SABR

Hob Hiller

This article was written by Bill Nowlin.

Harvey Hiller was the son of a steam railroad engineer from East Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania, the youngest of seven children of George and Elizabeth (Bayson) Hiller. Both parents were Pennsylvania natives, of German and Irish parents, respectively. Harvey Max Hiller was born in Carbon County on May 12, 1893. After his baseball career, he himself later took up work on the steam railroad, and in 1940 it cost him his right leg.

The unusually-named community was originally called Coaltown, but it later adopted the name Mauch Chunk, which in the Lenni Lenape language translates to Bear Mountain. In May 1954 both Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk merged and took the name the community is known by today – Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania. Had Harvey Hiller been an Olympic athlete and appeared in more than 18 major-league games, perhaps it would have been named after him. He is buried today in the Evergreen Cemetery in Jim Thorpe.

Hiller attended school for seven years at East Mauch Chunk, but did not continue with high school. He first played professional baseball in 1915 for the Durham Bulls of the Class D North Carolina State League. He played 122 games as the team’s third baseman. He hit four homers and batted .241. On September 19 it was reported that Hiller’s contract had been sold to the St. Louis Cardinals.1 Miller Huggins was the Cardinals’ representative. Numerous newspapers reported in November that the price had been $500.

On March 16, 1916, Hiller was sold by St. Louis to Winston-Salem, where he hit .325 in 108 games and stole 28 bases. After the season he was drafted by Houston in the Texas League but refused to report, and so Houston sold his contract on March 15, 1917, to Columbia, South Carolina, in the South Atlantic (Sally) League. He appeared in only 40 games for Columbia, batting .293. He’d been hit in the head in the June 1 game at Jacksonville and was carried across the river to a hospital in the city in a semiconscious condition. It was determined tht Hiller had not suffered a fractured skull.2 He played in 17 games for Scranton later in the season, hitting .262.

In 1918 Hiller was out of baseball, serving the country during the First World War.3 He next turned up in 1919, playing third base for Petersburg, Virginia, and hit .270 in 110 Virginia League games.

Hiller’s offseason work was as a brakeman on the railroad. He married Jessie Rebecca Wildoner on March 20, 1913, and they had three children – Stroud, Elizabeth, Harvey, and William.

He was acquired by the Boston Red Sox for 1920, signed on January 4, and reported to the team during spring training. The Boston Globe first noted him on arrival, writing, “Hiller, an infielder, acts like a real ball player if action and a free style at bat mean anything after a two or three days’ squint.”4 He was described in the Boston Herald as “a little fellow … you could put him in your vest pocket.”5 Hiller was 5-feet-8 and weighed 162 pounds. He was right-handed, described in the same issue of the Herald as “a gifted fielder” but one who “has a tendency to hurry everything and not set himself for throws.” Hiller played in ten games for the Red Sox in the first three months of the season, working in right field in his first game, second base in his second and third games, and shortstop in his fourth. He didn’t get his first base hit until his sixth game. On July 15 both Hiller and catcher Paddy Smith were traded to Pittsfield for second baseman Cliff Brady. In 69 games Hiller hit .350 for the Pittsfield Hillies. He came back to the Red Sox after the Eastern League season and played in seven more games – 17 games in all. He hit one double, one triple, and three singles – five hits in 29 at-bats (.172). He scored four times and drove in two runs.

Even before his final game of the season for the Red Sox, Hiller joined Dave Shean and Joe Bush and played for the semipro Bigelow-Hartfords in a game at Thompsonville, Connecticut, on the September 26 offday, then returned to the team in Boston and closed out the season with the Red Sox. Hiller scored the winning run in the 2-1 game.6

Hiller trained with the Red Sox at Hot Springs in 1921. He broke camp with the team and pinch-hit in the second game of the season, making an out. It was his last appearance in the major leagues. He was dealt to Rochester to work under George Stallings. He hit an even .300 in 114 games in the International League.

In 1922, Hiller played third base for the San Antonio Bears in the Texas League. He hit .259. Then, through 1927, he was out of baseball, but returned after he was signed by the Beaumont Exporters for 1928.7

As late as 1939 Hiller was still playing – occasionally – and was the manager of the Hazleton Mountaineers (Inter-State League), but was given his release on June 10.8

A news story out of Allentown, Pennsylvania, on November 6, 1940, reported that Hiller, still working as a brakeman on the railroad, lost his right leg in a midnight railroad accident when he was “jolted off the top of a freight train caboose” at the Central Railroad of New Jersey’s yards at Allentown.9 He won $65,000 in a lawsuit the following year.10

After baseball, Hiller served three terms as the Carbon County register of deeds, and then as the register of wills.

Hiller died of a myocardial infarction at Gnaden Heutten Hospital at Lehighton, Pennsylvania, on December 27, 1956. He is buried, at Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Hiller’s player file and player questionnaire from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Baseball Necrology, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com.

 

Notes

1 Greensboro (North Carolina) Daily News, September 19, 1915.

2 Macon (Georgia) Telegraph, June 2, 1917.

3 The Sporting News, January 9, 1957.

4 Boston Globe, March 7, 1920.

5 Boston Herald, March 14, 1920.

6 Springfield (Massachusetts) Republican, September 27, 1920.

7 Dallas Morning News, April 14, 1928.

8 Trenton (New Jersey) Evening Times, June 11, 1939.

9 New York Times, November 6, 1940.

10 The Sporting News, January 9, 1957.

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