Last year I explored and readers voted on who should be in the Detroit Tigers Hall of Fame from past and present. This year, I’d like to take a look and give my thoughts on the best Tiger at each position. The main condition I have for consideration will be a minimum of 5-years in the old English D uniform at that position for a majority of the season. There are will be some easy battles for certain positions, while others will be incredibly difficult.
Today we’ll start out with Detroit Tigers catchers. There are only six Tigers who even qualify for the minimum seasons needed and are Bill Freehan, Lance Parrish, Oscar Stanage, Ivan Rodriguez, Johnny Bassler, and crowd favorite, Alex Avila.
I’m eliminating Avila, Stanage, and Bassler to start, with both having under 20 WAR’s, although Bassler did finish in the top-7 for MVP voting three times. This leaves us with Freehan, Parrish, and Pudge. Let’s start with oldest first…
Bill Freehan (1961-1976): Freehan had fifteen seasons as a Tiger under his belt, with 1,581 of his 1,740 games coming at the catcher position. When all was said and done, Freehan as a catcher had collected 1,414 hits, hit .261, hit 184 home runs, knocked in 692, and carried and OPS of .753. Defensively, Freehan had some very solid seasons, where he won five gold gloves and threw out a league best 53% of would be base stealers in 1964, and threw out more than 1 in 3 for his career (37%). Freehan made 11 All-Star teams in his career and made 10 straight from ’64-’73. Additionally, Bill was named on six different season MVP ballots, finishing 2nd in 1968 and 3rd in 1967.
Freehan was of course on the 1968 team that won the World Series, but hit just .083 in that series with 2 hits, 2 RBI, and 4 walks. For his career, Bill Freehan finished with a 44.7 WAR
Lance Parrish (1977-1988): One of my favorite players as a kid, Parrish played for 10 seasons in Detroit and caught in 983 games (of his 1,146). For his career as a Tiger, Parrish hit .263, with 1,123 hits, 212 HR’s, 700 RBI, and a .786 OPS. Parrish won three Gold Gloves, was on seven All-Star teams as a Tiger, while make the MVP ballot three times, finishing highest in 1983, in 9th place. At this point, Silver Sluggers existed, with Lance winning five as a Tiger.
Parrish was a key cog in the 1984 pennant and hit .267 during the playoffs (.278 in the World Series), where he collected 8 hits, 2 homers, and had an .848 OPS. Also like Freehan, Lance led the league in throwing out runners once, in 1983, when he threw out 49% of all runners. As a Tiger, Lance Parrish had a 29.9 WAR and for his career finished at 39.3.
Ivan Rodriguez (2004-2008): Pudge can be partially credited for the Tigers resurgence in the 2000’s, as took the highest bidders money and put Detroit back on the map. We all know Ivan was a special catcher, and you have to be to be mentioned with the two guys above when only playing 578 games as a catcher. While in Detroit, Pudge hit .298, with 62 homers, 300 RBI, and a .777 OPS.
Rodriguez made the All-Star team in four of his five years here, was one on MVP ballot won a Silver Slugger Award, and three Gold Gloves. Twice in Detroit, he led the league in throwing out runners, in both 2005 and 2006, Pudge threw out 51% of all base stealers.
In the 2006 playoffs, Ivan hit just .167, delivered 7 hits and 5 RBI. Three of his eight hits, were for extra bases however (2 2B, 1 HR). Ivan Rodriguez as a Tiger had a 14.2 WAR and finished with a 68.4 WAR.
For me, it really boils down to Parrish and Freehan, as Pudge just didn’t play here long enough. I started to review the stats further and was leaning toward Parrish as his numbers in 10 years in Detroit, pretty much outweigh Freehan’s 15 seasons, however Freehan’s two extra Gold Gloves and finishes in the MVP voting swayed me his way as the Greatest Tiger Catcher of All-Time.