Bill Freehan was my Detroit Tigers catcher while growing up on Detroit’s west side.
He was strong, smart, silent, and bullish. Was he a raging bull? Despite that, if there were such a thing as a calming bull, that would best describe Freehan. He played the game of baseball as if his pants were on fire.
But his main job was to catch. And an important and sometimes forgotten aspect of catching is to make pitchers better. That’s what Freehan did. When a pitcher struggled, he miraculously got better after a visit to the mound by Freehan.
The catcher of my youth is no longer around. Sadly, Freehan died last at age 79 while battling Alzheimer’s.
Freehan played 15 seasons with the Tigers. He was an 11-time All-Star and won five gold gloves.
His biggest asset was how calm he was in the face of adversity. If you were a pitcher chasing a 3.90 earned run average, Freehan turned you into a 3.60 ERA talent. There is no quantifiable evidence of that. However, Freehan is a Hall of Fame catcher who is not in the Hall of Fame.
There is no stat called making a pitcher better.
He caught Denny McLain when he won 31 games and when workhorse Mickey Lolich won three World Series games in that same season in 1968. He blocked the plate from St. Louis Cardinals speedster Lou Brock, preventing him from scoring an important run in that series that the Tigers won in seven games.
Freehan has one of the most iconic photos in Detroit Sports history.