Cabrera chasing Cobb and Heilmann among Tiger batsmen

Miguel Cabrera is trying to win his third consecutive batting title in 2013, something only Ty Cobb has ever done for the Tigers.

Miguel Cabrera is trying to win his third consecutive batting title in 2013, something only Ty Cobb has ever done for the Tigers.

Although there is still a long way to go in the season, Miguel Cabrera’s chances to claim a third straight batting championship are looking pretty good, especially since he goes into the All-Star break about 35 points ahead of the pack.

As impressive as Miggy’s work with a stick is, when it comes to batting average and batting titles, Ty Cobb and Harry Heilmann remain the two most dominant hitters in the 110+year history of the Detroit Tigers. The two hit-happy Hall-of-Fame outfielders are easily 1-2 in lifetime batting (as Tigers), with Cobb boasting a .369 mark and Heilmann the runner-up at .342.

There are a variety of ways to measure the batting brilliance of Cobb and Heilmann, whose overlapping careers put their deadly bats in the same lineup for a dozen summers. Consider this tidbit: Of the 14 highest single-season batting averages ever compiled by a Tigers hitter, Cobb rang up 10 of them and Heilmann accounted for the remaining four. That list includes three .400 seasons by Cobb (in 1911, 1912, and 1922), which ties him with Ed Delahanty and Rogers Hornsby for the most ever in major league history, and a single .400 season by Heilmann (in 1923).

Heilmann’s ponderous baserunning undoubtedly cost him a few other .400 seasons. He batted .394 in 1921 and .393 in 1925; just four “leg” hits in either season would’ve lifted him to an even .400. In 1927, he hit .398 – just one base hit short of .400. In other words, a miserly nine hits over three seasons kept Heilmann from being the only man ever to to have four .400 seasons. Ouch!

Another gauge of this dynamic duo’s batting brilliance is the number of batting championships Cobb and Heilmann captured between them. From 1907 through 1927, a total of 21 seasons, they won a combined 16 titles. Cobb had a dozen (1907-15, 1917-19) while Heilmann notched four (1921, 1923, 1925, 1927). The only other Tiger in history to win multiple batting titles is Cabrera.

Miggy started the 2013 season fifth on the club’s all-time batting list with a .328 average. He is within reach of the #3 and #4 names: Bob “Fats” Fothergill (.337) and Dale “Moose” Alexander (.331), a couple of one-dimensional bangers who played in the 1920s and early ’30s.

Batting titles and career averages are one thing, but not the only way to measure greatness. For all of his accomplishments, “Mr. Tiger” Al Kaline won just a single batting title (before he turned 21!) and his career batting mark finally stood at .297 after his 22 seasons in a Detroit uniform. Kaline played a bulk of his career during the “second deadball era” – the 1960s – when the pitcher was so dominant that the league lowered the mound in 1969. That circumstance helped lower Kaline’s batting average, but he still managed to hit over .300 nine times, a lofty number. By comparison, Cabrera is in his sixth season as a Tiger and on his way to his fifth year over .300 – more than half way to Kaline’s total. Cobb hit .300 23 times and Heilmann did it an even dozen times. It seems likely that Cabrera could eventually reach Heilmann’s total.

However, there is no way – short of stringing together a few .400-plus seasons, and we all know how easy that is – that Cabrera will ever overhaul the Georgia Peach and Ol’ Slug in career average or number of batting titles won. Their numbers are that insurmountable since both left the Tigers more than 80 years ago.

4 replies on “Cabrera chasing Cobb and Heilmann among Tiger batsmen

  • Zach Bennett

    The connection isn’t a coincidence; as player-manager of the Tigers, Cobb taught Heilmann how to hit. I’m amazed the article doesn’t mention that. Also, Cobb’s lifetime batting average was not .369. It was .366 and 2/3, which is usually rounded up to .367. That’s the highest lifetime batting average of all time, but still not as high as the article claims.

  • Zach Bennett

    Upon further review, I see that the .369 is referring to Cobb’s lifetime average as a Tiger (not including his last two years with the Philadelphia Athletics). That may account for the discrepancy.

  • roadwalker

    While I get that we are only discussing batting average, it’s a fact that baseball is much more multidimensional today. Hitting does involve batting average, but batters focus on just getting it mainly when the bases are empty. If there are runners on, then a batter like Cabrera will adjust and try to hit the ball with more power (even if it is a lower percentage) because the payoff can be more.

    To be honest, I’d like to see how Cabrera’s profile stacks up against classic hitters who could hit for both average and power; Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Willie Mays for example (and yes, perhaps I’m being a bit presumptive to mention Cabrera in the same breath as baseball’s king and princes, but yes, I think he has the potential by the time he finishes his career to be at that level to where he might compare statistically to them.)

  • roadwalker

    Also Aaron and Musial.

    So yes, how does Cabrera stack up against those five, the five best batters from the time when great hitting meant both power and average, not just one or the other.

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