Bill Freehan, catcher for 1968 World Series-champion Tigers, dies at 79

Detroit News

Bill Freehan, a 15-season catcher for the Detroit Tigers who neared the Hall of Fame threshold, died Thursday after a long bout with Alzheimer’s Disease. He was 79.

He grew up in Royal Oak, played football and baseball at the University of Michigan, then broke in at 19 with the Tigers, helping them to a world championship in 1968 he secured after catching Tim McCarver’s pop-foul for the final out of the seventh-game epic against St. Louis.

Earlier in the series, in Game 5, Freehan made a pivotal block of Lou Brock at the plate to turn the momentum in the Tigers’ favor.

The two images — the block and jumping into Mickey Lolich’s arms after the final out of Game 7 — are two of the most-famous in franchise history.

Freehan was a stolid, impenetrable force behind home plate for the Tigers during the ‘60s and early ‘70s, catching Denny McLain during his 31-victory season in ’68, as well as Lolich, whose mastery and endurance during those years matched Freehan’s. It was Lolich who threw the final pitch that brought on a World Series parade following a stunning comeback against the Cardinals.

Freehan was an 11-time All-Star choice, and three times finished in the top five on Most Valuable Player voting, including a runner-up finish to McLain in 1968.

Freehan retired after his 1976 stint with the Tigers. His career numbers: .262 batting average, 200 home runs, .762 OPS. His career Wins Above Replacement (WAR): 44.8.

Freehan later had a reunion with his alma mater, Michigan, as the school’s baseball coach. He also was a coach in the Tigers minor-league chain.

He had lived in recent years in northern Michigan, with his wife of 58 years, Pat.

“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,” the Tigers said in a statement. “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.”

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