For much of the 1980s, Lance Parrish was the best power-hitting catcher in baseball. While Carlton Fisk was a better receiver, and Gary Carter a better overall hitter, Parrish had raw power from the right side of the plate. He set an American League record for most homers in a season by a catcher (32) and eventually hit 299 homers as a catcher in his long career, the third most by a player at the position when he retired.
Parrish was an average defensive catcher when he first came into the big leagues, but he worked hard (tutored by former Detroit receiver Bill Freehan) to perform better behind the plate. He always had a very strong throwing arm, and in the 1982 All-Star Game he threw out three National League runners who tried to steal against him, setting a record. He won three Gold Glove Awards, and even managed to defy the odds and catch regularly into his late 30s, even though he was tall and very muscular, traits that many experts thought would cause him to break down in his early 30s. His Detroit skipper, Sparky Anderson, questioned Parrish’s weight lifting regimen but later admitted he was wrong.
Early in his development, Parrish was known to be easily frustrated, prone to stretches of moping after a strikeout or a poor performance. Manager Sparky Anderson quietly coaxed his young catcher for a few years, not using a heavy hand on Parrish. Then, in 1981 he was ready to see Parrish assert himself. “The time has come. He has played for three years and it’s time for total leadership,” Sparky explained. “That’s not so much caring what Lance Parrish is doing, but how we’re doing as a team.” The ’81 season was a turning point for the young Tigers as they competed for a playoff spot into the final weekend of the season. Two years later they won 92 games and finished second and in 1984 they won it all. Members of that team nicknamed Parrish “Big Wheel” because he was the part of the team that got everything rolling.
By far his best seasons came as a member of the Detroit Tigers, the organization with whom he was drafted. He was the cleanup hitter on the 1984 World Series Championship Tiger club, belting 33 homers and driving in 98 runs. He blasted a homer in the Game Five clincher at Tiger Stadium against the San Diego Padres. He was a six-time All-Star for the Tigers before leaving after the ’86 season as a free agent. Though he earned All-Star selections for both the Philadelphia Phillies and California Angels, Parrish never again was the impact player he’d been in Motown. In ten years as a Tiger, “Big Wheel” hit 212 homers and drove in 700 runs.
Though they were contemporaries, Lance Parrish and Larry Parrish were not related.