The Five Greatest Catchers in Detroit Tigers History

Ivan Rodriguez, Lance Parrish, Bill Freehan, Mickey Cochrane, and Mickey Tettleton.

Ivan Rodriguez, Lance Parrish, Bill Freehan, Mickey Cochrane, and Mickey Tettleton.

No fewer than 10 Detroit Tigers have been named to the All-Star team. The team’s first World Series winner was managed by their catcher and from the early 1960s until the late 1980s the team had All-Star caliber players behind the mask almost every season. Catching has been a strength for the Tigers through the years. Here’s the five greatest catchers in team history.

#5. Mickey Tettleton (1991-1994)

The first of two Mickey’s on our list, Tettleton spent four years in a Tiger uniform in the 1990s. He actually played more games for Detroit than any other team in his career (570), catching 347. He also spent time at designated hitter, first base, and the outfield for Sparky Anderson. Tettleton was never going to be confused with Johnny Bench behind the plate defensively, but he could do a few things exceptionally well: get on base and hit for power. In his four seasons as a Tiger he averaged 28 homers and 108 walks per season, pretty gaudy numbers.

#4. Ivan Rodriguez (2004-2008)

Pudge helped transform the Tigers from laughingstock to pennant winners after arriving as a free agent in 2004. Rodriguez hit .298 in his five-year career a Tiger and had a top ten finish in MVP voting his first season with the club. He also won three Gold Glove awards for Detroit, and was probably the best all-around defensive catcher in the history of the franchise. Eventually he’ll be elected to the Hall of Fame, though he’ll wear a Texas Rangers’ cap on his plaque.

#3. Lance Parrish (1977-1986)

When he first came up to the big leagues in the late 1970s, Lance Parrish was a raw defensive catcher. He was big, muscular, and had a cannon arm, but he didn’t really understand the position. The Tigers had Bill Freehan tutor him and before long Parrish was one of the best catchers in the game. In ten years with the Tigers, “Big Wheel” made six All-Star teams and won four Gold Gloves. He once threw out three of the best runners in baseball in the All-Star Game. Parrish clubbed 212 home runs for the Tigers and he was the cleanup man on the 1984 World Championship team. His peak was never as good as Pudge’s, but he ranks ahead of him because of the extra time he spent in Detroit.

#2. Mickey Cochrane (1934-1937)

Had Mickey Cochrane spent his entire career with the Tigers he’d rank first. He’s the only Hall of Fame catcher to ever don the mask for the Bengals (though Pudge should join him eventually). He actually only started behind the plate for two years for the Tigers, but they were two of the most successful seasons in the history of the franchise. In 1934 and 1935, serving as both the starting catcher and manager, Cochrane guided the Tigers to back-to-back pennants, and their first World Series title in ’35. He hit .300 three times for the Tigers and won the MVP award in 1934. A near fatal beaning ended Cochrane’s career in 1937, but he remains one of the legends of Tiger history. He is one of the three or four most important figures in the history of the Detroit Tigers because of the way he instilled a winning mindset in the club, paving the way for an era of success.

#1. Bill Freehan (1961, 1963-1976)

Ask any member of the 1968 World Series title team and they’ll tell you that Bill Freehan was the heart of that club, and one of the most valuable members of the team. The writers thought he was valuable too – he finished second to teammate Denny McLain in AL MVP voting in ’68. It was one of six times Freehan earned MVP votes in his career, and three times he finished in the top ten. He was definitely the best catcher in the American League for a decade, from 1963-1972, and arguably the best in baseball for much of that period. Unfortunately, because he played in the 1960s when offensive numbers were at a near record low, his stats look less impressive than they really are. His career OPS+ of 112 is one of the best in history for catchers not in the Hall of Fame. He was a complete defensive player, adept at handling pitchers, blocking the plate, and throwing out runners. For being the complete package, Freehan ranks as the Tigers’ greatest catcher of all-time.

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About Dan Holmes

The editor of Detroit Athletic Co. blog, is the author of Ty Cobb: A Biography. He was formerly the Web Producer for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY, and worked for Major League Baseball as a producer. He contributed to Sock it to 'Em Tigers: The Incredible Story of the 1968 Detroit Tigers, and Deadball Stars of the American League. Follow him on Twitter at @thedanholmes or visit his personal blog at danholmes.com.