Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame Profile: John Hiller
2015 marks the Year of Sport and the 60th anniversary of Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. In recognition of these important milestones, OLM will be featuring Honoured Members of Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in a weekly Profile piece.
Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame aims to share the stories and achievements of its Honoured Members to inspire Canadians in all aspects of life.
After a single strike on his physical health, Hiller was nearly forced out of professional baseball for good. His sense of determination and admirable work ethic makes this athlete’s story of reintroduction one of the greatest sport recovery stories of all time.
Hiller was born on April 8, 1943, in Toronto, Ontario. He grew up in Scarborough playing hockey as a goaltender. Initially, he took up baseball with the Kiwanis Club in the summer to fill time between hockey seasons.
A left-handed pitcher, Hiller graduated from Toronto’s East York Minor Baseball Association in 1962 and was immediately signed with the Detroit Tigers. After a few seasons he had become one of the best relievers in the game. In 1968, he set a modern major-league record by striking out the first six batters in a game against the Cleveland Indians. The same year, he was also part of the Tigers’ World Series-winning team. As a 27-year-old, Hiller’s baseball future looked bright.
On January 11, 1971, Hiller’s career was unexpectedly put on hold when he suffered a serious heart attack. Although forced to sit the season out, it didn’t take long for the idea of returning to creep in. He was determined to play baseball again and didn’t waste any time during his recovery year to begin practicing.
Hiller attended spring training with the Tigers in 1971, as the batting-practice pitcher. It wasn’t until July when he was given the opportunity to resume his professional career.
His remarkable comeback was a success. Hiller’s returning season was the best of his career with a 1.44 ERA and a league-leading 65 appearances. With a lot of hard work and dedication, he was also able to set a major league record for 38 saves—an achievement that stood for a decade.
Hiller retired from professional baseball in 1980. Overall, he had an astounding 2.83 ERA and pitched in 545 games, a record for the Tigers. He also left the game with 125 saves, which, at the time, was the fourth-highest total in American League history. It also stood as a team record until 1993.
At age 72, he continues to be in good health and is committed to supporting various heart related charities.
To learn more about Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, visit sportshall.ca.