No. 134 Bill Freehan (Number 14 Catcher)

I was a big baseball fan when I was a kid, that I read Bill Freehan’s book about the 1969 season with the Tigers called “Behind the Mask”. I did this despite not being much of a Tiger’s fan or Bill Freehan fan. I checked out basically every sport’s book in my Junior High library. That is how I met a friend of mine. He saw my name on the check out sheets in back of the sport’s books and decided to talk to me. We remained good friends until he died of a diabetes induced heart attack at age 50.

I remember liking “Behind the Mask”. It came out about when Jim Bouton’s book “Ball Four” came out and “Ball Four” was more controversial and Jim Bouton had more humor in his. However, Freehan didn’t avoid controversial issues. He talked about problems with his manager Mayo Smith and Denny McLain.  However, he wrote it as a part of doing business with someone else can be difficult while Bouton was more judgmental in his book. I also learned more about baseball from Freehan’s book as I remember. You must remember I read this book about 50 years ago. The only specific thing I remember was the Tiger’s were on the game of the week and if you were player of the game you got $50 from the network for an interview. The Tigers were winning the game easily. Norm Cash had a great day at the plate and Denny McLain had pitched a great game. McLain thought he could clutch the player of the game by striking out the side and struck out the first two batters. The third batter hit a pop out and McLain was yelling at the fielder to drop it and Cash was yelling at him to catch it. I am pretty sure the player caught the pop up. I don’t even remember who won player of the game. I was just in shock reading this book that a pro player would worry about $50 over making a play to end a winning game. I was young 50 years ago.

Freehan’s batting statistics don’t look that good, but he played a lot in the 1960s. It is ironic that he peaked in 1967 and 1968 two of the worst hitting years ever, especially 1968. For his career Bill Freehan was a well above average hitter and was the 5th best hitter according to WAR in 1967 and the 3rd best hitter in 1968. Bill Freehan is an easy hall of famer; which sabermetrics has bought to our attention and hopefully he is elected one of these days.

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