Harry Heilmann was “The Wizard of Navin Field”

Harry Heilmann sporting the home uniform of the Detroit Tigers in 1927, when he won his fourth batting title.

Harry Heilmann sporting the home uniform of the Detroit Tigers in 1927, when he won his fourth batting title.

Everyone likes home cooking, right? Unless your Mom was a terrible cook.

Which reminds me of an old joke about a mother who couldn’t cook:

“My Mom was such a bad cook that one summer the flies pitched in to buy a new screen door.”


But seriously folks, the Detroit Tigers are the masters of home cooking. In each of the last five seasons the Tigers have won at least 50 games at home, a 100-win pace. No other team has matched Detroit’s home record for that span.

In the long history of the Tigers no player enjoyed playing in Detroit more than Harry Heilmann. A stout, strong, right-handed batter who debuted with the Bengals in 1914, Heilmann was a menace to American League pitchers in the 1920s when he won not one, not two, not three, but four batting titles. He was the heir apparent to the old master Ty Cobb for batting supremacy in the Motor City.

Heilmann and Cobb had a prickly relationship, the source of which was when The Peach instructed Heilmann to be hard on teammate Bobby Veach to presumably “toughen” Veach up. At the end of the season, Cobb neglected to tell Veach that Heilmann’s attitude had been a ploy, and the relationship between Heilmann and Veach was never the same. Cobb also resented it when Heilmann won the batting title in 1921, even though Ty was his manager and teammate. Batting titles were Cobb’s territory. But by that time, Heilmann was surpassing the aging Cobb in hitting.

Regardless of how his manager and other teammates felt about him, Heilmann thrived at home in Navin Field. His batting stats in the Detroit ballpark in the 1920s are astounding. In 1921, the season he pissed off Cobb by winning the batting title, Heilmann hit .421 with 122 hits in 74 home games. Both figures are the best for any Tigers’ batter at home in one season. In 1923, Heilmann  hit an even .400 with 100 hits at Navin Field, but that was just a warmup for his 1927 campaign. That year, while Babe Ruth was thundering across the headlines on his way to an unheard of 60 homers, Heilmann had an incredible season at the dish at The Corner, ultimately winning the batting title on the final day. In ’27, “Ol Slug” hit .434 with 108 hits, and 70 RBI in 69 games in his home uniform (which featured a creepy Tiger head on the breast for the only time in franchise history). Heilmann smashed 26 doubles, seven triples, and 10 home runs at Navin Field that season, and he was probably happy that Cobb was not there to see it. The Georgia Peach had signed to play with Connie Mack’s White Elephant Gang in Philadelphia.

Overall from 1921 to 1927, when he won his batting titles in odd-numbered years, Heilmann hit .376 at Navin Field, which predictably made him a favorite of Detroit rooters. Reportedly, Heilmann liked to rub his famous elbows with his fans – he was noted for frequenting speakeasies during the prohibition era. Illegal alcohol flowed pretty freely in Detroit in the Jazz Age. And why not? Detroit had baseball’s top-scoring team, led by Harry Heilmann, “The Wizard of Navin Field.”