The Detroit Tigers were undoubtedly one of the best teams of the 1980s. I have little doubt that if the core of the 1984 squad had been kept together throughout the decade and if the team had participated in the world of free agency instead of shunning it, another World Series title was a definite possibility.
I remember feeling a burning desire to punch Detroit Tigers President Jim Campbell the day I heard the news that he lost my favorite player, Lance Parrish, to free agency. One player at a time, the Tigers’ magnificent lineup was dismembered by Campbell’s inability — or outright unwillingness — to get with the times. Eventually, Kirk Gibson and Jack Morris would also be lost. Between them, the two would win four World Series rings after leaving Detroit.
Even without Parrish, the Tigers were still a great ball club. But it seemed like a longshot that the team would somehow be better off without him. Enter rookie catcher Matt Nokes.
Nokes became the talk of the town in ’87 as he filled a pair of shoes twice the size of his feet. The 24 year old sensation batted .289, belted 32 home runs, drove in 87 runs and scored 69. Nokes made the 1987 All-Star Game, won the Silver Slugger award, and finished 3rd in Rookie of the Year voting to Mark McGwire and Kevin Seitzer.
It really is unbelievable that a rookie catcher was able to fill the shoes of an all-time great like Lance Parrish. But that’s exactly what Nokes did in ’87.
In fact, Nokes was a key factor in the Tigers division win that season (their last) and his pleasant demeanor and boyish charm helped to quickly heal the wounds inflicted on Tigers fans by the loss of Parrish.