Bill Freehan, enduring centerpiece of Tigers champions, dies at 79

Bill Freehan, the 11-time all-star catcher who guided the brilliant Detroit Tigers pitching duo of Mickey Lolich and Denny McLain as the...


Bill Freehan, the 11-time all-star catcher who guided the brilliant Detroit Tigers pitching duo of Mickey Lolich and Denny McLain as the Tigers defeated the St. Louis Cardinals for the 1968 World Series championship, has died Thursday at his home in the village of Walloon Lake in northern Michigan. He was 79 years old.

His death was announced by the Tigers. His wife, Pat, revealed in 2018 that he suffered from dementia and had been in hospice care.

A native of Detroit, Freehan has spent his entire 15-year major league career with the Tigers. They signed him for a bonus of $ 125,000 in 1961 at the University of Michigan, where he caught the baseball team and also played football. He debuted with the Tigers in September 1961, was assigned to their minor league system, and was an enduring centerpiece for Detroit from 1963 to 1976.

Freehan was third in the ballot for the American League’s Most Valuable Player award in 1967, when he made 20 home runs and led 75 points for a Tigers team who, along with the Minnesota Twins, finished one game. behind the Boston Red Sox, pennant winners. .

When voting for MVP in 1968, Freehan was the runner-up for McLain, who won 31 regular-season games. Freehan hit 25 home runs and produced 84 runs that year.

“Bill was our leader, and we had a lot of independent guys, but he brought in everyone,” McLain told the Detroit Free Press after Freehan’s death. He said the Tigers pitchers were “supposed to throw the ball from the same position every time, and he knew if you were gone and could then keep you in the same spot.”

Freehan, he added, “got the most out of a pitcher you could get.”

Freehan won the American League Gold Glove Award for receivers each season from 1965 to 1969. He captured all 15 innings in the American League’s 2-1 loss to the National League in the 1967 All-Star Game. .

He was most remembered for a key game in Game 5 of the 1968 World Series, when the Tigers followed the Cardinals by three games against one. Lou Brock of the Cardinals tried to score a second on a single in the fifth inning with St. Louis in the lead, 3-2.

Freehan, 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, held on. He caught an exceptional throw from left fielder Willie Horton, blocked home plate, leaned over and touched Brock, who had arrived on his feet.

“I expected him to slip, and when he didn’t his foot left point marks in the dirt about a half inch from the plate,” Freehan said after the game. .

Brock insisted he touched the plate before the label was applied, but that was long before the instant replay.

The Tigers, with a roster that also included future Hall of Fame outfielder Al Kaline, rallied to a 5-3 win in Game 5 and then won the final two World Series games.

Freehan caught a foul from Cardinals wide receiver Tim McCarver for the Game 7 final and ran to the mound to celebrate with Lolich, who pitched his third all-game win of the series. McLain was 1-2.

The Freehan-Brock encounter at home plate and the joy at the pitcher’s mound were captured in photos that lasted for Tigers fans.

William Ashley Freehan was born November 29, 1941 in Detroit, son of Ashley and Helen Morris Freehan. Her father was a sales representative for an insulation company.

He grew up in Royal Oak, a suburb of Detroit, but his family moved to St. Petersburg, Florida when he was a teenager and attended high school there. He set a record for Big Ten baseball that still stands when he hit .585 for Michigan in 1961; he also played the tight end for the soccer team.

He continued to take classes during his baseball offseason and received a bachelor’s degree from the Dearborn branch of the University of Michigan in 1966.

Freehan retired from baseball with 1,591 career hits, 200 home runs and a 0.262 career batting average. He caught 1,581 games for the Tigers and sometimes played on first base.

He then coached the Michigan baseball team from 1990 to 1995 and was a coach and catching instructor with the Tigers organization and color commentator for the Tigers and Seattle Mariners games.

In addition to his wife, Patricia O’Brien Freehan, his survivors include three daughters, Corey, Kelley and Cathy, and several grandchildren.

“We started out as rookies and developed the same spirit,” Lolich told The Free Press Thursday. “He knew what I wanted to throw and I rarely had to get rid of his sign. We have become one spirit working together.

“He was our leader in the field and was catching almost every day. His mind was still in the game.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Bill Freehan, enduring centerpiece of Tigers champions, dies at 79
Bill Freehan, enduring centerpiece of Tigers champions, dies at 79
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