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Bill Freehan, catcher on 1968 champion Detroit Tigers, dies at 79

Freehan played his entire career with the Tigers, from 1961 through 1976. Besides his All-Star appearances, he was awarded five Gold Gloves.

Detroit Tigers catcher Bill Freehan, an 11-time All-Star and a key player on the 1968 World Series championship team, has died at age 79.
Detroit Tigers catcher Bill Freehan, an 11-time All-Star and a key player on the 1968 World Series championship team, has died at age 79.
Preston Stroup/AP

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

“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 Thursday.

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

Freehan played his entire career with the Tigers, from 1961 through 1976. Besides his All-Star appearances, he 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 against the St. Louis Cardinals, Freehan tagged out Lou Brock in a crucial play at home plate. 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 catcher at the end of Game 7.

Detroit Tigers catcher Bill Freehan puts the tag on Lou Brock of the St. Louis Cardinals at the plate in the fifth inning of Game 5 of the 1968 World Series at Tiger Stadium.
Detroit Tigers catcher Bill Freehan puts the tag on Lou Brock of the St. Louis Cardinals at the plate in the fifth inning of Game 5 of the 1968 World Series at Tiger Stadium.
AP

Willie Horton, an outfielder who made the throw that nailed Brock, said Freehan was one of his greatest 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.

Freehan also coached baseball at the University of Michigan and in Detroit’s minor league system.