Monday, October 18, 2010

Local Boy Makes Good

Card #460 -- Bill Freehan, Detroit Tigers

Great action photo. The runner is wearing pinstripes, which would mean Freehan is playing at Yankee Stadium and Celerino Sanchez is sliding. Freehan is lunging, with the ball in his hand for the tag, and the Bronx crowd is standing to see the result.

According to, this game took place on August 8, 1972. At the time, the Yankees were still in the A.L.East race, three games behind first-place Detroit. With a 4-game series between the two teams beginning that day, the Yankees had a chance to move closer to first. In the bottom of the fourth inning, Sanchez was hit by a Mickey Lolich pitch, sending him to first and moving Felipe Alou to second. Ron Swoboda followed and lined a single to left. Alou scored from second, tying the game 1-1. After Gene Michael flied to right for the second out, Fritz Peterson (remember, pitchers were still hitting in the American League in 1972) singled to left. Sanchez was ordered to round third and run home to take the lead.

Freehan got him. The inning was over, game still tied. The Yankees eventually won the game 4-2 and took three of the four games in the series.

Bill Freehan was a Detroit native who played with the Tigers for his entire career. One of the game's better catchers during the 1960s, he was a perennial All-Star and an important part of the 1968 World Champions. A quiet leader, he helped Denny McLain become the only pitcher since 1934 to get 30 wins. At the time of his retirement in 1976, he held the all-time record for fielding by a catcher. After hanging up the mask, he stayed with the Tigers and helped teach some of the finer points of catching to Lance Parrish. He returned to the University of Michigan as the school's head baseball coach between 1989-'95.

Sadly, Freehan's performance was overshadowed by Johnny Bench and Carlton Fisk during the 1970s so his numbers were overlooked by the Hall of Fame voters. But he's still a beloved figure when it comes to fans of the Tigers.


  1. Cool shot. I love the identification of a play. If you look straight up from Freehan's right knee, you can see a police officer with an unmistakable NYPD hat.

  2. Actually, Steve, there are two of New York's finest in the picture. If you look above Freehan's glove, you'll see two men in the aisle leaning in to watch the play. One of them is wearing an NYPD hat as well.

    By the way, the other guy with him looks like a slimmed-down version of Satvros from the old Kojak TV show.

    But if you blow the picture up and take a look into the audience, you see a cross-section of America as it was in 1972: long-hairs, "squares," and everybody else, all paying attention to Sanchez's slide instead of debating the War or Nixon or anything else. That's what I love about baseball.

  3. Chris,

    Yes, I found the second cop just after I commented. And, the wearing of your favorite team's cap didn't take hold until later in the 70's, I guess. I can't discern a single Yankees hat in the crowd. Check out the little kid in the front row next to Sanchez's right shoulder. Those seats are what, about $1000 today?

  4. Chris, you mention a cross-section of America. I'm a grizzled veteran of the Oakland A's bleachers in the 80's and 90's before Mt. Davis ruined it. The community was simply amazing. We had blue collar, white collar, black, white, Hispanic, Asian. Berkeley is the next city up, so we had hippie freaks, frat boys, intellectuals and college prof's, commies, lesbians. Low riders, bikers, Silicon Valley upper management, druggies and soccer moms. Those were the days.

  5. Shades of Elrod Hendricks in the '70 WS! Freehan is about to apply a tag on Sanchez with the ball clearly in his right hand!

  6. Freehan wrote a diary-style book about the 1968 Tigers season (like Jim Bouton's 'Ball Four', a diary of the 1969 Seattle Pilots).
    I read it in junior high school after finding it in the school library. This was about 1977.
    It was a great read and told of lots of inside the clubhouse details. I'll never forget it.
    I love those daily diary-style books.