Publish date:


It wasn't mere capriciousness that impelled us to depict Bill
Freehan in star-spangled chest protector, shin guards and mitt
on the above cover. Garish though his getup may have been, it
was appropriate. Freehan was an All-Star 11 times during his
15-year career with the Detroit Tigers, as well as a Gold Glove
winner five straight times. During the Tigers' championship
season of 1968, he caught 155 of their 162 regular-season games
and all seven in their World Series victory over the St. Louis
Cardinals. He hit 25 home runs that year and set an American
League record, since broken, of being hit by pitches 24 times.
Says Freehan, "Nobody ever said a catcher had to be smart or
quick on his feet."

Freehan, who was born in Detroit, is one of those rare American
sports figures who played his entire career for his hometown
team. The Tigers signed him in 1961, following his sophomore
year at Michigan. Freehan played tight end for the Wolverines
and batted a Big Ten- record .585 as a sophomore. Detroit
teammates took to calling him Big Ten Billy because of the
collegiate enthusiasm he brought to pro baseball. Freehan
continued to attend classes at Michigan in the off-season until
he earned a bachelor's degree in history in '66.

In a roundabout way he would return to campus again after
retiring from baseball in 1976. During the summer of '89
Freehan, then a successful Detroit businessman, called
Wolverines athletic director Bo Schembechler to inquire about
the troubled state of what had been a tremendously successful
baseball program (six Big Ten championships in the 1980s). An
NCAA investigation had just uncovered illegal payments to
players--Michigan would be put on two years' probation--and
coach Bud Middaugh had resigned. "I was trying to find out what
was going on," says Freehan. "Two weeks later I was the coach."

He took time off as president of Freehan-Bocci & Co. Inc., a
manufacturers' representative agency, to "put the program on
honest footing," finishing six years later with a 166-167-1
record. Today Freehan and his wife, Pat, live in the suburban
Bloomfield Hills house they've had for 27 years. Neighbors
include Tigers teammates Gates Brown, Willie Horton, Al Kaline,
Mickey Lolich and Mickey Stanley. "We never made the big
salaries," says Freehan, now 55. "Most of us did better
financially after baseball. Detroit has been good to us. We made
our homes here, stayed loyal to the community. That's the way it
should be."


COLOR PHOTO: NEIL LEIFER [Cover of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED magazine featuring Bill Freehan]