Dave Parker excelled at all phases of the game
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – For a time, Dave Parker was the undisputed best player in Major League Baseball.
And though his career took more than a few unexpected twists, the numbers Parker left behind tell the story of a player who could do it all.
"I was a five-tool player," Parker said. "I could do it all, but perhaps too controversial."
Parker, nicknamed "The Cobra" for his huge, powerful frame, is one of 33 players on the 2011 Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot for the Class of 2011 at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Parker returns to the BBWAA ballot for the 15th-and-final time after receiving 15.2 percent of the vote in 2010. If Parker is not elected this year, he will become eligible for consideration by the Expansion Era committee for long-retired players starting in the fall of 2013.
BBWAA members who have at least 10 years of tenure with the organization can vote in the election, and the results will be announced Jan. 5. Any candidate who receives at least 75 percent of all BBWAA votes cast will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2011. The Induction Ceremony will be held July 24 in Cooperstown.
Parker, 59, was born June 9, 1951, in Calhoun, Miss. Growing up in Cincinnati, Parker was a youth sports star until a knee injury sidelined him during his senior year of high school. As a result, the 6-foot-5 Parker fell to the 14th round of the big league draft.
The Pittsburgh Pirates took a chance on Parker there, and soon Parker was tearing up Pittsburgh's minor league system. By 1975, Parker found his way into the Pirates' starting outfield.
"I was born with everything except posi-traction," Parker said as a young major leaguer. "And I'm working on that now."
In 1975, Parker hit .308 with 25 home runs, 101 RBI and a National League-best .541 slugging percentage, finishing third in the MVP voting. By 1977, Parker was the NL batting champion with a .338 average, an NL-best 215 hits, his first All-Star Game selection and his first Gold Glove.
Next year, he was even better. In 1978, Parker won the NL MVP award after leading the league with a .334 average, hitting 30 homers, driving in 117 runs and stealing 20 bases. And in 1979, Parker hit .310 with 25 homers and 94 RBI, winning his third Gold Glove, stealing another 20 bases and leading the Pirates to a World Series win over the Orioles.
He even took home the All-Star Game MVP that summer after a nifty throwing exhibition that showed off his legendary arm.
But trouble was on the horizon. Parker had signed a contract making him one of baseball's first million-dollar-a-year players – and starting in 1980 his numbers declined. By 1983, Parker drove in just 69 runs in 144 games and was the target of constant criticism in Pittsburgh.
"For whatever reason, there was a lot of animosity against me in Pittsburgh," Parker said. "I never knew where the animosity came from, because I think after Roberto Clemente's death (in 1972) I played a major part of re-establishing baseball in Pittsburgh. I'd go out and play 110 percent all the time."
Parker left the Pirates after 1983, signing a free agent deal with his hometown Reds. In Cincinnati, Parker was reborn – averaging almost 27 homers and 110 RBI in his four seasons. In 1985, Parker finished second in the NL MVP voting after hitting 34 homers and driving in 125 runs.
"When you have so many players, a Dave Parker is looked up to," said Reds coach Tommy Helms, who was Parker's teammate in Pittsburgh in 1976-77. "It's a good situation."
Parker was 35 when his Reds' deal ended, but the Oakland A's came calling with their DH job. Parker was the A's regular designated hitter in both 1988 and 1989, and in the latter year he hit 22 home runs and drove in 97 runs for the eventual World Champions.
Parker had his last great year with the Brewers in 1990, hitting 21 homers and driving in 92 runs, then retired following the 1991 season. He finished with a .290 career average, 2,712 hits, 339 home runs and 1,493 RBI. He was named to seven All-Star teams and won three Gold Gloves in right field.
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum