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Jeff Heath

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John Geoffrey Heath

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[edit] Biographical Information

Jeff Heath was a solid major league outfielder who had a fourteen-year career. His OPS+ of 139 shows that he was a top player in his era.

Heath was born in Canada, in what is now Thunder Bay, ON and grew to be a big, handsome player, more or less in the mold of Don Drysdale. He attended Garfield High School in the Seattle, WA area where he was a football and baseball star, graduating in 1934.

He broke into the majors at the age of 21 and spent the years from 1936-1945 with the Cleveland Indians. He only spent one year in the minor leagues before making the Show, hitting .383 with 47 doubles, 28 home runs and 187 RBI in 124 games for the Zanesville Grays of the Middle Atlantic League in 1936. That performance got him to the majors quickly, as he made his debut with Cleveland on September 13, 1936, hitting .341 in 12 games. He started the 1937 season with Cleveland, but was sent down to the Milwaukee Brewers of the American Association after 20 games of hitting .230. He hit .367 with 34 doubles, 14 home runs and 64 RBI in 100 games for Milwaukee, and was in the majors to stay beginning in 1938. His batting average of .343 that year was second in the league behind Jimmie Foxx, and his 1941 batting average of .340 was fourth in the league. He was in the top ten in slugging four times while with the Indians, and in the top ten in home runs three times in that period. He made the All Star team in 1941 and 1943.

While Heath didn't lead the league in offensive categories, his strength was as an all-around hitter. He would typically hit for a good average, and hit lots of doubles, triples and home runs. Once he matured he drew an above-average number of walks, and while he got caught too often he could even steal a base if needed.

In 1941, Heath was the first American League player to hit 20 2B, 3B and HR in the same season, when he hit .340 with 32 2B, 20 3B, and 24 HR. Since then, only George Brett and Curtis Granderson have achieved this feat among AL players; Willie Mays and Jimmy Rollins have done it in the NL. Before Heath, Frank Schulte and Jim Bottomley formed the club.

After many years with the Indians, he was traded to the Washington Senators for 48 games in 1946, then to the St. Louis Browns for a season and a half (where his 27 home runs in 1947 were by far the highest on the team). According to a story related by Buck O'Neil in Joe Posnanski's book The Soul of Baseball, Heath was upset that Browns teammate Willard Brown had used his bat to hit an inside-the-park home run and deliberately broke it, so Brown, one of the first African-American players in the major leagues, could not use it again.

However, there is also a good deal of evidence to suggest that racism was not Heath's motive, as O'Neil implied. Among other things, in 1965, Hank Thompson mentioned Heath as one of five Browns who “went out of their way to make life easier for me and Brown.” As the biography of Heath on the SABR BioProject relates, he was a quirky, superstitious player who didn't like any teammates using his bats. Friction with teammates was visible at other points during his career.

Heath was bought by the Boston Braves in 1948 where he closed out his career in excellent fashion. Heath hit .319 for the "Spahn and Sain" Braves of 1948 that went to the World Series. His .582 slugging percentage was by far the highest on the team - most than a hundred points higher than the next highest regular, Bob Elliott. That August, he was involved in a controversial play. Chicago Cubs player Phil Cavarretta hit a ball to the fence, and Heath either intentionally or accidently lost it. Umpire Jocko Conlan ruled it was a ground-rule double lost in the ivy although the ball was actually near Heath's feet. Unhappy fans protested loudly. Unfortunately, he broke his leg while sliding in the final week of the season so he didn't appear in the 1948 World Series.

In 1949, he appeared in 36 games for the Braves, hitting .309 with a slugging percentage of .613. On August 27, he tied a game against Cincinnati with a pinch-hit, 9th-inning homer, then won it in the 11th with another dinger. He was the first major leaguer with a game-tying, pinch-hit homer and game-winning homer in the same game; it would be 36 years before Donnie Scott was the second. After major league baseball, he played one season with the Seattle Rainiers of the Pacific Coast League. He only hit .245 with 2 home runs in 57 games to round out his playing career.

Heath died in Seattle on December 6, 1975.

[edit] Notable Achievements

  • 2-time AL All-Star (1941 & 1943)
  • 2-time AL Triples Leader (1938 & 1941)
  • 20-Home Run Seasons: 4 (1938, 1941, 1947 & 1948)
  • 100 RBI Seasons: 2 (1938 & 1941)
  • 100 Runs Scored Seasons: 1 (1938)

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