This is one of those special stories of the dead ball era.
In 1912, Heinie Heitmuller of the Los Angeles Angels won the batting crown of the Pacific Coast League with a batting average of .335. Nothing special you would say. But this batting title had a bizarre twist.
Heinie Heitmuller was a career minor leaguer, who had a cup of coffee with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1909 and 1910. But Heitmuller spent the biggest part of his baseball career in the Minors.
After spending (parts of )the first two seasons of his career (1904 and 1905) with an independent team and a class B team, he was promoted to the Pacific Coast League’s Oakland Oaks. Heitmuller’s stats are incomplete but he did a decent job in the batter’s box. In 1908 he hit .284 which earned him a promotion to the Philadelphia Athletics in 1909. With the Athletics, he even hit better than he did with the Oakland Oaks: .286. In that season he just played 64 games.
The next season didn’t go nearly as good as Heitmuller only hit .243 and appeared in only 34 games. After a while, Connie Mack sent Heitmuller to the Baltimore Orioles of the International League.
After spending the remainder of the 1910 season and the complete 1911 season with Baltimore, his contract was picked up by the Los Angeles Angels.
Back in his home state California, Heitmuller hit a whopping .343 with four homeruns which earned him the batting crown of the PCL.
In the next season, Heitmuller was in a close race for the batting title with teammate Tom Daley. At the end of the month of September, Heitmuller went 6 for 6 on September 27, raising his BA. to .335. Heitmuller trailed Daley by three points as Daley had a .338 BA. But next to a high batting average, Heitmuller hit 15 homeruns, quite a performance in the dead-ball era.
But on September 29, Heitmuller was forced to leave the team as he had caught typhoid fever. The intention was to return in a couple of days. But soon his health deteriorated and Heitmuller passed away on October 8, 1912.
The Angels canceled their game that day and other ballparks held moments of silence in Heitmuller’s honor.
“The entire team is depressed in the loss of Heitmuller. We have lost one of the best-liked members of our baseball family,” Angels’ manager Pop Dillon told the Los Angeles Times.
Tom Daley who was in the lead, started to slump and in his final 22 games of the season, his batting average dropped to .332, three points behind the deceased Heitmuller. Heitmuller had accumulated enough plate appearances to win the batting crown.
And this is how a dead guy won the Pacific Coast League batting crown in 1912.