Today would have been Dwight Lowry‘s 51st birthday. Fans old enough to remember Tigers baseball in the mid-1980s remember the tall gentle giant of a catching prospect.
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Lowry, an 11th-round pick in 1980, emerged from nowhere in Spring Training 1984 jumping from Double-A Birmingham to the big club as Lance Parrish‘s backup. As Sparky Anderson liked to do with new players, he got Lowry into action right away: as a seventh-inning defensive replacement for Parrish on Opening Day 1984 in Minneapolis.

Lowry was born Dwight Lowery and was 26 at the start of his rookie season. The 6′ 3″, 210-lb. left-handed hitter appeared in 32 games for the Tigers knocking 11 hits (two of them homers) in 45 at bats for a .244 average. His first major-league hit came on April 24 during the second game of a doubleheader against the Twins in Detroit: a single off Frank Viola in the seventh inning. The Tigers won the game 4-3 with the win going to Glenn Abbott. On May 20, he hit his first big-league homer off Oakland’s Lary Sorensen at Tiger Stadium. Sparky wrote about it in his 1984 diary Bless You Boys:

Dwight Lowry is a rookie catcher with us. He hit his first major league home run, so you know he’ll never forget May 20.

Lowry spent part of the season at Triple-A Evansville where he hit .220 in 61 games before being recalled by the Tigers in September.

In 1985, he spent the entire year with the Tigers’ new Triple-A affiliate, the Nashville Sounds. In 74 games he hit just .182. The next year he again split time with the Tigers and Triple-A. He appeared in 56 games in 1986 — the year Parrish hurt his back and was out after June — mostly at catcher but appeared in one game at each first base and rightfield. In the 1987 Tigers Yearbook the editors pointed out Lowry’s highlights from ’86:

Had three-run homer against Cleveland and hit .370 against the Indians; hit .500 against Kansas City and .389 against Toronto; against Oakland he hit .375 with eight RBI.

The ’87 season was Lowry’s last in Detroit. Appearing in 13 games, he hit .200.

Shortly after the Tigers were bounced from the ALCS by the Twins, Oct. 16, 1987, the Tigers released him. A week later those same Twins signed Lowry as a free agent. He went hitless in seven games for the 1988 Twins and played his final game on April 23, 1988.

His final major league stats: 108 games, 227 at bats, five home runs, 26 RBI and a .273 average.

According to Baseball-Reference.com, in 1989, Lowry played for the St. Petersburg Pelicans of the Senior Professional Baseball Association. He batted .245 in 43 games.

He returned to the Tigers organization in 1994 as manager of the Double-A Fayatteville Generals of the South Atlantic League. That season they finished in 10th place with a 62-75 record. The next season the Generals finished atop the Sallie League with a 86-55 record.

In ’96 the team finished fifth at 76-63 but won the second-half South Atlantic League Division Title. For his work with the Generals, Lowry was named the Detroit Tigers Player Development Man of the Year. In 1997, Lowry moved on to the Tigers’ New York-Penn League affiliate, the Jamestown (N.Y.) Jammers. Just 22 games into that season, on July 10, Lowry collapsed and died outside his Jamestown a short time after a 9-8 victory over the Batavia Clippers. According to the team’s GM Mike Ferguson, Lowry was taking out the trash when his wife heard him collapse. He was just 39 years old.

Shortly after Lowry’s death, the Tigers renamed their annual Player Development Man of the Year Award in his honor. Lowry is survived by his wife Pamela and children Sesilie, Amanda and Zachary.

I remember reading about Lowry’s death and being really saddened by it. It was the first time a Tigers player that I’d watched in person — and particularly one from that 1984 club — had passed away. And at 39 it seemed even more cruel.

There are probably a number of people who’ve won the Lowry Award who never knew of him or saw him play. Let’s hope the Tigers make a point of telling these winners who Dwight Lowry was: a marginal major-league player who was helping shape a future generation of Tigers players.