Bill Freehan was born on Saturday, November 29, 1941, in Detroit, Michigan. Freehan was 19 years old when he broke into the big leagues on September 26, 1961, with the Detroit Tigers. His biographical data, year-by-year hitting stats, fielding stats, pitching stats (where applicable), career totals, uniform numbers, salary data and miscellaneous items-of-interest are presented by Baseball Almanac on this comprehensive Bill Freehan baseball stats page.
"It's a team thing and baseball is a team sport. It's the thing you dream about. The other awards, like the All-Star team or Gold Gloves, are individual accomplishments. But a lot of great players have never had the chance to play in a World Series, so it's the greatest thrill." - Bill Freehan in Baseball Digest (Jim Sargent, June 2000, 'Turn Back the Clock: Bill Freehan: A Key Member of 1968 Champion Tigers')
Bill Freehan Autograph on a 1973 Topps Baseball Card (#460)
Bill Freehan Pitching Stats
|-||-||Did Not Pitch||-||-||-||-||-||-||-||-||-||-||-||-||-||-||-||-||-||-||-||-||-||-||-|
Bill Freehan Hitting Stats
Bill Freehan Fielding Stats
Bill Freehan Miscellaneous Stats
|Baserunning Statistics||Other Positions||Common Hitting Ratios||Common Pitching Ratios|
Bill Freehan Miscellaneous Items of Interest
|Team [Click for Roster]||Uniform Numbers||Salary||All-Star||World Series|
|1961 Detroit Tigers||19||$8,000.00||-||-|
|1963 Detroit Tigers||11||$10,500.00||-||-|
|1964 Detroit Tigers||11||$12,000.00||Stats||-|
|1965 Detroit Tigers||11||$18,000.00||Stats||-|
|1966 Detroit Tigers||11||$20,000.00||Stats||-|
|1967 Detroit Tigers||11||$37,000.00||Stats||-|
|1968 Detroit Tigers||11||Undetermined||Stats||Stats|
|1969 Detroit Tigers||11||Undetermined||Stats||-|
|1970 Detroit Tigers||11||Undetermined||Stats||-|
|1971 Detroit Tigers||11||Undetermined||Stats||-|
|1972 Detroit Tigers||11||Undetermined||Stats||-|
|1973 Detroit Tigers||11||$65,000.00||Stats||-|
|1974 Detroit Tigers||11||$65,000.00||-||-|
|1975 Detroit Tigers||11||$80,000.00||Stats||-|
|1976 Detroit Tigers||11||$80,000.00||-||-|
|Bill Freehan Stats by Baseball Almanac|
Bill Freehan was much more than just a former catcher. A former big league player with Detroit. He was more than just stats. Baseball Almanac opened it's doors believing in going beyond the stats and author Jim Sargent has too, sharing several GREAT articles with us over the years in Remembering Yesterday's Baseball Heroes . Here is one of his absolute best biographical entries we have ever read and are honored to share:
When his many baseball accomplishments were added up, Bill Freehan, the longtime standout catcher of the Detroit Tigers, was most proud of helping his team win the 1968 World Series Gold Gloves , are individual accomplishments. But a lot of great players have never had the chance to play in a World Series, so its the greatest thrill.
William Ashley Freehan, born on November 29, 1941, the oldest of four children in a middle class Catholic family, Freehan, grew up in the northern Detroit suburb of Royal Oak. Like many boys his age, he loved sports, and he began playing sandlot ball in Detroit when he was in junior high school. Big and agile for his age as a youth, Bill usually played ball with older boys while he was growing up. Always a rugged athlete, he believed the best competition made him a better ballplayer.
Freehan, the best catcher in the American League during his prime, achieved a great deal on the diamond from 1961 until he retired after the 1976 season. Those achievements include being named an 11-time All-Star from 1964 through the 1973 season, and once more in 1975. He was a five-time Gold Glove winner from 1965 through 1969. He finished with what then was the highest fielding percentage for a catcher , .993. At the plate, he averaged .262 lifetime and hit 200 home runs.
Freehans greatest strengths, however, never showed up on stat sheets. A thinking mans catcher, he proved himself an excellent handler of young as well as veteran pitchers, including Jim Bunning , Mickey Lolich , Denny McLain , Earl Wilson , and John Hiller .
Freehan became the teams on-field leader by 1964, the year he batted .300. Al Kaline , a future Hall of Famer, was a quiet superstar who led by example, but Freehan, a rah-rah former college star, remained the main Tiger field leader until his final season, 1976, when he caught 61 games.
Big, tough, and energetic at 63 and more than 200 pounds, Freehan came to the Tigers from the University of Michigan where he set a new Big Ten batting record of .585 in 1961. Given a $100,000 signing bonus by Detroit, the former football end spent only two seasons in the minors before making it as a regular with Detroit in 1963.
A hometown boy, Freehan was born in Detroit on November 29, 1941. As soon as he was old enough, he loved playing ball. The summer before the ninth grade his father bought a trailer park and moved to St. Petersburg, Florida. Playing basketball, football, and baseball in St. Pete, the intense young man graduated from a small Catholic school, Bishop Barry High in 1959. During the summers, Bill lived in Detroit with his grandparents. There he became a star catcher in the National Amateur Baseball Federation, helping Lundguist Insurance win two national titles.
Freehan played sandlot ball in Detroit for a couple of reasons: First, it was so hot and rainy in Florida in the summer, he remembered in 1999. Also, white kids didnt play against black kids in Florida. I chose to come up and live with my grandparents, who lived on the perimeter of Detroit. I played amateur baseball downtown, and I got into tough competition.
Dozens of colleges recruited the talented Freehan during his senior year, but the three he favored were the University of Notre Dame, partly because he was Catholic, Western Michigan University, which had a first-rate baseball program, and the University of Michigan . Notre Dame and Western Michigan, however, didnt offer the strapping Freehan an opportunity to play football, and he elected to go to Michigan , which offered scholarships in football and baseball. Former Tiger Don Lund was Michigans baseball coach, and Bump Elliott was the football coach. The two outstanding coaches were the clincher for Freehan. The young man moved to Ann Arbor in the summer of 1959 on a baseball scholarship. But when he became a starter on the gridiron that fall, the athletic department shifted him to a football scholarship, since nearly ten times as many scholarships were available in football as in baseball.
Freshmen didnt play varsity ball at that time, but Freehan became a starter at end and linebacker midway through his sophomore season. He also tore up Big Ten baseball in 1961, winning All-American honors as catcher and leading the conference in batting average, home runs, and RBI.
In the spring of 1961, which was my sophomore year, Freehan pointed out in 1999, the first year Im eligible to play in baseball, we win the Big Ten Championship. I hit .585 in the Big Ten, which is a batting average record that still stands. I was the All-American catcher and led the Big Ten in home runs, RBIs, and batting average. Im not trying to be boastful. Im just giving you matter-of-fact stuff.
Freehan, always serious-minded, continued, We were in the divisional regional championship, and we got eliminated there. At that time there was no baseball draft. I had just finished my sophomore year in June of 61. Ive played my sophomore year of football, and my sophomore year of baseball, and there was no baseball draft, and Id just broken all the records and accomplished everything in the first year I got to play.
I was one of the big Bonus Babies. Everyone was coming to my door and asking, Do you want to sign? Do you want to sign? Well offer you x, and x got to be $150,000 plus. You started to say, Do I want to take a chance and go back and play football with my knees, or do you want to chase down baseball, because its getting to be serious money at this point.
Freehan added, The minimum major league salary in 1961 was $6250. Bob Bailey and I were the big bonus kids that year. I signed on June 16 and went to work, after sitting down with Don Lund , Bump Elliott, and my father, reviewing what I wanted to do. I hopped in a new car, a Bonneville convertible, and took off to Duluth, Minnesota. I wish it had it now!
Freehan, more mature than most young men his age, made a useful agreement with his father: I went to Duluth, Minnesota, and the deal with my father was I never got a dime of my bonus money until I got my degree from the University of Michigan. That was a smart decision on my fathers part. It forced me to live in the YMCA with the rest of the guys, and live off the meal money we made up there, as opposed to, Lets go burn a little of the 150 grand. That was motivational.
Freehan batted .343 at Class C Duluth-Superior in the Northern League in 1961, where he spent half of June and all of July. In the first week of August he was moved to Detroits Knoxville club in the South Atlantic (Sally) League. After hitting .289 in 47 games against Class A pitching, he finished the season with Detroit, getting into four games and hitting .400 (4-for-10), once the Tigers were eliminated from the pennant race by the New York Yankees.
Freehan didnt mind sitting on the bench, because he was only nine weeks out of college baseball. It was educational, he explained in 1999. I did not expect to get into a game, and thats what Scheffing told me. He said, Id love to put you in a game, but were going for first place still, and theres money involved for each of these guys. I cant put you in until we clinch either first or second place. That made sense to me. I wasnt ready to play in the major leagues. The more I could learn, the more acclimated you became to the major leagues, the better off youre going to be.
I went to spring training in 62. This is my second year. Now Im the Big Bucks kid. The older guys called me Brinks, and stuff like that, which is a term of endearment. I understood where it was coming from, and I didnt resent it. I was a big-bonus kid.
But when you go out and put up some numbers like that, maybe you have a chance. My thing was, Was I a good investment? Sure. Retrospectively, did they spend the money well enough? Look at the money they have spent on a lot of guys who didnt make it up to Class A.
In 1963 Freehan survived the cuts of spring training and became one of Detroits catchers, along with 32-year-old Gus Triandos , a right-handed batting veteran who came from the Baltimore Orioles on November 26, 1962, in a deal that sent catcher Dick Brown , a lifetime .244 hitter, to the Orioles. Despite his lack of experience, Freehan won the trust of new manager Chuck Dressen , who made him the regular receiver.
The hard thing was being a catcher, Freehan later observed, because a catchers got a little more to do than the first baseman. The catcher has a whole lot more responsibility than a first baseman, or another position. You end up calling the game for Jim Bunning , Don Mossi , Paul Foytack , and some experienced guys. Theyre going to say, What do I want this 21-year-old kid here for?
He added, Mike Roarke was one catcher. He was the back-up. Gus Triandos was the other catcher. They made a trade. When Gus came over, he was a great asset for me, because he didnt want to catch any more. He helped me a lot, just by saying, Hey kid, you go do it!
Charlie Dressen gave me an opportunity. When they fired Bob Scheffing [on June 18, 1963], Charlie called me into his office, and said, Hey, youre going to be my regular catcher. He gave me the opportunity. He wrote my name into the lineup for a long string of days, and that lasted for 14 years.
In fact, Freehan was of two minds about Dressen , who razzed him and rode him, including when he was bowled over at home plate. They dont make em so tough at college, Dressen would say. Look at the football player!
Along with Freehan, the Tigers were assembling a pennant contender by bringing up younger pitchers from the farm system. Mickey Lolich came up in 1963, posting a rookie record of 5-9. Veteran pitchers included Jim Bunning (12-13), Hank Aguirre (14-15), Don Mossi (7-7), and Frank Lary (4-9), who had a sore arm.
At first, most of the pitchers didnt trust Freehan, but the big kid behind the mask impressed them by his leadership on the diamond, especially his defensive skills and his ability to call a smart game. Commented Joe Falls about Freehan, In over ten years, Ive never seen a rookie command so much respect in the clubhouse. Still, the former Michigan hero was perhaps overly respectful of Detroits veteran pitchers, and he was willing to let them tell him to how call games in his first full season.
Freehan, who was married on February 23, 1963, to his girl friend, Patricia OBrien, a pretty brunette that he met in St. Petersburg while he was in high school, was already a solid citizen. A down-to-earth family man who would later have four daughters, Bill was serious about life as well as about baseball, a fact he proved over and over again, later as a businessman. Still, major points that friends and writers observed was his love for the game, his excellence on the field, and his upbeat, hard-nosed, but encouraging leadership with his teammates. Honeymooning with Pat in Europe after the season, came to Lakeland the next spring refreshed, ready, and able to take over as the Tigers number one catcher.
In 1964, Freehans first All-Star season, Detroit finished fourth of the 10 AL teams, Lolich went 18-9 with a 3.26 ERA, and Dave Wickersham was 19-12 with a 3.44 ERA. Other young pitchers who contributed include Denny McLain (4-5), Freehans roommate Joe Sparma (5-6), and Fred Gladding (7-4, with 7 saves). Veterans like Frank Lary , Jim Bunning and Paul Foytack were gone, and the Tigers would rely mainly on younger pitchers as well as a talented young catcher.
Regarding the 1964 season, Charlie explained that Freehan hit .300, veteran pitchers like Frank Lary and Don Mossi were released, and younger pitchers like Mickey Lolich and newcomers like Dave Wickersham were willing to pitch the way Freehan called the game.
He suddenly grew up, Dressen told Detroit sportswriter Joe Falls, and his pitchers have confidence in him now. So do the other players. Quick-like, the Tigers have a leader. If 1964 didnt produce anything else, it was important for that alone.
Mickey Lolich , the 23-year-old southpaw who fashioned an 18-9 record, told Falls about Freehan: The thing I like about him is that he never lets his hitting interfere with his catching. Nothing demoralizes a pitcher more than to stand out there on the mound and see his catcher with a hangdog look on his face because he just struck out. If he looks disgusted, it makes you feel disgusted.
Lolich added, Its never this way with Bill. No matter what he does at the plate, hes always alive back there and this gives you a real lift. Later, in the spring of 1968, Lolich , who disliked Freehans brash, take-charge, do-it-my-way approach when he first played with him in 1961, commented, Its so different now. I like working with him. We work well together.
Freehan made the All-Star team for the first time in 1964 . He placed seventh in the leagues MVP voting in 1964, third in 1967, and second in 1968 to teammate Denny McLain , who won 31 games during the golden season that the Tigers won the pennant and defeated the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. Freehan was the Gold Gloves -winning catcher from 1965 through 1969, and only a back injury in 1970 kept him from a sixth Gold Gloves award.
But baseball is full of ups-and-downs, and Freehan kept learning each season. Detroit finished fourth with an 89-73 record in 1965 and third with a ledger of 88-74 in 1966, the year Charlie Dressen suffered his second heart attack. Coach B Bob Swift took over but later developed cancer, and coach Frank Skaff finished the season at Tigers helm. Also, Freehan popped a muscle in his back during spring training of 1965. While he starred defensively and won Gold Gloves and All-Star recognition in 1965 and 1966 , he struggled offensively. After batting .300 with 18 home runs and 80 RBIs in 1964, he batted .234 with 10 homers and 43 RBIs in 1965, and in 1966, he averaged .243 again, this time with 12 circuit clouts and 46 RBIs.
Under Mayo Smith in 1967, Freehan worked with new hitting coach Wally Moses , who moved Bill closer to the plate and worked for hours with the big catcher to change his swing so that he got more power out of his front (left) arm. I used to think, Freehan told sportswriter Arnold Hano, was all you had to do was worry about your back hand, your right hand, snapping your wrists over as you hit. So I wasnt using my front hand at all. Thats what Mayo Smith saw, my dead front arm, no pop [in the bat].
In 1967 when Freehan was hit by the pitcher 20 times but played 155 games, batted .282 (second on the Tigers to Kaline's .308), and contributed 20 home runs and 74 RBIs, the rebuilt Bengals fought the Boston Red Sox, the Minnesota Twins, and the Chicago White Sox all season long for the pennant. In the end, the Red Sox won the flag on the seasons final day when they topped the Twins, 5-3, while the Tigers (one game back before the days games) split a doubleheader with the California Angels. Detroit and Minnesota finished with 91-71 records, one game back of Boston. In the World Series the St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Red Sox in seven games, while the Tigers went home, contemplated their near-miss, and determined to win it all in 1968.
The 1967 season began a successful run in which the Tigers won the World Series in 1968, finished second in the AL East in 1969, and ranked fourth in 1970. Under new manager Billy Martin , Detroit finished second in the East in 1971, first in 1972, and third in 1973. After the 1973 season, the aging Tigers declined, finishing sixth (last) in the AL East in 1974, sixth in 1975, and fifth in 1976. Freehan continued his hustling play, illustrated by his final All-Star selection in 1975 , when at age 33 he hit .246 with 14 homers and 47 RBI while fielding .991.
In 1968 the Tigers rode the stellar pitching of fastballing Denny McLain , who won the MVP award with his 31-6 record, Mickey Lolich , who fashioned a 17-9 mark but won three games in the World Series, Earl Wilson , who went 13-12 after going 22-11 in 1967, and erratic Joe Sparma , who was 10-10 after a 1967 mark of 16-9. Mayo Smith also had a talented lineup. Freehan was the leader from behind the plate, hitting .263 with careers highs of 25 homers and 84 RBIs, and a tight infield was led by slugging Norm Cash at first, sparkplug Dick McAuliffe at second, and light-hitting Ray Oyler and Don Wert at short and third, respectively.
Detroits power-hitting outfield featured Willie Horton in left, batting .285 with a career-best 36 homers and 85 RBIs, Jim Northrup in center or right field, batting .264 with 21 homers and a team-high 90 RBIs (a figure fattened by his four grand slam home runs), Al Kaline in right, who missed two months of the season with a broken wrist but still hit .287 with 10 home runs and 53 RBIs, and Mickey Stanley in center, who batted .259 with 11 homers and 60 RBIs. The manager moved Stanley to shortstop for the World Series to get Kaline back in right field. The remarkable result was that Stanley committed just two harmless errors, and Kaline hit .379 with two homers and eight RBIs, helping lift the Tigers to their first World Series title since 1945.
In the 1968 fall classic Freehan went 2-for-24 with a double. He rapped the two-bagger in the seventh inning of game seven, driving home Detroits third run in a 4-1 victory.
I hit the ball halfway decent in the World Series, Freehan recalled, but you have to understand we faced Bob Gibson three times in seven games, and thats not a joy for anybody. All I know is I wasnt very successful in hitting, but I got the same World Series ring as everybody else.
Youll go through periods all during the course of the season, when youre hot, youre hot, and when youre struggling, you struggle a little bit.
In the climatic seventh game, Mickey Lolich , who won games two and five, outdueled Cardinal ace Bob Gibson , who won games one and four. A few minutes before Freehan doubled in the top of the seventh, Jim Northrup connected for a two-run triple to put Detroit in front, 3-0. With two outs in the ninth, Freehan caught a pop foul by the first base dugout to clinch the win for Lolich .
Regarding the pitching of Lolich , Freehand explained, Mickey threw the fastball, slider, and slow curve every now and then. He didnt really have a changeup. His slider was his out pitch. He had a good moving fastball, and he could velocity you too.
Reflecting on game seven, the Tigers leader, who caught 138 games during the season and all seven World Series contests, said, I remember two vivid things. I know I got a hit and finally made an offensive contribution.
Were leading 4-0 going into the bottom of the ninth inning, and we get two outs. All of a sudden Mike Shannon hits a home run, and its 4-1. You get two outs, and youre close. Im walking to the mound and thinking, What am I going to tell him now?
I said, How you doing, big boy? or something like that. He said, Do me a favor. Im going to get this last guy out, and you make sure you have a big cheeseburger and a beer in my locker if we get this thing done. I said, Ill get you anything in the world if you get this guy out!
I knew what Mickey was struggling with. He had an injury that no one really knew about. He had an infected groin going into the game. On game day, we didnt know for sure whether he was going to pitch or not. I knew about that, but we didnt tell anybody.
That was an existent fact, Freehan continued, and Mickey didnt want to tell the manager, because he was going to gut the thing out, you know. He was for hell or high water. Mickey didnt have the velocity he had in game one, but his ball sunk when he got tired. They were hitting ground balls, and we were making plays.
Here goes a popup with McCarver up, and its going to be a routine play, but its one of those deals you want to make sure you and the pitcher and first baseman dont run together, and all of a sudden give the Cardinals second life after Shannon had just hit a home run. All the drills that youve been through on popups go through your mind in a quick flash.
You cant think negative. You gotta think, Stay away from me. Let me make the play myself. You catch it, and the world jumps on top of me, and obviously thats the highlight of your career. When Lolich jumps on you, hes not a small man! But it was a great feeling! It was a big thrill.
Asked about game five when he made the game-changing play by tagging out Lou Brock in the fifth inning when he (Freehan) had his foot planted in such a way as to block home plate, Freehan said, You have no idea when, as a play is being made in a game, that its what they call later a turn-around play. At that point, youre concentrating on making the play thats there, and doing it as best you can, and doing it with the fundamentals youve learned all through your life. The key to that play was the great throw made by Willie Horton, and the possible assumption on Lou Brocks part. He might have underestimated Willies arm, and he chose not to slide. He tried to run me over. It was a National League umpire, Doug Harvey, who made the call.
We are good friends, Lou and I. Weve been together in a lot of places, and we always joke about it. Lou says, You still havent tagged me, and I say, You still havent touched home plate. You watch that World Series film, and you go look at it again. After the collision, I spin around, but neither of us falls down. Look at it closely: The first thing that Brock does is run back to touch home plate. Youll see me tag him. Lou will say, If you tagged me the first time, why did you tag me the second time? My answer is, If you touched home plate the first time, why did you come back the second time?
Freehan added, If they had scored that run, it would have put the Cardinals one more run up, and Mayo probably would have been forced to use a pinch-hitter to generate some offense when Mickey came up to bat. Instead, he stayed with Mickey , and Mickey ended up getting stronger, and he ended up winning game five. We came back from being down, three games to one, and we won game six, and we won game seven.
About Mayo Smith's decisions to use Al Kaline in right field, Jim Northrup in center, and move Mickey Stanley to shortstop, Freehan observed, What a dilemma the manager had, because youve got a bonafide future Hall of Famer, an All-Star every year, and a great player, who was out about three months of the season. He was just coming back from a broken wrist, as I recall. Basically, by the time he got back, we were 14 games ahead, or something like that. The outfield was Northrup in right, Stanley in center, and Willie Horton in left. You had won it [the pennant] with those guys, and all of a sudden, here comes your Hall of Famer back.
If youre the manager, which one of those guys do you sit down? None of them wants to sit down. The DH didnt exist, and you had Gates Brown on the bench anyway. That was the dilemma the manager was facing.
Mickey Stanley probably was, of all those guys, the best overall athlete. Mayo went to Stanley and said, Would you think about this? Mickey would take ground balls, just to have a little fun on an everyday basis. A lot of guys would do this, but what a gamble for a manager. But it worked out.
Commenting on Kaline , Freehan said, Al Kaline was the best player I played with. I was at the Hall of Fame when he was inducted [in 1980]. Hes a very good friend, and just a quality man. He could do everything. Nowadays they use the term five-tool player. He could hit, he could hit with power, he could run, he could throw, and he could field. I dont know what else in baseball you have to do beyond that.
Ive seen people with stronger arms. Al had a great arm, but an accurate and quick arm. Some guys have an arm that takes forever to get rid of the ball, and theyll throw it up in the stands. Al would throw it quick. He had a great arm, and he was accurate with it. He could play the corner in right field as well as anybody.
In summary, Freehan observed, The magnetism of the 68 team made it the biggest and best year that Ive been involved with in baseball. Winning the World Series easily overshadows any individual accomplishments. Sure, a team full of individual accomplishments adds up to a pennant, but it also takes good relationships on and off the field. One of the things Im most proud about is that most of the guys on that team made lasting relationships with the city of Detroit. The Lolichs, the McLains, the Northrups, the Stanleys, the Freehans, the Kalines, the Cashs, all made our permanent homes there, and we all made our livings there after baseball, because none of us made the kind of money that exists in baseball today. All of us had to make after-career livings, and the state of Michigan and the city of Detroit knew our group of guys.
Because of the Tigers celebrity status after winning the World Series, Freehan received an offer to write a book in the form of a diary about the 1969 season. Entitled Behind the Mask, the book was planned as a candid look at the Tigers, whom many thought would win another pennant. However, Denny McLain's off-field activities, including his association with gamblers in Flint dating to 1967, caused him to be suspended for three months of the 1970 season, until July 1, and McLains circumstances with the Tigers made Freehans book controversial.
After Sports Illustrated published excerpts, writers like Joe Falls as well as Detroits front office focused mainly on Freehans exposure of the two sets of rules used by Mayo , one for the team and one for McLain , who pretty much did what he felt like doing. In other words, at first glance it seemed like Freehan was criticizing the manger. Regardless, Freehan told me in 1999, If management wanted to hide their eyes from what was going on, they contributed to Denny's downfall in a way. They let him get away with all the baloney that was going on.
Still, Behind the Mask offered a down-to-earth and mostly positive commentary on Detroits 1969 season. The Tigers played well, McLain won 24 games and Lolich won 19, Freehan averaged .262 (his lifetime mark) with 16 homers and 49 RBIs, but the Orioles, behind superb pitching and good clutch hitting, ran away with the six-team AL East by 19 games, and Detroit finished second. In the Tigers golden summer of 1968, the ball club won more than 40 games when they trailed or were tied going into the seventh inning, but the Last Licks magic and the close camaraderie was simply not there in 1969.
In 1999 Freehan also talked about one of his most-asked questions: Who was the greatest pitcher he ever caught? The Tiger homer commented, I say, Mickey Lolich , Denny McLain , John Hiller , and Jim Bunning , for all different reasons.
Denny McLain could win as easy and as quick as anybody I ever saw, and he had the supreme self-confidence. Jim Bunning was probably the meanest, nastiest competitor of any guy I caught. John Hiller was easily the best reliever I ever caught. So I cover myself that way.
We are friends. Im better friends with Senator Bunning , which he is now. Im good friends with Lolich , and Im good friends with lots of my ex-teammates. McLain would be less of a good friend, only because of some of the problems hes gotten himself into. Not to say Im not a friend, but you cant identify with some of the things hes done.
The Tigers teams that played so well starting in the 1967 season enjoyed their Last Hurrah in 1973, the season the AL introduced the designated-hitter rule. The Tigers ranked third in the East at 85-77, the season after they won the East Division but lost the league championship to the Oakland Athletics in five games. Freehan, 31 in 1973, was aging in place like his teammates, and he batted .234 with just six home runs and 29 RBIs in 110 games.
Detroit fielded mostly an older lineup: Norm Cash , 38, at first base, Kaline , 38, listed as utility, played right field and first base, Willie Horton , 30, played left field, Mickey Stanley , 30, covered center field, and Jim Northrup , 33, played mostly in right. For the Tigers, however, only Horton (.316 with 17 homers and 53 RBIs) and Northrup (.307 with 12 homers and 44 RBIs) averaged more than .300. Gates Brown batted as DH and hit just .236, but he did produce 12 home runs and 50 RBIs. Besides Cash , the infield featured Dick McAuliffe , 33, still at second base, Aurelio Rodriguez , 25, at third, and Ed Brinkman , 31, at short. Mickey Lolich , 32, went 16-15, but seven of his losses were by one run. Young Joe Coleman , 26, was the Tigers big winner at 23-15, but he lost seven straight games when his team needed big wins. Jim Perry , 37, posted a 14-13 record. Reliever John Hiller , back for his second season after suffering a heart attack in 1971, fashioned a 10-5 mark while leading the majors with a record 38 saves.
Freehan played through the 1976 season when, suffering several minor injuries, he often rode the bench. He did play 71 games, and he batted .270, adding five home runs and 27 RBIs, his lowest totals in games, homers, and runs-batted-in since he took over as Detroits catcher in 1963.
Beginning in 1974, two years before he retired from baseball, Freehan started a manufacturers representative agency, Freehan-Bocci, Inc. At that time ballplayers worked in the wintertime. Bill worked as a salesman, calling on the purchasing and engineering people of GM, Ford, and Chrysler. He continued in that business for several years.
In 1989, after University of Michigan coach Bud Middaugh resigned on July 14 and the baseball program was headed toward two years probation for illegal payment to players, Freehan accepted the head coaching position. He coached the team and taught young men the fundamentals of the game and life until 1995, when he returned to his business interests.
Economically, observed Freehan, with a smile, it wasnt the wisest decision in the world, but its hard to get baseball out of your system.
How good was Bill Freehan? In the history of the Tigers through the 1980s, the club has had three great catchers. The greatest was Mickey Cochrane , the Hall of Famer whose career was ended by a beaning on May 25, 1937. Cochrane , who began with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1925, spearheaded three world championship clubs, two for the Athletics and one for the Tigers. The As won championships in 1929 and 1930. Traded to Detroit as player-manager in 1934, the Tigers won the clubs first World Series in 1935.
A lifetime .320 hitter, Iron Mike was a demanding field leader as well as Detroits manager. Freehan doesnt match Cochrane as a hitter, although he contributed more home runs (200 versus 119). But the quality of Freehans fielding, his handling of pitchers, and his team leadership left him a close second to Cochrane .
Lance Parrish , who enjoyed a 19-year major league career, played for Detroit from 1977 until he became a free agent after the 1986 season. The greatest slugger of the three, Lance batted .252 lifetime and blasted 324 homers, leaving him tied for fifth place all-time among catchers.
The 63 210-pound Parrish hit a career-best 33 round-trippers when he sparked the Tigers to the World Series title in 1984. However, as a defensive catcher, handler of pitchers, and field leader, Parrish ranked a close second to Freehan.
The only catcher of Freehans era that achieved greater fame was Johnny Bench , the fourteen-time All-Star for the Cincinnati Reds who slugged 389 career home runs. The anchor of the Big Red Machine that won two World Series in the mid-1970s, Bench was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1989.
During the years when Freehan was a consistent All-Star and Gold Glover, there was no better catcher in baseball, and in 1968, only Denny McLain's 31 wins kept Bill from being the American Leagues MVP.
An All-Star, a Gold Glover, a dedicated leader, and a quality person, the Detroit-born Tiger epitomizes the best kind of athlete that played the game during the 1960s and 1970s. A homegrown hero to thousands of Tiger fans, the Detroiters championship career illustrates what baseball was all about during his era. Bill Freehan deserves to be in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Did you know that Bill Freehan once held the American League record for career fielding percentage by a junior circuit catcher with .993, until Dan Wilson broke it in 2005?
In 1969, Bill Freehan published a diary-style tell-all book called Behind the Mask : An Inside Baseball Diary , we highly recommend it and inside that book he shared a legendary list that we preserved when we started the site: Freehan's Laws .