is most likely from an order during the 1922 season.


Selfishly, a little part of me does wish the bat was from 1921 as Heilmann won the first of his four American League batting titles that year. In 149 games he collected 237 hits, hit 19 home runs, drove in 139, scored 114 runs, and had a .394 batting average.


On the other hand, Heilmann's 1922 season wasn't bad. By late June, Heilmann was batting .387 and battling George Sisler for the American League batting championship. On August 26, Heilman's season came to an end when he sustained a complete break of his collarbone when he crashed into Frank Brower while trying to beat out an infield hit. Heilmann had to have his collarbone rebroken and reset, and it was then discovered that Heilmann had also broken his shoulder. The injuries were so severe that Heilmann remained hospitalized until a week before the end of the season, and even after leaving the hospital, he feared he might never play again. Despite missing the last five weeks of the season, Heilmann hit a career-high 21 home runs, fourth in the American League, and also ranked among the league leaders with a .356 batting average (fourth), a .432 on-base percentage (fifth) and a .598 slugging percentage (fourth).(Heilmann Wikipedia)

In addition to the overall outstanding condition, matching ordering specs, and outstanding season stats, my favorite aspect of this bat hands down is the original criss-cross cloth tape application present on the lower handle. There are many authenticated Heilmann bats in the hobby but this is the only example that I know of that has this style of handle tape present.

The photo below shows just how nice the condition of the tape has remained even after 100 years. Originally a lighter color, the tape has taken on a staining from use and handling over the years.

The left barrel shows a few ball marks and light surface marks. I'd say overall use is moderate.


Another characteristic that I like about this bat is the lathe marks still visible on the knob and barrel end. The lathe marks really reinforce the "hand-turned" aspect of early bats even more than the visible hand rasping seen on many pro bats.


In summary, this Heilmann checks all the boxes to be part of a quality Hall of Fame collection. Considering the use characteristics, condition, and matching specs, it would easily be one of my highest graded bats and is definitely a favorite.