Thursday, June 18, 2009

#120 -- Bill Freehan

Bill was one of the AL's best catchers in the era between Yogi Berra/Elston Howard and Thurman Munson/Carlton Fisk. He was good for a 20, 70, .265 season every year. He made 10 straight All-Star games (11 overall) and won 5 Gold Gloves. I didn't realize this, but his value to the Tigers is reflected in the fact that he was 3rd in AL MVP voting in 1967 and 2nd in 1968. That's not for the Tigers' team MVP, but the league MVP. In 1967 he was a distant 3rd behind Yaz' Triple Crown and Harmon Killebrew's 44 homers. In 1968, however, he was a solid 2nd, behind teammate Denny McLain's 31 wins and unanimous MVP.

Still, Freehan's stats don't really jump out and grab me and maybe that's because I've lived through the era of guys like Todd Hundley hitting 40 homers and that numbs me to good hitting catchers. It was a lot more rare in the 1960's.

Bill's a Detroit man through and through. He was a baseball and football star for the Big Blue and returned to coach the baseball team at the University of Michigan in the early 90's (just after the Jim Abbott era). The Tigers signed him in the days before the amateur draft. I'm sure Freehan never thought about signing with anyone else. He made his debut in 1961, but didn't stick until 1963. He was the Tigers' starting catcher through the 1975 season. In 1976 he played part time, but hit 5, 27, .270 in 71 games. The Tigers released him after the season (I guess deciding the future was now with Johnny Wockenfuss and Bruce Kimm) and he retired.

Bill was also involved in a couple of oddities in his career. He liked to crowd the plate. Apparently, on August 16, 1968, Jim Lonborg wanted to pitch inside because he hit Bill in the 2nd, 4th and 7th, three consecutive plate appearances. No indication of any riots. Fortunately for Bill, Lee Stange had relieved Lonborg when he came up in the 8th. Bill quietly flied to left.

An even more odd play really showed off Bill's behind-the-plate skills. I'll let you know I've never heard of a play like this and I'd love to see the video of it. On July 5, 1969, the Tigers are in Baltimore and, despite being 43-33, they're 11 games behind the Orioles already. Speedy Paul Blair led off the 3rd with a triple. According to Baseball Library, Frank Robinson swung and missed and the bat flew out of his hand. Apparently Blair had strayed too far away from the bag and wasn't paying attention (looking at the bat, perhaps?) and Freehan the catcher tagged him out. Unassisted. Speed demon Blair run down by a catcher. That's a play for the archives.

1972 Feature
On June 18, 1972, there were a few good individual performances. Skip Lockwood (who we saw a few cards ago) threw a 5-hit shutout at the Royals. Vida Blue finally won his 1st game of the season after winning 24 in 1971. Vida was 14-2 by this time in 1971. San Diego's Steve Arlin made a 1st inning run stand up and threw a 2-hit shutout at the Pirates. Cesar Cedeno showed off his all-around talent with 2 doubles, a single, a homer and a steal of 3rd in a 10-0 win over the hapless Phillies.

The Game of the Day will be in Riverfront Stadium where Tom Seaver goes against Ross Grimsley. Cincinnati leads the West by 1.5 over the Astros and the Mets enter the day a half-game behind the Pirates. The Reds get a run in the 1st. Seaver walked Rose and Morgan. He then got a force at 2nd and struck out Johnny Bench with runners at 1st and 3rd for the 2nd out before Tony Perez singled in Rose. The Mets got that run back in the 4th on a Duffy Dyer double.

Seaver was dominant after the 1st. The Reds had a little rally in the 7th, but Seaver struck out pinch-hitter Ted Uhlaender and then got Rose on a fly ball with runners on 1st and 2nd. Seaver became the Player of the Day and won his 9th game of the year when he homered off Grimsley in the 7th to give the Mets a 2-1 lead. It was Tom Terrific's 2nd homer of the year and if he hadn't hit it they might still be playing. Neither team was hitting that day. This game, coupled with the Pirates shutout loss, put the Mets in first in the East.

By the way, that win I mentioned that Vida Blue got? It was also Charlie Finley's Mustache Day in Oakland that launched the great handlebars of Rolllie Fingers. The link explains how this was all a ploy to try to get Reggie Jackson to shave the mustache he started in Spring Training, but nobody gets one over on Reginald Martinez Jackson.

1 comment:

  1. That tag play would have been a great one to see.

    Bill is close to being a hall of famer. He was consistent but didn't really have a peak that people could ooh and ahh about.