1968 Detroit Tigers’ World Series champion catcher Bill Freehan dies at 79

Detroit’s Bill Freehan is shown in his Tigers’ uniform in 1972. (AP file photo)


Associated Press

DETROIT — Bill Freehan, an 11-time All-Star catcher with the Detroit Tigers and key player on the 1968 World Series championship team, died Thursday at age 79.

The Tigers honored Freehan with a moment of silence and photos and video on the Comerica Park scoreboard before playing the Los Angeles Angels.

“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 team said.

The cause of death was not disclosed, but family members have publicly said that Freehan had Alzheimer’s disease.

He played his entire career with the Tigers, from 1961 through 1976. Besides All-Star appearances, including all 15 innings in the 1967 game, Freehan was awarded five Gold Gloves.

“The guy was the best catcher I ever pitched to. … Nobody did it better,” said Denny McLain, who won 31 games for the Tigers in 1968.

In Game 5 of the 1968 World Series vs. St. Louis, Freehan blocked home plate during a crucial play and tagged out Lou Brock. Detroit won the game and the series — a result best captured by a famous photo of pitcher Mickey Lolich jumping into the arms of his jubilant catcher who caught a foul ball for the last out in Game 7.

“He was the heart and soul of the ballclub,” said teammate and fellow catcher Jim Price.

Willie Horton, an outfielder who made the throw to nail Brock, said Freehan was one of his best teammates.

“His entire Major League career was committed to the Tigers and the city of Detroit, and he was one of the most respected and talented members of the organization through some difficult yet important times throughout the 1960s and ’70s,” Horton said.