We have reached number 13 in our series looking at a current or former Tigers who wore each uniform number. To catch up on earlier installments, click the “By The Numbers” tag at the top of this page.
This list of Tigers who ever wore the unluckiest number is short. So short, in fact, that only five players were turned up in my search. The choice was obvious, even before digging through the annuls of Tiger history, as only Elden Auker, a submarine pitcher in the 1930’s stood out apart from Lance Parrish. So with apologies to Auker, Kimera Bartee (who wore 13 for part of the 1998 season) (OF 1996-99), Josh Anderson (OF, 2009), and Alex Avila (C, 2009-present), I give you the Big Wheel.
Lance Parrish came to the Tigers as a first round draft pick in the 1974 amateur draft. He spent the rest of that year by hitting 11 home runs in just 68 Rookie League games for Bristol. After struggling as a 19 year old in Lakeland, the Tigers promoted him to Double-A Montgomery for the 1976 season. His power returned with 14 round-trippers in 107 games, but his average stayed low. Still, with not much talent ahead of him at catcher, the Detroit brass pushed him again the following year.
Parrish opened the 1977 season at AAA Evansville and he took off. Still young for the league, Parrish batted .279 with 25 homers and 90 RBI. When the big league rosters expanded in September of that year, Parrish joined Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell as call-ups. On September 5, 1977, four days before Trammell and Whitaker, Parrish made his major league debut.
After an O for 2 in his debut, Parrish annouced his presence with authority in his second big league game, going 3 for 4 with a walk, a three-run double, and his first home run, a solo shot off Baltimore’s Earl Stephenson. He would play in 12 games down the stretch that season, and another 85 the next while splitting time with Milt May. By 1979, Parrish was the unquestioned starter behind the plate and a cornerstone for the young Tigers to build around.
After hitting 19 home runs in his first season as a starter in 1979, Parrish never again hit fewer than 22 during his Tigers career, excepting the 1981 strike shortened season.
As the Tigers began their rise to the top of baseball in the early 80s, Parrish was in the middle of both the team, and the batting order. Even after the ridiculous trade of slugging first baseman Jason Thompson, the Tigers put together a feared lineup that featured Whitaker and Trammell at the top, along with Kirk Gibson and Parrish in the middle. Over a four year period (1982-85) Parrish averaged 30 homers and 99 RBI, absolutely amazing numbers for a catcher in any era, let alone the pre-steroid era.
The 1984 season will always be remembered by Tigers fans as they raced out to a record 35-5 start and cruised to the division title. Parrish thumped a career high 33 home runs as the cleanup man in the order. In the eight post-season games that year, Parrish slugged .533 with two home runs and five RBI.
When Parrish left the Tigers after the 1986 season, he left his best baseball in Detroit. He had two disappointing years in Philadelphia before signing with the Angels. In 1990, Parrish clubbed 24 home runs for California, and made his final All-Star team. From there, he bounced around over the final five years of his playing career, seeing stops in Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Toronto. He even played a handful of games in AAA Toledo after re-signing with Detroit in 1994 before being sold to the Pirates.
After his playing career ended, Parrish worked as a coach and manager at the minor league level before returning to Detroit as a coach in 1999. He spent three seasons in various roles with the Tigers before turning to TV in 2002. When Trammell was named manager of the team in 2003, be brought Parrish back to the field for the next three seasons.
For his career, Parrish slammed 324 home runs. 299 of those came as a catcher, which ranks him fifth all-time among backstops. His Hall of Fame candidacy ended quickly as he fell off the ballot in his first year, garnering only 1.7% of the 2001 vote.
During his 10 years with Detroit, Parrish hit 212 home runs and had 700 RBI. His career OPS+ with the Tigers was 133. His 212 bombs are the eighth most in Tigers history ans his RBI total ranks him 16th. He was an eight time All-Star and a six time Silver Slugger. He won three gold gloves despite being the modern leader in career passed balls.