Monday, May 26, 2014

Bill Freehan (#145)

Bill Freehan was the Tigers’ starting catcher from 1963 to 1976. During those 14 seasons, he made the all-star team every season except the his first and last (when he shared the starting job) and 1974 (when he spent 3 months as the team’s 1st baseman.

Freehan was signed by the Tigers in 1961, and spent that season in class-C and class-A ball. He also played in 4 games for the Tigers in September. Bill played at the triple-A level for all of 1962, catching and playing 1st base.

He made the Tigers’ squad at the start of 1963, and made 40% of the starts, behind veteran Gus Triandos.

Freehan assumed the fulltime starter’s job in 1964, and except for June to August 1974 when he was the every-day 1st baseman, held on to his catching job through the 1975 season. Bill won 5 gold gloves for his mitt work during that stretch, and handled Denny McLain and Mickey Lolich in their prime.

He played in the 1968 World Series, and despite his .083 post-season batting average, he was the MVP runner-up that season. Freehan’s only other post-season action was in the 1972 ALCS.

1967 and 1968 were the high point of his career in terms of playing time. He played in 155 games both seasons, and led the AL both times in being hit by a pitch.

In 1974, veteran 1st-sacker Norm Cash was winding down his long career. Cash was the starter through the end of May, then Freehan moved out to 1st base, starting almost every game until rookie call-ups arrived on September 1st.

After another all-star season (1975) behind the plate, Freehan wrapped up his career in 1976, sharing the catching job with John Wockenfuss and rookie Bruce Kimm.

When his playing career was over, he spent a few seasons in broadcasting, then was the head baseball coach at the University of Michigan from 1989 to 1995.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Sonny Siebert (#197)

Sonny Siebert was one of the top starting pitchers in the American League for a few seasons in the mid-1960s.

Siebert was signed by the Indians in 1958, and spent 6 seasons (1958-63) in their farm system. Although usually a starting pitcher, he played exclusively in the outfield (hitting 5 homers and collecting 45 RBI in 61 games) during his 1959 season with the Tribe’s class-C team in Minot, North Dakota.

In 1960 Siebert returned to the mound, and eventually made his major-league debut with the Indians in April 1964.

The 27-year-old rookie spent most of his 1st season in the Tribe’s bullpen, behind veterans Don McMahon and Ted Abernathy. Meanwhile, the starting rotation featured veterans Dick Donovan and Pedro Ramos, a young Luis Tiant, and a pair of 21-year-olds named Sam McDowell (already in his 4th season) and Tommy John. Sonny started 14 of his 41 games that season.

In 1965, John was traded to the White Sox, so Siebert joined McDowell and Tiant in giving Cleveland a solid top-3 in the starting rotation. Sonny had a great sophomore season, finishing 3rd in the AL in ERA, and missing 3rd place in strikeouts by just one K. (His teammate McDowell finished 1st in both categories.) Sonny also notched 16 wins, 5th-best in the league and one behind McDowell for the team lead.

Siebert won 16 games again in 1966, 4th-best in the league. His 2.80 ERA was also in the top 10, though well behind the 2.48 posted by teammate Steve Hargan. Sonny no-hit the Senators on June 10th, and made his first of two all-star teams in ’66.

In 1967 his record dropped to 10-12, but he also lowered his ERA to 2.38, which returned him to the #3 slot on Topps’ ERA leaders card he occupied two years earlier.

Siebert’s ERA shot up to 2.97 in 1968. That sounds respectable, but in the Year of the Pitcher, that was only 22nd-best in the AL. Too bad – if he had snared 3rd-place again, the Indians would have nailed the trifecta on Topps’ ERA leaders card that also featured Tiant and McDowell. Anyway, he reversed his won-lost record to 12-10, but that would be his last full season with the Indians.

In mid-April 1969, Sonny was traded to the Red Sox (with catcher Joe Azcue and pitcher Vicente Romo) for veteran pitchers Dick Ellsworth and Juan Pizarro, and outfielder Ken Harrelson. Siebert spent the next 4 seasons in the Sox’ rotation, and made his final all-star team in 1971.

After 4 seasons in Boston, Sonny was on the move again. In May 1973 he was traded to the Rangers, then moved on to the Cardinals for the 1974 season. His final season (1975) was split between the Padres and Athletics. Although he bounced around a lot in those last 3 seasons, he remained a starting pitcher until the end.