Born in Toronto, Ontario, he was signed by the Tigers as an amateur free agent in the 1962 season. He made his MLB debut in 1965, making 5 appearances and made another appearance for the team in 1966. He made his first impact in the 1967 season, seeing 23 games while making 6 starts finishing with a 4-3, 2.63 season with 3 saves. The following season, Hiller went 9-6, 2.39 in 39 games, 12 starts as the Tigers defeated the St Louis Cardinals in an exciting 7 game World Series. He became a constant in the Tigers bullpen in 1969 and 1970, averaging about 100 innings a season pitching predominantly out of the bullpen.
It was January 11, 1971 when Hiller suffered his heart attack. While certainly a lot worse than the big time arm injuries we see on a daily basis in the game today, I am sure the Tigers viewed the loss as something they would have to be able to deal with. As expected, Hiller would miss the entire 1971 season and likely woud never pitch again. In fact, when Hiller returned to camp for the 1972 season, plans had already been made for Hiller to serve as a coach. He was a batting practice pitcher but found a little more zip on his fastball than expected and was miraculously back with the Tigers by July. He pitched to a 2.03 ERA with a 1-2 record and 3 saves. While he pitched in 24 games and made only 3 starts, his one win came in an important start against the Brewers. His 5-1 victory helped the Tigers capture the AL East title (in addition to the acquisitions of LHP Woody Fryman and C Duke Sims). He also threw 3 scoreless innings against the Oakland Athletics in the 1972 ALCS.
The following season saw Hiller take off. He was 10-5, setting an American League record with his 38 saves. He also led the AL in games pitched (65) and games finished (60). He also had 124 Ks in 125 1/3 IP, finishing in 4th place in both the AL Cy Young and AL MVP. His 1974 season, in my opinion, was even more impressive. Pitching solely as a reliever, he appeared in 59 games. He won 17 games, losing 14 and in doing so picking up an unheard of 31 decisions as a relief pitcher. He led the club with 13 saves, out of the 15 that were needed for the Tigers team. He also made his only All Star team that season.
I think it is easy to overlook what Hiller was able to accomplish. In fact, it is easy to downplay his accomplishments as many of them are repeated on such a regular basis these days. But the man survived a heart attack and made a name for himself AFTER returning to the diamond. It would have been easy for Hiller to hang it up, with 23 wins, 19 losses and 13 career saves over parts of 6 seasons. Nobody would have thought bad about it, as surviving the heart attack by itself was successful enough. Instead, he returned for 9 more seasons and will forever be remembered as one of the most successful Tigers relief pitchers, along with Mike Hennemen, Todd Jones and Jose Valverde.