Tiger’s Great Catcher Bill Freehan Passes Away at 79
The Tiger players you grew up with are always your “best-ever”, but many experts agree that Bill Freehan was the best Tiger catcher when you add it all up.
Freehan was in pretty good company when you consider other Tiger greats who worked behind the plate. Mickey Cochrane is in the Hall of Fame and was great but only played 3 seasons for the Tigers in the 1930s. Lance Parish was a great catcher and could hit the long ball. Ivan Rodriguez is another great Hall of Famer but only played for the Tigers for four years.
Bill Freehan was “Mr. Consistency” in a 15-year career with the Tigers that began in 1961. He was an 11-time All-Star. Freehan, a right-handed hitter, crowded the plate and was hit by a lot of pitches. He was hit by balls, bats, and players behind the dish. But he rarely missed a game. He famously blocked the plate on Lou Brock for a critical out at home plate in Game 5 of the 1968 World Series.
The durable iron man, Bill Freehan, lost his long battle with Alzheimer's Disease this week. He was 79. The five-time Gold Glove catcher played his entire career with the Tigers, appearing in 1,774 games, retiring in 1976.
Hall of Famer Al Kaline once said that he was the team’s rock. “He was consistently, in my opinion, the best player that I played with for a long period of time. There were some guys that had better years than him, but he was solid for a long period of time. He was really the leader of our ball club. He caught every day, he was a force behind the plate and he got a lot of big hits.”
The Tigers released the following statement. “It’s with a heavy heart that all of us with the Detroit Tigers extend our condolences to the friends and family of Bill Freehan. An all-time great Tiger, the Olde English ‘D’ was the only logo he wore over his 15-year Major League career, during which he was named to 11 All-Star teams, won five straight Gold Glove awards, and played a key role on the 1968 World Series Championship team. Off the diamond, Freehan made a positive impact in the southeast Michigan community, including as a player and then coach at the University of Michigan, where he changed the lives of many for the better. Our thoughts are with Bill’s wife, Pat, and the entire Freehan family.”
Raised in Royal Oak, Freehan moved to Florida as a teenager, but played on the sandlots of Detroit during the summer and then headed off to the University of Michigan, where he was a tight end in football. At Michigan, he hit .585 in his junior season, and that got him to the major leagues.
Willie Horton knew Freehan from those sandlot days in Detroit, and played with him for 13 Tiger seasons. "Bill Freehan was one of the greatest men I’ve ever played alongside, or had the pleasure of knowing," said Horton. "I’ll always cherish our childhood memories together and our journey from sandlot baseball to Tiger Stadium. His entire Major League career was committed to the Tigers and the city of Detroit, and he was one of the most respected and talented members of the organization through some difficult yet important times throughout the 1960s and 70s. You’d be hard-pressed to find another athlete that had a bigger impact on his community over the course of his life than Bill, who will be sorely missed in Detroit and beyond."
Bill Freehan was a throwback to another ere of baseball players. A tough, team player, and quiet leader. Manager AJ Hinch, a former big-league catcher, told the Detroit Free Press that the longtime Tiger was “arguably the best catcher in the history of the organization and (had) deep Michigan roots ….a true Tiger."
Ebay has a lot of great Bill Freehan memorabilia for sale, including signed baseballs and trading cards.