Heinie Heitmuller’s Posthumous Batting Title
Big (6’2”, 215#) righthander William Frederick “Heinie” Heitmuller was born in San Francisco in 1883. He attended the University of California at Berkeley where he played tackle on the football team and pitched and caught on the baseball nine. One season he captained the football squad.
In 1904 he entered professional baseball at age 21 while still at the college, playing for Oakland in the independent California State League. The following season he helped Everett (Washington) capture the Northwestern League championship by leading the league in batting with a .304 mark.
He began 1906 with Seattle but soon returned home with the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League where he stayed through 1908. In the latter year, he led the PCL in hits (225) and home runs (12). Connie Mack of the Philadelphia then brought him east. Heitmuller played 95 games for the A’s between April 1909 and July 1910, mainly in left field.
At the end of July, 1910, Mack shipped Heitmuller to the Baltimore Orioles in the Eastern League. In July 1911 Heitmuller pushed for and received a return to the west coast. He joined the Los Angeles Angels of the PCL on August 1.
He turned 29 years old at the beginning of the 1912 season. Entering September, Heitmuller was leading the league with a .345 batting average.
Los Angeles Times 9/2/1912
He felt poorly all September and his average tailed off a bit. On September 27, he poked six hits (4 singles, 2 doubles) in a doubleheader and looked to be coming out of his slump. However, on the 28th his illness flared and he barely completed the game, scoring a run but going 0 for 4.
Heitmuller failed to appear for the opening game of a doubleheader on Sunday September 29 due to illness. He posted for the second game but still wasn’t well enough to play. He had contracted typhoid fever. His roommate, catcher Hugh Smith, had already left the lineup for what was later diagnosed as typhoid. (The entire team would later received inoculation shots.)
Oakland Tribune 10/17/1912
On the 30th, the team doctor took Heitmuller, who was in dire shape, to Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles. He died there in the early morning on October 8. The game versus Vernon that day was cancelled. His body was shipped back home to San Francisco for the funeral on the 11th.
Meanwhile, it was assumed at the time that 34-year-old San Francisco first baseman Del Howard, an ex-National Leaguer, had taken the batting title lead but he actually never even appeared in half the league games. Smith had started the year (55 games) with St. Paul in the American Association. The final listing shows Heitmuller winning the title with 186 hits in 151 games and 556 at bats – a .335 average. Teammate Tom Daley finished second with a .332 mark.
Oakland Tribune 11/17/1912
- Bakersfield Californian, 1912
- Johnson, Lloyd and Miles Wolff. The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Second Edition. Durham, North Carolina: Baseball America, Inc., 1997.
- Los Angeles Times, 1912-1913
- Oakland Tribune, 1912