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Parrish came up to the majors for the end of the '77 season. He was a hitting man's catcher, not a thinking man's. Behind the plate, he'd sit back on his heels and wait passively for the ball to come to him. "All the time he was catching, he was just thinking about hitting," says Pitcher Milt Wilcox. Parrish threw out runners (he was second in the league in assists in '79) and hit .276 and .286 in '79 and '80, respectively, but he still wasn't thinking much about calling pitches.
"A catcher like Bench was in total control of the game," Anderson says. "He knew what to call when a certain pitcher got in trouble, how that pitcher reacted when he got ahead or behind, what he could get over in a jam. A catcher just doesn't put down his fingers and wait for a pitch."
Anderson thought so little of Parrish's thoughtlessness that last year he unburdened him of the task of calling pitches and, with the help of Pitching Coach Roger Craig, called them himself from the dugout. The team ERA in 1980 had been 4.25. "Either we had nine horrible pitchers," says Anderson, "or something was going wrong." Anderson believed that that something was Parrish.
"I felt like a dead mass behind the plate after that," Parrish says. "It took me out of the ball game." Opposing batters often made comments. "I tried to block them out," he says.
"I wanted to teach him a lesson," says Anderson. The lesson ended after Freehan, who coaches Tiger catchers in spring training, intervened on Parrish's behalf. Freehan felt that Parrish's progress was being impeded.
"If it was meant as a lesson," says Parrish, "I didn't learn much. I've been calling pitches all this year and our team ERA is one of the lowest in the league." Anderson laughs at Parrish's remarks, and says that they just prove his point.
Parrish hit .224 with 10 homers in last year's short season and is now having his best year. And he's selecting pitches better, too, whether he's behind the plate or alongside it. He no longer lunges for what Tiger Batting Coach Gates Brown calls "55-foot curves"—deliveries that swerve and bounce five feet in front of the plate. "Last year when Lance would get behind on a 1-2 count, you knew he'd find some way to strike out," says Brown.
Parrish's catching has improved, too. He's snapping off throws to first more often and guarding the plate more aggressively. "He still doesn't do those things as well as he should," Wilcox says, "but he's improved. And he's started coming out to the mound to talk to pitchers."
Parrish not only talks to pitchers, but he also now stands up to Anderson. In spring training they disagreed on weight-lifting. Parrish was bench-pressing 425 pounds. Anderson didn't want him bench-pressing anything. Parrish argued and lost, but he made his point. He now does his lifting during the off-season.
Early this month, after the Tigers had fallen from first place in May to near the bottom of the AL East, Parrish became the first Tiger to imply that Anderson was part of the problem. Parrish told the press that the team lacked motivation. Anderson shot back: "Motivation is like 'communication.' I don't really understand what it means. Does it mean I should get up and dance?"