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William Ashley Freehan (born November 29, 1941 in Detroit) is a former professional baseball player. He played his entire Major League Baseball career as a catcher for the Detroit Tigers. An eleven-time All-Star, and winner of five consecutive Gold Glove Awards, he was regarded as the premier catcher in the American
Freehan attended the University of Michigan, where he set an all-time Big Ten Conference batting mark of .585 in 1961 and also played football. He signed with his hometown Tigers in 1961 for a $100,000 bonus, which his father withheld until he graduated in 1966, and broke in briefly with 4 games at the end of the season before returning to the minors in 1962. In 1963 he arrived in the majors to stay, working with former catcher Rick Ferrell on his defense and splitting catching duties with Gus Triandos, who was traded following the season. The 1964 campaign gave indications of what was to come; he batted .300 to finish sixth in the American League, along with 18 home runs and 80 runs batted in. He also earned the first of ten consecutive All-Star selections, and placed seventh in the Most Valuable Player Award balloting. In 1965 he led the American League in putouts for the first of six times, and received his first of his five consecutive Gold Gloves. In 1966 he again led the league in putouts, and also led in fielding percentage for the first of four times.
1967 was his best season yet, as he batted .282 – ninth in the American League as averages hit an all-time low – with 20 home runs, and broke Elston Howard's 1964 American League single-season records with 950 putouts and 1021 total chances. Freehan led the league in both intentional walks and times hit by pitch, and finished third in the Most Valuable Player Award voting after Detroit came within one game of the Boston Red Sox for the American League pennant.
He had an even better year in 1968 as he was considered the quiet leader of the 1968 World Series championship squad, posting career highs with 25 home runs and 84 RBI, fifth and sixth in the American League respectively. Freehan broke his own records with 971 putouts and 1050 total chances, marks which remained American League records until Dan Wilson topped them with the 1997 Seattle Mariners. He was also hit by 24 pitches, the most in the American League since Kid Elberfeld in 1911. Despite playing in hitter-friendly Tiger Stadium, Freehan guided the Tigers' pitching staff to an earned run average of 2.71, third best in the American League. McLain won 31 games and Lolich won 17 as the Tigers ran away with the pennant. Because of his offensive and defensive contributions, he finished second to McLain in the 1968 Most Valuable Player Award voting. Freehan and Carl Yastrzemski were the only players to finish in the top ten of the voting in both 1967 and 1968, and only Yastrzemski reached base more often in 1968. He capped his season by recording the final out of the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, retiring Tim McCarver on a popup. He also made a pivotal play in Game 5, with the Cardinals leading the Series 3-1 and the game 3-2. In the fifth inning, Lou Brock – whom Freehan had thrown out on an attempted steal in the third inning – doubled with one out and attempted to score on Julián Javier's single, but Freehan successfully blocked the plate with his foot, and held on to the ball even though Brock came in standing up in an attempt to knock the ball loose. Detroit won by scoring three runs in the seventh inning, and went on to take the last two games.
Although his later seasons rarely approached the brilliance of those two campaigns, he continued to turn out All-Star years for the Tigers. In 1971 he batted .277 with 21 home runs, and he hit .262 for the 1972 American League Eastern Division champions. He missed the first two games (both losses) of the 1972 American League Championship Series against the Oakland Athletics while recovering from a hairline fracture of his thumb, then doubled and homered in a 3-0 Game 3 win, in which Joe Coleman set an League Championship Series record with 14 strikeouts. Freehan drove in the first of three runs in the tenth inning of Game 4 in a memorable 4-3 come-from-behind victory which tied the series; he also drove in Detroit's only run in the 2-1 Game 5 loss. In 1974, playing primarily at first base, he finished fifth in the American League in slugging average with a .479 mark. He moved back behind the plate the following year to earn his eleventh All-Star berth. Freehan ended his career in 1976, batting .270.
In his 12-year career, Freehan played in 1774 games with 1591 hits in 6073 at bats for a .262 batting average along with 241 doubles, 200 home runs, 758 RBI, and a .340 on base percentage. In addition to his home runs and total bases, his .412 slugging average and totals of 1591 hits, 706 runs and 476 extra base hits all put him among the top five American League catchers to that time. His batting totals are particularly remarkable in light of the fact that offense was at a low throughout the sport during his career, with a decided advantage toward pitchers. Freehan led all American League catchers in fielding percentage four times (1965, 1966, 1970, 1973). He also ranked sixth in American League history with 114 times being hit by a pitch. He was named an All-Star in each of the eleven seasons in which he caught at least 75 games. His 11 All-Star Game appearances are the most by any eligible player who is not in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Freehan caught more games as a catcher than any other player in Tigers' team history and, he ranked ninth in major league history in games caught (1581) at the end of his career.
A five-time Gold Glove Award winner, Freehan held the major league record for highest career fielding percentage (.9933) until 2002, when Dan Wilson broke his record. His career totals of 200 home runs and 2502 total bases placed him behind only Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey among American League catchers when he retired. In 1973 and 1974 he surpassed Berra to become the American League's all-time leader in putouts and total chances; he broke Johnny Roseboro's major league marks in 1975. Freehan held the records for career putouts (9941) and total chances (10,734) from 1975 until the late 1980s; Bob Boone broke his major league mark for career total chances in 1987, and Gary Carter surpassed his putouts total in 1988; Carlton Fisk broke his American League records in 1989 (total chances) and 1990 (putouts).
In 1969, Freehan penned "Behind the Mask", a diary-type recording of his thoughts and experiences as seen from the catcher's perspective. After retiring, he coached Tigers catcher Lance Parrish on the fine points of playing his position. He served as a color analyst for Seattle Mariners broadcasts in 1979-80, and for Tigers broadcasts on PASS Sports television in 1984-85, and returned to the University of Michigan as head coach of the baseball team from 1989 to 1995.
- 1968 Detroit Tigers season
- List of top 300 Major League Baseball home run hitters
- List of Gold Glove Award winners at catcher
- University of Michigan Athletic Hall of Honor
- ^ a b c Bill Freehan at Baseball Reference
- ^ Bill Freehan at Baseball almanac
- ^ Bill Freehan at The Baseball Page
- ^ American League Gold Glove Award winners at Baseball Reference
- ^ Sports Illustrated, July 27, 1997
- ^ Bill Freehan: A Key Member of the 1968 Champion Tigers, by Jim Sargent, Baseball Digest, Jun 2000, Vol. 59, No. 6, ISSN 0005-609X
- ^ 1964 American League Batting Leaders at Baseball Reference
- ^ 1964 American League Most Valuable Player voting results at Baseball Reference
- ^ 1967 American League Batting Leaders at Baseball Reference
- ^ 1967 American League Most Valuable Player voting results at Baseball Reference
- ^ 1968 American League Batting Leaders at Baseball Reference
- ^ 1968 American League Team Statistics and Standings at Baseball Reference
- ^ 1968 American League Most Valuable Player Award voting results at Baseball Reference
- ^ 1968 World Series Game 5 box score at Baseball Reference
- ^ 1968 World Series at Baseball Reference
- ^ 1972 American League Championship Series Game 3 at Baseball Reference
- ^ 1972 American League Championship Series Game 4 at Baseball Reference
- ^ 1972 American League Championship Series Game 5 at Baseball Reference
- ^ 1974 American League Batting Leaders at Baseball Reference
- ^ Baseball Digest, July 2001, P.86, Vol. 60, No. 7, ISSN 0005-609X
- ^ Most Games Caught for Team at The Encyclopedia of Baseball Catchers
- ^ Career Fielding Leaders at Encyclopedia of Baseball
- ^ Bob Boone at Baseball Reference
- ^ Gary Carter at Baseball Reference
- ^ Carlton Fisk at Baseball Reference
- ^ http://www.amazon.com/Behind-mask-baseball-Maddick-manuscripts/dp/B0006C2RV2
- Career statistics and player information from Baseball-Reference
- The Baseball Page
- Encyclopedia of Baseball Catchers
- The Sporting News: "Five greatest games at Tiger Stadium" (1972 ALCS)
- Bill Freehan: A Key Member of the 1968 Champion Tigers, by Jim Sargent, Baseball Digest, Jun 2000