Always the bridesmaid, never the bride, Lampkin was a backup catcher with six major-league ballclubs, but never got a chance to ply his wares in the starting job. Though he came close a number of times, teams would usually pick up another backstop rather than rely on the unremarkable Lampkin. But as a left-handed batter who threw righty, he could always secure a job, no matter how often he was optioned to the minors.
Drafted by the Cleveland Indians in 1986, Lampkin managed just four at-bats with the team in 1988 before getting traded two years later in Triple-A to the San Diego Padres for outfielder Alex Cole. After appearing in just 73 big-league games in his two and a half year stint with the Pads, he was traded for cash to the Milwaukee Brewers, who were in desperate need of a backup catcher when Dave Nilsson succumbed to a midseason knee injury.
Lampkin signed on with the San Francisco Giants in January 1994, seeking to win a backup spot to Gold Glove winner Kirt Manwaring. But when Jeff Reed cemented the second-string role out of spring training, Lampkin spent all of ’94 in Triple-A. After making the major-league team in ’95, he saw increased playing time in 1996 when Manwaring was traded to the Houston Astros, as original backup Jeff Reed signed with the Colorado Rockies earlier in the year. However, after hitting just .232 in 66 games, Lampkin was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in October 1996.
With the St. Louis Cardinals, the well-traveled Lampkin finally had a secure job, and for the first time in his big-league career, appeared in more than 100 games in a year. With the Cards, Lampkin began to see a bit of the spotlight as well…but not because of his talent, but rather his well-publicized friendship with legendary teammate Mark McGwire. Whenever Big Mac went out, he would take the less popular Lampkin with him as a friend and buffer from hording crowds, stating that “I finally found a player that likes to eat like me.”
However, his contract wasn’t picked up at the end of the year, and Lampkin signed with his hometown Seattle Mariners in December 1998. He recorded his best offensive year in ’99, hitting .291 with nine dingers while backing up starting catcher Dan Wilson.
In 2000, just as Wilson was going into an offensive drought and more playing time was on the horizon, Lampkin followed up a game-winning grand slam one night in June by tearing elbow ligaments in his following appearance. Lampkin was shelved for the year, and the Mariners picked up journeyman Joe Oliver to take over the main catching job in front of Wilson. Although he didn’t get to play in the Mariners’ postseason run, Lampkin did provide good cheer in the dugout as well as an October diary in a Seattle newspaper, the Post-Intelligencer.