Lance Parrish back with Tigers organization

Lance Parrish throws out the ceremonial first pitch before Game 3 of the 2013 ALCS between the Tigers and Red Sox at Comerica Park.

Matt Slocum/AP

DETROIT — Lance Parrish spent 34 consecutive years in professional baseball.

He excelled as an eight-time All-Star catcher for the Detroit Tigers and then served as a major-league coach and broadcaster, as well as a minor-league manager and coach.

But for the last six seasons, Parrish was separated from the game he loved. He lived in Nashville, Tenn., where he gave private baseball lessons and even coached a 15-year-old travel baseball team.

He knocked on doors and had an agent represent him in baseball job pursuits. But the phone seldom rang and, when it did, the final call didn’t result in a job offer.

That was until Jan. 27, two days after Parrish had returned from a TigerFest appearance while receiving no hint of job interest from his former team. Detroit assistant general manager Al Avila called Parrish to see if he was interested in managing the Double-A Erie SeaWolves.

Erie manager Chris Cron had left to become a minor-league hitting instructor for the Arizona Diamondbacks, and within days, Parrish was offered the job.

He passed a background check and drug test, and was officially named the SeaWolves’ manager on Wednesday.

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"It was kind of a shocker," Parrish said, "but very nice. I can’t wait to get started, and it’s great to be back with the Tigers."

He appreciates the opportunity to return to the game after more than six years of wondering if another chance would ever come.

"It was difficult," Parrish, 57, said in a phone interview. "I truly had a desire to be in the game. It was too early in life to do nothing.

"But people would go in different directions with jobs, and as the years went by, I found that I knew fewer and fewer people in the game. Since 2007, baseball-wise, I’d done nothing at this level."

The days of "nothing" are over, though, for a catcher and coach who’s always been considered a pro’s pro.

Parrish hit 324 homers, and won three Gold Gloves and six Silver Slugger awards with the Tigers. He spent 10 of 19 seasons with Detroit and wished he’d never left them for free-agent riches with the Philadelphia Phillies.

His career spiraled downward after that, but he did experience a revival in 1989-91 with the California Angels.

The Kansas City Royals hired him in 1996 as their minor-league catching instructor. He then spent the next three seasons coaching for the Los Angeles Dodgers organization at Double-A San Antonio, and served as that team’s manager for the second half of 1998 after current Milwaukee Brewers manager Ron Roenicke departed for the Triple-A team.

"I was on my way in the minors as a manager," Parrish said, "but then the Tigers called and wanted me to be part of their coaching staff. I couldn’t turn that down."

Between 1999 and 2005, he served as either the third-base or bullpen coach for Tigers managers Larry Parrish, Phil Garner and Alan Trammell, his long-time teammate and close friend. In 2002, he was a TV analyst for the club.

After Trammell and his coaches were fired, Parrish managed the next two seasons for the Dodgers with the Class A Great Lakes Loons and Ogden Raptors. He never had a winning record in three seasons as a manager, going 117-157 (.427), but admits to having learned some important lessons in the process.

He said coordinating player development with a farm director, minor-league instructors and coaching staff requires a clear mission statement.

He got that from Avila.

"We got on the same page from Day 1," Parrish said. "We went over my past. I’m going to be hands on — not to say I wasn’t before. Now I know exactly what the expectations are and we communicated. It was awesome.

"In the majors, it’s all about winning. In the minors, it’s all about working with your pitching coach, pitching coordinator and running things smoothly so pitchers get their work at the right times. Top prospects get the majority of the playing time. It’s about development."

He mentioned lessons learned from Tigers Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson and former Detroit manager Jim Leyland, who managed him with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1994.

"I watched how Sparky ran a club and Jim Leyland, too," Parrish said. "And I watched Phil, Tram and Larry Parrish. I paid the most attention to them interacting with players. The thing that pulls a team together is how it interacts and communicates. That’s what makes it a team.

"And learning to win is a huge part of development. It’s about learning to be a winner."

When Parrish, Trammell and current Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson were getting their starts as coaches, I asked those connected to the team and others around the league which of the trio would make the best manager. Parrish won the poll.

"I was hoping for one more chance to prove myself," Parrish said. "I’m just glad to be back in the game. I want to be on the same page.

"At the end of the day, I want them to say, ‘€˜He did everything in his power to make every player better.’"