Bill Freehan, Former Tigers Catcher and 11-Time MLB All-Star, Dies at Age 79

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVAugust 19, 2021

5/1972- Detroit, MI: Waist-up portrait of Detroit Tigers' catcher Bill Freehan in uniform, kneeling.

Former Detroit Tigers catcher Bill Freehan died at the age of 79 on Thursday, the team announced.

Freehan spent his entire career with the Tigers, a period that spanned 15 seasons. Over that time, he was an 11-time All-Star and five-time Gold Glove winner.

"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," the Tigers said in a statement. "Our thoughts are with Bill's wife, Pat, and the entire Freehan family."

The Detroit native was the runner-up to teammate Denny McLain in the voting for the American League MVP in 1968. He finished that year with 25 home runs, 84 RBI and a .366 on-base percentage, and he was behind the plate as the Tigers bested the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games to win the 1968 World Series.

Freehan's 200 homers are 10th-most in franchise history, and he's fifth among Tigers in defensive WAR (12.0), per Baseball Reference.

"Arguably the best catcher in the history of the organization, and deep Michigan roots," manager A.J. Hinch said to MLB.com's Jason Beck. "I had a chance to meet him. [Pitching coach] Chris Fetter actually coached his grandson at the University of Michigan. Anybody that’s been around the organization a long time has a heavy heart today. Obviously a true Tiger."

Freehan sits 16th among catchers in Baseball Reference's JAWS metric, ahead of some Hall of Famers including Roy Campanella, Buck Ewing and Roger Bresnahan.

Jay Jaffe @jay_jaffe

RIP Bill Freehan, an 11-time All-Star and 5-time Gold Glover who was the best catcher in the game for a stretch in the late 1960s. I have him 16th in JAWS, about five points below the standard but a reasonable choice. Here's his entry in The Cooperstown Casebook: <a href="https://t.co/XEnw112Edw">pic.twitter.com/XEnw112Edw</a>

Pat Freehan confirmed in October 2018 her husband was placed into hospice care after being diagnosed with dementia. He had been unable to partake in the Tigers' 50th-anniversary celebration of their World Series title.