Top Tigers Countdown #21: Lance Parrish

Leon Halip

Eight-time All-Star Lance Parrish was one of the best catchers among the Tigers' rich history of solid backstops, earning him the #21 spot on our countdown.

It speaks volumes about the Tigers' history when an eight-time All-Star isn't even one of the best three catchers to ever don the home whites. However, this is the case with Lance Parrish, whose stellar numbers pale in comparison to those of Mickey Cochrane, Bill Freehan, and Ivan Rodriguez. Parrish spent more time in Detroit than Cochrane and Rodriguez, and was able to help deliver the title that evaded Pudge's attempts in 2006. For this, Parrish is the #21 player and the third catcher ranked on our countdown.

Year PA HR RBI SB BA OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ WAR
1977 51 3 7 0 .196 .275 .435 .313 88 0.3
1978 304 14 41 0 .219 .254 .424 .303 84 0.9
1979 548 19 65 6 .276 .343 .456 .355 113 4.2
1980 592 24 82 6 .286 .325 .499 .363 121 3.9
1981 384 10 46 2 .244 .311 .394 .317 101 2.2
1982 529 32 87 3 .284 .338 .529 .378 135 5.2
1983 663 27 114 1 .269 .314 .483 .344 113 4.9
1984 629 33 98 2 .237 .287 .443 .320 99 3.0
1985 600 28 98 2 .273 .323 .479 .350 118 4.1
1986 374 22 62 0 .257 .340 .483 .360 124 3.4
1987* 518 17 67 0 .245 .313 .399 .313 86 1.3
1988* 478 15 60 0 .215 .293 .370 .295 86 1.0
1989** 482 17 50 1 .238 .306 .388 .311 96 1.8
1990** 523 24 70 2 .268 .338 .451 .352 122 4.6
1991** 445 19 51 0 .216 .285 .388 .302 85 1.5
1992*** 304 12 32 1 .233 .294 .418 .317 95 0.5
1993**** 24 1 2 1 .200 .333 .400 .334 102 0.0
1994**** 147 3 16 1 .270 .363 .381 .335 98 0.4
1995**** 202 4 22 0 .202 .265 .320 .264 51 0.1
Career 7797 324 1070 28 .252 .313 .440 .332 105 43.4

*Played for the Philadelphia Phillies from 1987 to 1988.
**Played for the California Angels from 1989 to June 1992.
***Played for the Seattle Mariners in 1992.
****Played for the Cleveland Indians, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Toronto Blue Jays in 1993, 1994, and 1995 (respectively).

Lance Parrish was born on June 15th, 1956 in Clairton, Pennsylvania. He was drafted by the Tigers as a third baseman in 1974, but re-converted to catcher (he had played both positions in high school) prior to the 1985 season. He made the big league club in September of 1977, but only hit .216/.257/.425 in his first two seasons. Despite some early offensive shortcomings, Parrish won the starting job from Milt May during the 1979 season. Parrish, just 23 years old, hit .276/.343/.456 and was third among American League catchers with 4.2 WAR that year.

Parrish's best season was probably his 1982 campaign. He appeared in 133 games and hit .284/.338/.529 with 32 home runs and 87 RBI. His .378 wOBA and 135 wRC+ that season were both career highs, and he contributed 5.2 wins above replacement. Had Parrish appeared in some games as the team's designated hitter, he may have had an outside chance at being the second six-win catcher in franchise history. Parrish did not DH once in the '82 season and likely would have improved upon the team's .738 OPS from the DH slot.

A true old-school slugger, Parrish is first in franchise history among catchers with 212 home runs while his .469 slugging percentage is second to only Mickey Tettleton. Parrish posted a .424 slugging percentage or better in nine of his 10 seasons with the Tigers and won five Silver Slugger awards. He made six All-Star teams as a Tiger, including five straight from 1982 to 1986.

Parrish was not the best defensive catcher at the beginning of his career -- he led the American League in passed balls in 1979 and 1980, and still holds the AL record -- but he quickly improved and was lauded for his work with the Tigers' pitching staff during his prime. He won three consecutive Gold Gloves from 1983 to 1985 and threw out 39% of base stealers in his career.

Parrish frequently suffered from back trouble throughout his career, though he still played in 130 or more games in six of his eight full-time season with the Tigers. It was Parrish's back that made the Tigers leery of re-signing him after the 1986 season -- he only played in 91 games that year -- and Parrish signed with the Philadelphia Phillies. The Tigers got the better early return as Matt Nokes' stellar rookie season helped the Tigers win the AL East in 1987, but Parrish continued to play well as Nokes faltered.

Parrish played for six teams over the last nine seasons of his career and made the All-Star team in 1988 and 1990. He signed with the Tigers before the 1994 season, but did not appear in the majors before his contract was sold to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Widely considered to be one of the best offensive and defensive catchers of the 1980s, Parrish retired in 1996 after failing to make the Pirates' MLB club in Spring Training.

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