The Tigers signed Freehan, a University of Michigan baseball and football star, for a $100,000 bonus in 1961. Two years later the Detroit native became their regular catcher and held the position for 14 seasons.
Freehan showed signs of becoming the league’s top catcher in 1964, his first and only season as a .300 hitter, and his first as an All-Star. That began a streak of ten straight years representing the AL, seven of those as a starter. After two seasons of hitting .234, the righthanded hitter matured in 1967, finishing third in MVP voting after leading the Tigers to within one game of the AL title. In 1968 the quiet leader reached career highs with 25 HR and 84 RBI, capping off the season by catching Tim McCarver‘s foul pop for the final out in Game Seven of the World Series triumph in St. Louis. A batter who crowded the plate, he was hit by pitches 24 times that year – then a league record – including three HBP in one game on August 16.
Freehan never matched his 1968 offensive stats, though he had a three home run game in Boston in August 1971. Freehan was outstanding behind the plate. The five-time Gold Glove recipient tied a record with 19 putouts in a 1965 contest. In 1968 he set an AL record for most putouts and chances in a year. When he retired, Freehan held the ML career marks for most chances, most putouts, and highest fielding average for a catcher. He is among the Detroit top ten in six offensive categories. He wrote Behind the Mask, a diary of the 1969 season.