Editor’s note: MLBbro.com has exclusive access to missing chapters from the newly published memoir of baseball legend Dave Parker.
Cobra: A Life of Baseball and Brotherhood recounts Parker’s 19-year career. The prolific outfielder won baseball’s MVP award in 1978, and the World Series title in 1979 with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
He led the National League in slugging percentage (1975 and 1978), and won three Gold Glove awards (1977-79). This three-part series “Cobra: The DH Years,” highlights Parker’s journey through the American League.
Read the following chapter, “Paradise City,” from the 1988 season, where Parker goes to Oakland, grows close to Dave Stewart, explores the subjectivity of front office decision-making, and nearly comes to blows with Mark McGwire, among other things.
By Dave Parker & Dave Jordan
“It’s nice to have some balance, be able to split up our big right-handed hitters,” Oakland A’s manager Tony La Russa told the L.A. Times in January 1988. “And there’s another reason we wanted Dave. We looked real hard around baseball for someone who could slap Jose and Mark around in case they get too smart. Dave is the only guy in baseball big enough to do that.”
For everything I went through during my career, teams in 1988 still looked to me for leadership with the younger dudes. That became my role.
Tony wanted as much veteran presence in the clubhouse to offset all the talented youth. They also brought in Donny Baylor, too. Everyone called him Donny “Groove.”
An 18-year Black veteran held in the highest esteem throughout the baseball community, Baylor played on the last two American League champions and had just gotten his first ring with the Twins.
We also played Winter Ball together in Venezuela back in the mid-1970s. I was looking forward to some quality time with the rising stars but also coolin’ out with the older cats. We all got along good during spring training in Scottsdale – La Russa was telling the beat reporters after the first week that I was the hardest worker in camp. He sat me down on Day 1 and outlined his expectations and how my leadership of the kids was almost as important to him as RBIs.
“We’re going to score runs whether you’re here or not,” Tony flat-out told me, “But I want you to look after the young guys and make sure their focus is clear.”
I received my marching orders.
I got a place in Alameda, a quiet suburb about 20 minutes from the Oakland Coliseum. I was really looking forward to the A’s clubhouse. I existed fine in the Reds more corporate traditions, but the relaxed atmosphere of the Oakland boys would be much more to my liking. My beard was back and sometimes the earring, too.
On the day of our first home game, I drove my Porsche down 880 South chilling with some James Brown. The old man had made a little comeback during that decade with a cover song he recorded for a Rocky sequel. I was satisfied to be playing for La Russa but as the song goes, I was having just a little of my own trans-continental overload, coordinating school schedules with the kids and making sure my wife Kellye was gonna be with me as soon as classes let out.
Besides being my best friend in the world, she was the perfect traveling companion, on top of all the details. Wasn’t much music played in the Reds clubhouse, so I actually couldn’t wait to go buy a boom box at Radio Shack and start playing songs for all the fellas, some of the old-school Isley Brothers, some Temptations, you know, bring the house down the right way. Well, there was music playing when I arrived, but, uhhh…..
* * * * *
“GIRLS, GIRLS, GIRLS!!”
I entered the clubhouse to the “music” coming from a boom box above one of the lockers in the middle of the room. I looked over at Baylor, who was sitting near my stuff.
“What the fuck is this?” I asked him, nodding toward that shit. The younger players were milling around head-banging to the song, among a dozen other tunes that just weren’t my sound. Donny grinned and shrugged, said something about “Heavy Metal” being all that the players listen to these days. Baylor still enjoyed being around the fellas in the clubhouse. Just like me.
“The Royals offered me a spot in the front office.” Baylor said. “Getting to put on the uniform and getting into the game is worth listening to this crap.”
“I ain’t for ready for that yet,” I replied. “Too much politics.”
“You talked to Tony, right?” I smiled.
“We’re here to crack some skulls.” Baylor laughed, agreeing and was all, “Yup, pretty much.”
Turns out, Donny got the same speech that I did – teach these kids how to win, get over the hump, keep their eyes on the prize.
Jose Canseco sat across from me. Big kid, 6-4, 230-235, full mop of black hair, all muscle. McGwire, too, just about my height, maybe 20 pounds thinner but seemed like they were both still growing. Every day.
I wouldn’t say Canseco was misunderstood, but he was a kid who just wanted to be left alone to play ball. I knew what it was like to come up with all these expectations, you meet them and then people ask, “Now what? You gotta top it. You gotta do more.”
A big part of my job with the kids, those two especially, was to keep an eye on their demeanor, to follow Willie Stargell’s motto of not getting too low mentally during a slump and not getting too high during a hot streak. Even if I didn’t always follow that advice, I finally possessed the baseball life experience now to implement it.
Carney Lansford was a favorite of Tony’s. Our starting third baseman had a clubhouse sense of humor like my old Pittsburgh Pirates teammate Phil Garner. Boy, did I love mixing it up with Garner back in the day, but that’s a story for another time.
It seemed like every young dude in the clubhouse knew the lyrics to those songs by heart, mouthing the words as they walked over to the catered spread table. I silently wondered if any of them ever heard of Parliament or Marvin or Bobby Womack or even The Temptations. They only knew “Grapevine” from the damn raisins commercials.
A few of the young kids in the A’s clubhouse played this dumb-ass game of sneaking up behind dudes sitting at their locker and slapping the back of their necks as hard as possible, then yelling “Gotcha!” It was all some pretty childish shit. I remember my man Kirk Gibson went out west like me in spring training with the Dodgers a couple of months earlier and some dude stuck a gooey brownie in his glove and he flipped the fuck out.
What was up with these guys on the West Coast?
I gotta remember how I hit Phil Niekro to figure out Charlie Hough’s knuckler, learn the ticks and tells of lefties like the Mariners’s Mark Langston or the Twins’s Frankie Viola, make sure that Roger Clemens doesn’t recognize my first-pitch, fastball-hitting tendencies, cover the plate against the Royals’ Bret Saberhagen because he never walks no one, and police the clubhouse with Baylor? And what’s the deal with these 3-0 changeups?
Welcome to the Jungle, Cobra.
And yeah, they played that shit night and day in the clubhouse during the season like they were getting paid for it.
* * * * *
The A’s had its share of brothers, too. Besides me and Baylor, there was Dave Henderson, a decent hitter with a flair for the dramatic who wasn’t a starting outfielder the season before.
Tony asked Oakland General Manager Sandy Alderson to snag “Hendu” from the free agent grab bag. I didn’t know him, but Baylor played alongside him in Boston, had nothing but good things to say about the cat. The longest-standing black member of the club was Tony Phillips. He was pretty-generously listed as 5-10, 175 pounds soak and wet, had some good speed and could talk just as fast.
He played with the mindset of an old-school Pittsburgh Pirate – he would’ve fit right in with that bunch. He was still learning the game, but La Russa said that Phillips would be dangerous when he learned the strike zone.
Phillips used to tell me stories about off-the-field escapades and that was the thing with little Tony. He had a code of sorts – no running around during the season. Keep it clean, one-beer-and-out until the last game of the series, and then the cat would light up the hot stove with some late-night misadventures.
Our number one starter was Dave Stewart. I knew Stew from his early Dodgers days. 6-2, 200 pounds, wore it well. I always thought he was one pitch away from being a star and then he found it – a devastating forkball that sometimes looked like a split-finger job.
I enjoyed some of my best times that year just having dinner with Stew at the different restaurants around the country – the seafood joints in Seattle and Boston – he loved McCormick & Schmicks – the steakhouses in Detroit surrounded by round, stocky-looking auto industry executives, the Kansas City BBQ. New York was his fine-dining spot, though.
We’d get on the team plane in Boston and he wouldn’t stop going on about the China Club until we landed at LaGuardia. Stew loved talking shop, not just which batters he could screw around with, but the politics of the front office. Stew ate that shit up, man. Talking with him and Baylor, it was real social progress hearing black dudes acting like getting a baseball executive gig was kind of a possibility.
The A’s were thrilled to see Stew succeed as well as he did – he was a local cat, Oakland born-and-raised. When the Phillies released him in 1986, my man was sitting on the beach for less than a week before the A’s checked in on him.
Here’s what you gotta know about Sandy Alderson. He was a lawyer and a military man who came to baseball through legal circles. He didn’t look at ballplayers the way that some dude who worked as a scout for two decades before jumping into the front office might.
He looked at athletes and what present value was there, or more important, what value could be mined from their very being. The man wasn’t this wide-eyed optimist, but he knew where to find value. Sandy knew that Stew was one pitch away. He knew that Hendu was an underrated center fielder. He knew Dennis Eckersley had something to offer but couldn’t put his finger on it. He left that to La Russa’s pal and pitching coach, Dave Duncan, to determine.
The legacy of Sandy Alderson, besides all the baseball math shit, is always looking at not just what a player was, but what he absolutely could be. I know that sounds real simple, and hardly anyone did it back then.
Sometimes not now, either. That’s because of the politics in the front office that concerned me and Baylor. It’s hard when everyone’s holding their nose next to a pile of garbage and you’re telling them it could be a damn Warhol with a little work. If you’re wrong, you’re a fool, and if you’re right, you might make the wrong guy look stupid. It ain’t an easy life, the front office. No wonder Baylor would rather chill with me in a jersey and double-knits for six months and tolerate the Motley Crue music.
* * * * *
So what’s there to say about the ’88 A’s? We were in first place from April 20th on. Our lead in the AL West bounced from three games to nine games for most of May. It took me a little time getting used to the new pitchers. Our hitting coach was Bob Watson, whom I knew through my agent. Bob used to say that when you switch leagues, the three things you need to learn are the pitchers, the umpires, and the ballparks. I was hitting .233 around mid-April when we went on an extended road trip – raised my average a few points. You know what ballpark I loved, I mean, loved?
Fenway Park, man. That joint’s like a baseball arcade game. I bet if I reached far enough, I’d be able to touch the Green Monster while standing at home plate. With my love for opposite-field swinging, I would’ve hit 70 doubles a year there. I knew about the reputation the town had for black folks, but sakes alive, if I played in that ballpark during my prime when I was thinking about free agency options, I would’ve grabbed the ol’ first basemen’s mitt. I remember telling the beat reporters that playing there was like baseball’s version of arena football. Another place that brought back memories for me? Memorial Stadium in Baltimore.
The ’79 series. Walking into that clubhouse and I was spiritually struck by the flashbacks of John Milner, Sangy’s pinch-hit, Willie’s dingers. That crazy white dude cheerleader jumpin’ up and down on the dugout. I was so amped with good feelings on that east coast swing. I went 10-for-24 in those two series with a couple dingers and eight RBIs.
I was feeling really good once we got back home. My average returned to a respectable level but I still wasn’t generating my usual power. I wasn’t playing on the hard turf and I was in the DH spot every now and then, but all my dingers were coming from my arms and mistake pitches rather than through my legs. I was sitting at my locker visualizing that day’s opposing starting pitcher when out of nowhere-
“Gotcha, Cobra!” yelled McGwire, after slapping the back of my neck. A couple of laughs in the clubhouse from others. I just sat there. Didn’t react at all physically.
“Payback’s a bitch, son,” I replied to Mark as he walked away.
“You shouldn’t have done that,” Baylor said to him.
“Ahh, he’s a big boy,” McGwire said, leaving the room. At least the young punk gave me something else to focus on. Over the next month, I hit safely in 15 of 16 games, six doubles, four dingers and 14 RBIs. Part of this was La Russa’s plan – he batted me in the two-spot in front of Canseco. I saw nothing but fastballs. The first eight games there, I hit .409 with a couple of home runs. It was the hit I delivered at the end of the month that was most satisfying.
We were getting ready for a Tuesday night game against the Brewers. I was sitting around the clubhouse that afternoon shootin’ the shit with Tony Phillips when I looked across the room. Tony was telling me some random story when I politely cut him off with a raised finger.
“What?” he asked as I quietly nodded at McGwire.
The big kid was sitting at his locker, looking away, with a cup of coffee in his hand. Even better, he was almost rocking the stool so only the back two legs were touching the ground. I couldn’t have picked a better moment. Tony knew exactly what I was thinking, covering his giggle as I continued nodding, standing up. I stepped toward McGwire in a real unassuming manner, stopped before the stool, wound up-
McGwire flew forward like a bad Keystone cop, his body falling to the floor, face into his hanging clothes – coffee everywhere. The fellas got a real kick out of that.
“You bastard!” McGwire cried out. I turned around, bent down toward him, and softly spoke.
“I’d finish the job but I don’t wanna hear shit about it. We cool?” He saw the look in my eye.
“Yeah, we’re cool.” Then I helped him up. I was too old to be playing that grab-ass shit. We still all made jokes and stuff, but the kids now knew where the line was.
* * * * *
A week later, I sat with La Russa in the visiting clubhouse manager’s office on the road in Toronto. We’d get together every week or so, sometimes breakfast on the road or first thing when I got to the Coliseum, taking the temperature of the clubhouse, who I thought he needed to talk with or give some managerial TLC. Tony was good like that to make sure all the emotional bases were covered with his ballplayers. After chatting for a few minutes, he was like, “What about you? What can I do to get you going again?” My average fell to the .260 level from close to .300 in May.
“Say no more, Skip,” I replied. “I’ll come around.” That night, I came to bat against the Blue Jays’s Todd Stottlemyre and grounded into a force out at second. Canseco got up and smacked a hard grounder to Kelly Gruber at third, who wheeled and threw to Nelson Liriano at second. I took his ass out, but he jumped over me and threw to first.
He missed the bag at second, so Mike Gallego scored from third and I was safe – felt good about my aggressive base running. When I got back to the bench at the end of the inning, Jose took one look at my hand and was like, “Cobra, what the fuck’s up with your thumb?” It was hanging like three inches off my hand – I completely pulled it out of the socket. Didn’t feel a thing. When La Russa saw me, he was all, “Jesus Dave, I didn’t want you to go that hard.” They placed me on the DL. I didn’t play for another month and a half.
What La Russa liked about having me in the lineup was not so much my bat but the potential for my bat. It was a lot like when Dick Allen went back to the Phillies. Yeah, my numbers weren’t what they were in Pittsburgh or even ’85-’86 Cincinnati, but you still couldn’t get a fastball by me and I still possessed the ability to carry a club with a streak.
That July and most of August, it was mainly me watching from the bench, offering La Russa my thoughts, just watching the kids dominate the AL West, watching them grow up, bashing elbows on the field and dueling air guitars with that Guns-N-Roses shit in the clubhouse. I knew I was getting at least one sip of the bubbly with this crew.
I spent the last month mostly as the DH. I was still dealing with the thumb, but I still drove in 18 runs in my last 31 games. We were up 12 ½ games over the Royals when we clinched the division. Tony was right that our offense would be there. It was my first champagne shower in almost 10 years. The A’s felt pretty invincible against the rest of baseball.
Maybe the Mets would give us some trouble, I thought. Intelligent planning by Tony and Alderson, building this club. Jose even came over and poured some division-winning sugar on me, as they sang that dumbass song they played in the clubhouse all the time that year. It was a nice celebration.
Just didn’t feel like mine.
The AL East hadn’t been settled at that point, but all thoughts were pointed at Boston for the next stop on the journey. I was hoping to add more to the A’s postseason than cameo appearances.
* * * * *
The American League East race went down to the final day. The Red Sox outlasted a push from the Detroit Tigers, the Brewers and Blue Jays to get to Baseball’s final four.
I would’ve enjoyed shooting for the short right field porch at Tiger Stadium, but aiming for the monster in Fenway, man, I was licking my chops.
The day of Game 1 in Boston, I was on the field talking with a couple of the fellas when I heard a voice from the past behind me.
Joe Morgan. My manager at AAA Charleston back in ’73 was now the skipper of the Bosox. After the championship season down there with the Charlies, Morgan went home to manage in New England for the Red Sox’s AAA affiliate in Pawtucket, where he stayed in the dugout with them for almost a decade.
After 20 years in the minors and alongside big-league managers, Joe was finally getting his shot. He replaced John McNamara in mid-season.
We caught up on each other’s lives and a quick look back at our time together. Always got a kick out of his heavy New England accent.
“I enjoyed playing for you,” I told him. “You were a good skipper.” Morgan got modest and just laughed.
“Parker, what are you talkin’ about?” He replied. “You were lookin’ north from your first day in town.” I laughed, too, nodding as I sheepishly agreed. Then he leaned close to me before walking back to the dugout.
“But I always knew you were special.”
Game 1 was pretty tight. Bruce Hurst was a tough lefty whose only real mistake was a 2-0 fastball to Canseco in the fourth that he deposited over The Monster but otherwise kept us at bay.
Stew held the 1-0 lead until the seventh inning when Tony brought in Rick Honeycutt after a walk to Rice, a HBP and a single loaded the bases. Wade Boggs hit a sac liner to left, tying the game. After that, the former Bosox took over.
Carney Lansford smacked a double off the leftfield wall, then Hendu lined a single to right. After that, Eck shut down the middle of Boston’s order in the eighth and got two key strikeouts of Larry Parrish and Boggs (which wasn’t an easy thing to do, by the way) with two runners on to give us the win.
Game 2 was another close one. We faced Roger Clemens, who went seven innings, striking out eight but giving up another dinger to Canseco, who again took advantage of a 2-0 fastball.
Tied 3-3 in the ninth, Sox closer Lee Smith gave up singles to our catcher Ron Hassey, Tony Phillips and shortstop Walt Weiss to give us the lead, then Eck came on to the retire the bottom of the order for our second win.
Game 3 showed our true grit. The Sox took an early 5-0 lead, knocking our starter Bob Welch out after an inning and change. As the fellas came into the dugout, I was clapping my hands.
“We get it back, boys!” I meant that, too. No lead was safe against us. We hit their starter Mike Boddicker pretty hard in the first even though we didn’t score – we felt he was vulnerable.
Bottom 2, McGwire lined a shot that just made it over the wall in left.
Ron Hassey singled to left-center. Two groundouts later, Mike Gallego was leading off first as Walt Weiss, our rookie shortstop, smacked a double into the gap in left-center, scoring Gallego.
Then Carney Lansford took a 2-2 curve that didn’t break, depositing that thing over the wall in center. Now we’re down by a run. The next inning, Hassey again was the star for us, hitting a two-run blast to deep right, scoring McGwire to give us a lead we never returned.
Gene Nelson pitched his heart out in relief, going 3 1/3 to get us to the sixth inning. Ol’ Hassey was so hot that game that they intentionally walked him in the seventh after I launched a line-drive double over Wade Boggs’s head at third, only to have Stan Javier drive me in with a single through the hole and into center.
After a Jody Reed walk to lead off the bottom of the eighth, Eck came back in, got six straight outs to end it. 10-6, Oakland. 3-zip in the series, heading into the fourth game.
I remember walking out of the clubhouse with Stew after we won, who would be our man on the mound for Game 4.
“How you feelin’?” I asked him.
“There’s gonna be some lonnng faces in that dugout tomorrow night,” Stew smiled to me.
The man wasn’t wrong.
Seven innings, one run, four hits, five k’s. Bruce Hurst gave his best, too, keeping us to just two runs through the eighth. Jose singled, stole second, McGwire hit one through the middle to get him home, a little Bash Brothers small ball to get us that insurance run.
That’s all Eck would need to get it done in the ninth, retiring the last three dudes after a Spike Owen walk. A Jody Reed popout to Glenn Hubbard at second finished them off.
Eck would be named MVP of the series. I was still bothered by the thumb and only hit two singles and a double, but that’s the kind of club we had. We picked each other up and poured the sugar when it was all over.
We swept the Red Sox and got ourselves ready for the National League winner. The NLCS was tied at two games apiece when we sent Boston home empty-handed. I thought we matched up well against the Mets and their pitchers.
The Dodgers, I thought we could take them. I enjoyed my sip with the younger Bash brothers, with Stew, Eck, Phillips, Hendu, Baylor – that cat was going to his third straight Fall Classic – all the fellas, but once I got home to Alameda, settled in and during my nightly pre-sleep study of the ceiling, I couldn’t get away from thinking about one dude….
Orel Hershiser. The Dodgers ace, the man threw 63 consecutive scoreless innings during the season, a record, and he was reminding me a little of how hot L.A.’s pitcher Don Sutton was against me and the Buccos back in the ’74 NL playoffs.
I also had some serious personal issues on my mind during the postseason, but again, that’s a long story for another day.
* * * * *
To be honest, some of the fellas wanted to play the Dodgers because of the whole “California Series” thing, which I get.
When L.A. won that Game 7 of the NLCS in such a dramatic fashion, I had my concerns. Even when we heard Kirk Gibson, their team leader that season, wouldn’t be starting that first game, I had this feeling about momentum.
Blyleven and Rooker killed Baltimore’s mo for us back in ’79, and Mike Flanagan had a great season, but he was nothing like Hershiser. Stew used to love watching video – he was the first cat I remembered who studied game tape. I watched a little with him and knew that Orel’s off-speed stuff needed to be avoided. I prepared for this.
The Dodgers started a rookie, Tim Belcher in Game 1. Tony gave me the start in left field, batting me in between Canseco and McGwire. In the first inning, Belcher hit Jose in the shoulder with an 0-1 fastball. Stew didn’t like that. I saw the look on his face that basically said, “Ok.” In the bottom of the inning when the Dodgers leadoff batter Steve Sax came to bat, my man didn’t flinch, put one right in that guy’s back. Message was clear: Don’t mess with my boys.
The home plate ump Doug Harvey came out and gave Stew a soft warning. With one-out, L.A.’s left fielder Mickey Hatcher, hitting in Gibson’s spot, smacked an 0-1 fastball over the left field fence to give the Dodgers a 2-0 lead. No big thing – just like the Boddicker game, Belcher looked like he was having control issues and when he found the plate it was gonna be a meaty offering.
Next time we were up, Hubbard singled, he walked Stew (pitchers were still batting in National League parks during the series), walked Carney before Jose came up with the bases loaded and two outs. Falling behind Canseco 1-0, Belcher offered up that tasty fastball and Jose nearly crowned the center field cameraman sitting up on a post for a granny, giving us the 4-2 lead. He walked me right after, and let me tell you something, Tommy Lasorda knew right there he was taking Belcher out.
Carney Lansford was just like me, a first-pitch, fastball hitter and when you have two aggressive dudes like that walking in the same inning and not on purpose, it’s curtains. Tim Leary was on the mound the next frame for L.A.
We had our chances to really put this thing away – the A’s left eight runners on through the early innings. Hendu smacked a ground-rule double to start the top of the fourth. Canseco hit a hard chopper deep in the hole at short – this play was pretty pivotal. Dodgers shortstop Alfredo Griffin knew there was no shot getting Jose at first, but Hendu was running toward third and stopped – Steve Sax quickly moved to the bag at second and created a rundown situation. Griffin threw over there and Hendu was caught up and quickly tagged out.
This was one of the greatest heads-up infield plays I ever saw. I came up next and tapped a first-pitch dribbler. Leary came off the mound, I was digging for first and he threw the ball through Franklin Stubbs’s legs at the bag. Canseco went to third, I went to second, but Doug Harvey said I ran out of the baseline and called me out. Tony burst onto the field to argue, I trotted back to the dugout knowing my voice wouldn’t help the situation but the call stood.
Stew hung in there for eight innings – three runs, six hits, five strikeouts. I walked again in the seventh inning and Tony called for Stan Javier to go run for me. Had to hand it to the Dodgers’s bullpen for locking things down against us – we just got two hits after the fourth inning.
Tony brought Eckersley in for the ninth, which was what he was supposed to do. Eck got Scioscia to pop out, fanned Jeff Hamilton on three pitches, then went 0-2 on the pinch-hitter Mike Davis. Light-hitting infielder Dave Anderson was standing in the on-deck circle, but everyone in the park knew who would be at the plate if Davis somehow got on.
Eck was throwing nothing but gas. He spent the season living on the outside corner and tried to get Davis to chase the final strike. Outside fastball, Davis held up. Ball one. Outside fastball, Davis held up, ball two. I saw Gibson, excitedly waiting on the bench. I was on pins and needles hoping Eck could get this cat out. We all grew up playing baseball waiting for moments like this.
Outside fastball, Davis held up, ball three. Crowd noise elevates even further. Eck sets, Davis waits.
Outside fastball. Davis held. Ball four.
Gibson limped up the dugout steps. Through a bad hammy, a bum knee, that man willed himself to the plate. As the story goes, Gibson was in the trainer’s room when Vin Scully up in the booth said, “Gibson would not be in the game,” and the dude was all, “Screw that,” and immediately hobbled out of the clubhouse, through the tunnel and into the dugout.
Gibson was like me, a football star who also played baseball really, really good. Nothing short of death or paralysis kept dudes like us off the field, especially a moment that may not present itself ever again.
A Hollywood moment.
Gibson at the plate against Eck. Davis on first, McGwire holding him on. A smart move by Lasorda because it not only distracts Eck on the mound but also opens the hole between the first baseman and second, which is trouble against a left-handed hitter.
First-pitch swinging, Gibson fouled it off. Eck kept throwing over to McGwire, holding Davis on. Next pitch – Davis is running! Gibson swung and fouled it off. Two strikes, both outside fastballs.
Next pitch, Gibson hit a dribbler that streamed foul. Gibson could barely trot up the line. Eck delivered yet another outside fastball for a ball – Hassey behind the plate chucked a laser beam to first, nearly picking off Davis. 1-2
. Eck set, threw, Davis took off again, Gibson fouled off yet another pitch. Eck stood on the rubber, then threw over again to McGwire.
Didn’t deter Davis. Next pitch, another outside fastball, Davis ran, Gibson held his swing, Hassey threw, Gibson’s shoulder slightly interfered in the play, the throw was on the wrong side of second base, Davis was in safely. 3-2 count.
Eck could focus on Gibson since Davis would be running on the pitch anyway. I couldn’t hear myself think in the dugout.
Eck set, Gibson was waiting, the windup, Eck threw a breaking ball, Gibson lunged out, swung and tapped it – not even hit it – tapped it high in the air, sailing into the right field stands.
Crowd noise like I never heard before.
Game-winner. Matter of fact, you probably know that Eck called it a “Walk-off home run.” He was the first to coin the phrase.
It almost seemed like Gibson knew what Eck was gonna throw and what I heard later was that Gibson did the research, watched the videos, and knew what Eck was most likely to throw in that situation.
Even back then, you spend so much time reviewing game notes, pitch charts, studying tendencies. 60% of the time it doesn’t help, but you do it for that one moment where it works.
Our clubhouse was heartbroken. I tried to get the fellas in good spirits, but it just felt different. It felt like we were playing a team of destiny.
Game 2 was all Hershiser. He threw a three-hitter, eight strikeouts, two walks. I got all three of the team’s hits against him, all singles.
I came up in the top of the ninth, Dodgers winning 6-0, Carney on first. 2-2 pitch. I told everyone who’d listen “Don’t offer at his off-speed shit.” The pitch looked so fat coming at me and the bottom just fell out. K. Game 2, Dodgers.
We played them tough in Game 3, taking a 1-1 tie into the ninth when McGwire hit a walk-off dinger against Jay Howell to win it, but even that game felt like we went 15 rounds.
We were all mentally wiped out. I remember going home that night, sleeping in our bed, Kellye offering me encouragement about the progress of winning the game.
“You should be happy you won,” she said to me. I nodded, sighed and kissed her forehead.
“I’m happy we won,” I said, “I’m just sad at what it took to win.” We were a monster offensive team in ’88. We should be blowing suckers out, not squeaking by.
Game 4 was a close match just like Game 1. Again, we had our chances against Belcher but never really capitalized. Stew gave all he had but things just happened.
A passed ball and an error in the first became a 2-0 Dodger lead which was 4-3 by the time the ninth inning rolled around. A Luis Polonia single off Jay Howell with one out gave us a situation with Canseco at the plate and me right behind him.
Howell managed to strike out Jose and then I came up. Not gonna lie, I tried to tie it up with one swing. Howell threw me a tight fastball and I swung over it on the first pitch, popping the ball on the third base side to end the game. I still think about that at-bat, what else I could’ve done to keep the inning going.
Not too much haunts me in this world baseball-wise, but I should’ve done more there. Only because I knew what we’d be facing in Game 5.
Game 5 at the Coliseum began just like Game 1, a Franklin Stubbs single followed by a Mickey Hatcher home run, only we weren’t facing a rookie overcome by nerves. They had the best pitcher on the planet at the time going for them.
We did get one opportunity to knock out Hershiser. Carney singled to center in the third inning and Tony Phillips smacked a grounder deep in the hole at shortstop.
After a Walt Weiss sacrifice, Javier lined one to left, scoring Lansford, but that was it. Over the next four innings, Hershiser gave up just a walk while whiffing five of us, and the Dodgers’s lineup scored three more against our emptied bullpen. It was 5-1 in the eighth when we finally got something going. Hershiser walked Tony Phillips.
After a groundout to first moved him over, Stan Javier hit an RBI single to center. He walked Hendu. Any other manager would’ve probably pulled Hershiser, but Lasorda stuck with him. Orel got Canseco to pop out and I came to the plate.
A wild pitch put runners on second and third. I tried bringing my concentration to the at-bat, but so did Hershiser and he did it again, the off-speed curveball got me out on strikes to end the inning.
A lone Lansford single in the ninth and two strikeouts later, the Dodgers were winners of the World Series. Our bats just went silent. A light-hitting L.A. took us down in five games.
Our clubhouse was inconsolable. Someone raised the volume on the boom box to improve the mood in the room.
“Turn that off,” Canseco said abruptly.
It would take a long time for most of us to get over the loss, because we had the better ballclub and we should’ve won. It still hurts me to talk about it, let alone put it down on paper.
Couple days later, after I cleaned out my locker, I walked through the park a little, thought about those fans, the hats and shirts they buy, the seats they pay for, the time they spent thinking about me. I wanted to be as pissed as they were and how much they loved their ballclub.
As I drove away from the Oakland Coliseum for the last time in ’88, I took a last look at the ballpark, thought about the A’s fans and spiritually said to each of them, “I owe y’all one.”
Editor’s note: MLBbro.com has exclusive access to missing chapters from the newly published memoir of baseball legend Dave Parker. Cobra: A Life of Baseball and Brotherhood recounts Parker’s 19-year career.
The prolific outfielder won baseball’s MVP award in 1978, and the World Series title in 1979 with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
He led the National League in slugging percentage (1975 and 1978) and won three Gold Glove awards (1977-79). This three-part series “Cobra: The DH Years,” highlights Parker’s journey through the American League.
Read the following chapter, “My Prerogative”, from the 1989 season, where Parker confronts the re-acquired Rickey Henderson about the team-first attitude of the Oakland A’s; and Parker’s first-hand account of the 1989 San Fran Earthquake.
(Read the first installment “Paradise City” from the 1988 season here).
By Dave Parker & Dave Jordan
April 22, 1989. I was hitting .246 early on, in a 2-for-20 slump that seemed to be getting worse. Only had two dingers on the year at that point.
We were playing the Angels, a solid ballclub that thought they could punch with us, even if we were a little beat up. Canseco suffered a broken left wrist swinging a bat in March – no real guess when he was coming back. I was seeing nothing but inside heat and off-speed junk. Making adjustments on the fly.
Bottom of the seventh, two outs. I stepped up to the plate and dug in. The Angels starter was hanging in tough, down by a run, 4-3, but keeping the game close. He was thrilled to tears to be playing without worry of a double-switch or a pitching change. It was his game to lose.
Yep, ol’ Dutch, my man from the Buccos of yesteryear, was still dealing. 38 years old, finally landed at his preferred baseball oasis – Anaheim, close to where he grew up. Blyleven’s known for being born in Amsterdam almost as much as his legendary curveball. I enjoyed a nice relationship with Blyleven, gettin’ him all sorts of worked up and pissed before he started big games, but that’s a story for another day.
I had a little success off Blyleven in 1988 when he was with the Twins, 6-for-13 with a few RBIs, but then he was brought over to get California back into the postseason. From 60 feet away, I gave him a grin, visually begging him for the gas. Didn’t know if he was shaking off the catcher or disapproving my attitude. Dutch set, I waggled.
Swing and a miss. Curveball? Really? You ain’t gonna play the game, son, I asked him with my eyes, stepping out of the box.
Second pitch? Swing and a miss. Curveball. Ok, if that’s how it’s gonna be, I know you gonna try to sneak that elderly fastball by me this time. I know you. I lost a lot of things in 10 years, but my memory ain’t one of ‘em. Here we go. Here comes the heat…
Swing and a miss. Curveball. Strike three. Dutch used his glove to cover his laugh, having a time at my expense. I walked back to the dugout, glaring at Blyleven, sending a “You gonna pay for that shit” look, and my troubles in 1989 continued.
* * * * *
My average at the end of April was around .194. Hadn’t hit a dinger in weeks. The reporters started getting on my manager, Tony La Russa. “What will you do with Parker?” “Is Sandy looking around the league for a bat?” “How much time are you going to give him to turn it around?”
I had ears. Knew where the clock was in the room.
“How long will you start Parker?” La Russa didn’t bat an eye.
“September 1. That’s my answer.” The man stuck with me through the depths of my slump. And it wasn’t like the A’s were dominating, either. Going into May 1st, Oakland was a game behind the Angels. The A’s had been predicted to bulldoze the AL West with Jose, McGwire, Hendu, me, and that pitching staff, especially after Sandy went out and got this Seattle starter Mike Moore, a 9-15 tough-luck cat who Tony and Duncan thought was way better than the record suggested.
More of the math-based thinking that hardly anyone else even knew existed. Lesser managers would’ve panicked, made lineup switches, clubhouse meetings, maybe even sat me down for a cold one, a real-world talk at the hotel bar. Tony and Sandy had a process and they were gonna see it through.
That’s not to say that Sandy wasn’t doing some diligence on what was around the league in terms of lefty-swinging power. He had a thing for this one dude on the Yankees, Ken Phelps, a slugger who managed to walk all the time when he wasn’t hitting dingers. A lot of late nights studying the ceiling, wondering when Tony was gonna pull the plug, regardless of what he told the San Jose Mercury. Seen skippers do worse to cats with better numbers than mine.
Two weeks later, home against the Brew Crew, Chris Bosio tried a sneak a hanging curve by me on a 2-1 count. That shit hung up there just long enough for me to blast away, my first dinger in over a month. We won that game 4-3 and I felt like I was ready again.
“That’s the first time I back-legged a ball in three weeks,” I told some dude at the San Francisco Examiner, “Usually when you’re in a slump there’s one thing that puts you back on track.” The other reporters started getting cute with me, asking for my comment on the Phelps rumors. “That left-hand power hitter might have some competition, you know what I mean?” I gave them all a shit-eating grin. “In view of what’s been written, I thought maybe I should hit some home runs.”
Over the next 30 games, I remembered to use my back leg more and I batted .336 with seven dingers and 23 RBIs, carrying the offense, waiting for Canseco, who still hadn’t returned to us. It felt nice to reward Tony’s support, even if we could’ve used one more cat to get us over the top. The AL West lead was flipping back and forth. We were better than the Angels, but Sandy got wind of a legendary thief who was willing to steal his way back home.
Well, close to home.
* * * * *
Rickey Henderson established himself as a superstar outfielder with Oakland in the earlier part of the decade, at one point leading the team from the depths of the last place-last days of Charlie Finley to a playoff berth in the strike year of 1981. He broke the single-season stolen base record the following year with 130 swipes.
Couple of seasons later, Sandy wasn’t sure that Oakland could afford him and shipped Rickey off to the Yankees. He enjoyed a few strong years in New York, but during 1989, the Yankees were headed for their first losing season in a couple of decades. Rickey was set to become a free agent but kept asking the Yanks for a three-year deal.
His average was sitting a little under .250, he only stole about 23 bases to that point in the season and some of Steinbrenner’s famous “baseball people” said that Rickey’s skills were beginning to erode at age 30.
That’s when Alderson reached out to George and offered a menu of players of his own. A little back-and-forth dance – “We want Polonia, we want Greg Caderet, not Gene Nelson” – and 72 hours later, entering the clubhouse from a shadow of popping camera bulbs and beat reporter voices….
Rickey was home.
* ** * *
We were all glad when Rickey Henderson returned to the team that summer, but no one was happier than Stew about it. The two of them grew up about a year apart in Oakland, played in American Legion and Connie Mack leagues. It was all hugs and love when Rickey showed up. Tony Phillips, too. He was one of a handful of dudes who had been teammates with Henderson on Oakland when he left after the ’84 season. Once all the greetings ended that day, I made my way over to him.
“You know, this is a different team than last time,” I told him, “There are no lead singers here. We’re a supergroup now.” Rickey slowly looked up at me, then stood once he was done lacing his spikes. He just grunted a laugh.
“The Cobra,” he said to me. It was a showdown in the Old West. 60 seconds of silence.
“You like shoppin’?” I asked Rickey.
“Who don’t like shoppin’?”
“Next road trip, you and me, we hit the stores.”
And that was that. It was a couple of months before we finally got out into the malls across America – Rickey loved his suits! – but the charter flights were even more lively. Playing cards with Henderson was a trip, especially when it came up aces for the “Man of Steal.”
“Awww, Rickey wins again,” he’d say, playfully taunting me, collecting all the dollar bills in an exaggerated grasp. He really didn’t refer to himself in the third person as much as people think, but every so often, just for fun. After I was done losing, I’d stand up in the aisle. Yeah, this happened a few times.
“We goin’ out!” I yelled to my teammates. “Meet me and Stew in the hotel bar. Rickey’s buyin’!” All the fellas would hoot and holler but we took the crew with us most nights on the road. The 4-star spots in Minneapolis, the BBQ joints in K.C., of course, the steakhouses in Chicago and once we hit Manhattan, it was a quick bite in the hotel and then Stew would be all like, “Who’s comin’ to the China Club?” and off we went.
I grabbed us a big car and we cruised across town, blasting some Bobby Brown until we pulled up in front of the club. This joint was like a late ‘80s kind of Studio 54 – the long lines, velvet ropes, and celebrities – I had a much different experience at these type of New York clubs a decade earlier, but that’s a story for another day.
We entered the joint, which was housed in the basement of the Hotel Beacon on New York’s Upper West Side. It was a club where you yelled to talk with the cat right beside you, rock stars chillin’ out in the back offices of the club, of all places. At this stage of my life, I wasn’t there for the ladies, wasn’t there for party favors, just three drinks and a dozen laughs with Stew, Rickey, Hendu and Phillips.
This was the year where I just didn’t care about anything except family and baseball. Didn’t care about everyone talkin’ all stuff about me, I knew that if I kept my numbers, I could make my own decisions about my baseball future. I could do what I wanted to do, and in the middle of all this, the A’s started pulling away from the pack.
Wanna know my favorite baseball moment from the 1989 regular season? Heh-heh, that one’s easy.
Sunday, about a week later, August 13. At the Big A.
* * * * *
Bert Blyleven was back on the mound. The Angels were breathing down our necks, two games off our pace. Top of the first. Rickey smacked a 1-0 slider to Tony Armas in right for the out. Carney went down looking at his dazzling curveball.
Blyleven was having a time in ’89, 11-2 on the season, ERA under 2.50, 38 years old, feelin’ real good about himself. Then I stepped to the plate. The cat was grinning at me again. Been waitin’ four months to get a piece of his ass. I didn’t care who won the game and, on some level, Dutch didn’t, either. This was two old men in a baseball street fight. He got me waiting on the gas last time, laughing at me as I walked back to the dugout. Three off-speed pitches. He thinks I’m expecting the curve,” I thought to myself. “This dude thinks he’s smarter than me. He ain’t gonna get cute this time. He’s gonna try to challenge my ass. So c’mon, Dutch. Gimme whatcha got, son. Gimme your shitty heat.”
I coiled the bat. Blyleven set.
I launched that 91-MPH mother fucker into the California sun. You got no idea how much I savored that home run trot. I wasn’t thinking pennant race, playoff implications. Shit, I don’t even remember what the final score was. But I remember the expression on ‘ol Dutch’s face when the ball met the bat.
You see, this is why we did it, this was why cats like me played into our late 30’s, early 40s. Dutch, too, this was why we put up with front office politics, agent meetings, living out of Samsonite half the year, just for that matchup. Okay, reason number one was the green, of course, but, man, the pitcher-hitter showdown, that’s a real sweet silver medal.
* * * * *
We took two-of-three from California, two-of-three from Cleveland and then two-of-three from the Twins. It was a summer of taking three steps forward and then another three forward. Canseco was back hitting dingers and McGwire was swinging the bat again.
Rickey not only stabilized the top of the order but seemed revitalized being home, having some quality chill time with Stew, it almost felt like prime Buccos-level happiness. There were three or four boom boxes set up in the clubhouse, so the kids got their hard rock, me and the fellas got our R&B, some of the boys even got a little country goin’, too.
We were a good crew together. I was starting to have talks with Kellye about extending our time in California. Maybe selling the house back home in Cincinnati. Then one morning in August, the phone rang. It was my brother James.
“Daddy passed away last night,” he said to me in a broken voice. He went into the details of what happened. My father, Richard Parker, was retired on disability from work for many years, went into the hospital for a minor procedure and we lost him in the middle of the night. All my good-natured spirit and love of life came from the man. He didn’t talk much but his eyes gave me attention, gave me strength, gave me the soul to accomplish great things in this world. Kellye, the kids and I got a flight home the next afternoon to take care of the arrangements for Mama and my siblings.
The funeral was held at Mama’s church. My Daddy didn’t socialize all that much, but he was beloved. Even my old man’s barber showed up to pay his respects. Kellye coordinated the arrangements for Mama. We invited everyone back to my house afterwards. Three days later, I talked with La Russa, who called me asking if I needed anything.
“How you fellas doin’?” I asked back.
“We’re winning, but the clubhouse isn’t the same without you.”
“Want me to meet y’all in K.C.?”
“Can you join us in Texas? The batting practice may do you some good before the series.” I hung up the phone feeling real touched about Tony reaching out to check in. I was extremely blessed with some great skippers over my career, Danny Murtaugh, Chuck Tanner, and yeah, Pete.
Some were fair, some were nice, some were my friends. La Russa was brilliant. I went to bed hours later eager to rejoin the fellas but as I said goodnight to Kellye, I realized how much I loved my hometown, my Queen City. When you have a life event like that, it puts things into perspective. My job was to drive in runs
That’s what I got paid for. Cincinnati was my home. Thinking about the team – Rickey was having a comeback season and he was gonna get paid. Canseco was the biggest star in the game. The moment for him to knock on Sandy’s door was approaching with every passing day. I knew there was another year for me in Oakland if I wanted it, but I wasn’t about to uproot my life for a single season.
I boarded the plane the next morning with peace of mind. There was a real good chance that this would be my final month in Oakland. Wasn’t about to say anything, why mess with my leverage, right? My prerogative.
When I met up with the fellas in the visiting clubhouse at Arlington, many of them offered condolences for my father’s passing. Stew gave me a heartfelt hug.
“Anything I can do, man?” Stew asked me.
“Yeah,” I nodded. “Let’s go win this shit.”
Everything from that moment forward was focused on one thing.
Division crown. Go get that sip.
*** * *
After losing two of three games in Kansas City, we grabbed two wins going through New York, including a 19-5 thrashing of the Yankees, took two more in Milwaukee against the Brewers, then two-of-three from the Red Sox and the Bombers again once we got home.
I turned around and we were four-and-a-half in front of the Royals. Stew led the way for us on the mound, winning six of seven decisions. Carney kept the batting order rolling with his .365 average and .400 on-base over the final month. Rickey was getting on base and messing with the pitchers, stealing 16-of-18 over the same time period.
Finally, September 27th, Mike Moore pitched seven innings of one-hit ball to clinch the division at home. Moore was the craziest cat in the clubhouse celebration, pouring bubbly over everyone’s head – La Russa, Canseco, mine.
It was his first winning season after seven years of losing with the Mariners franchise. Rickey had his bottle spraying – he hadn’t been back to the dance in almost eight years. I think I heard him say “I’m so happy to be home” like a half-dozen times. Hendu was on the Red Sox in ’86 and the Giants in ’87.
He grabbed me for a special, personal toast inside the trainer’s room. Carney and Steinbach kicked back with beers. Canseco was offering second and third helpings of the champagne to the beat reporters. It was a stadium-wide celebration. You know what else might surprise you? The Oakland A’s were second in attendance in the American League in 1989 – fifth overall – 2.6 million folks came out to see us.
Think about that. We had a few more games to prepare for the ALCS, still not certain who we were facing, either the Orioles or the Blue Jays. Toronto came out on top and gave us fits in the playoffs, but we managed to win it in five. Rickey got himself the series MVP.
I remember telling Joan Ryan of the San Francisco Examiner that “This was NBC’s Rickey Henderson Show as far as I’m concerned. His performance was the best I’ve ever seen. He turned it up two notches.” My man did everything. Stolen bases (8), got on base (14 of 23 plate appearances), scored runs (8 of the 24 we scored as a team, which was a LCS record at that time.) The cat even hit two dingers. I hit a couple myself.
Stew got two wins and Eck got three saves. Carney quietly hit .455 and McGwire batted close to .400 as well. Contributions from so many of us, but seeing Rickey bring his A+ game was a real tribute to the job Sandy did bolstering the ballclubs after the Canseco and McGwire injuries. We were headed back to the Fall Classic for a second year in a row and our trip to first pitch was less than an album side away.
* * * * *
“The Giants one-dimensional offense can’t manufacture runs and their defense isn’t special. They have no profound motivation unless the A’s tick them off. The Giants pitching staff has been a MASH unit all season. And it still is.”
Baseball writer Tom Boswell wrote that thing on the day of Game 1. We heard a lot of that over the five-day layoff before the series began. San Francisco was next-to-last in batting but second in runs scored and dingers. They barely made 60% of their stolen-base attempts. We led the American League in ERA, third in least home runs allowed and fourth in strikeouts. We went into the ’88 series real confident and even though I felt that this would be easier than when we played the Dodgers, La Russa wasn’t having any of that this time around.
“Remember what happened last year.” Tony told us in the clubhouse the day before Game 1. “I don’t want anyone taking anything for granted. No letting up. Got that?” La Russa made sure we were all on the same page mentally. What we didn’t know was that nature would work in a chapter of her own.
We got off to a strong start in Game 1 against the NL ERA champ Scotty Garrelts, a dude with good stuff who knew how to mix his pitches. I came up in the third inning after we scored three in the second. He started me off with a high fastball that I laid off for a ball. Came in the same spot for ball two. I knew what was coming. He needed to throw me one down in the zone. Garrelts delivered and I hit it about 420 feet into the right field seats. World Series dinger. That was all that Stew would need, tossing a five-hit shutout, six K’s, one walk. Pretty easy night for us.
Man, Mike Moore was on a mission that postseason. Seven innings, three hits, one run in a win against the Jays, then seven innings, four hits and seven strikeouts against San Fran in Game 2. Their starter was Rick Reuschel. Heh-heh, ‘ol Reuschel. I couldn’t wait to face him – I kinda got my rocks off dunking on “Big Daddy,” but that’s a story for another day. The Giants also still had my former Pirates teammate “Country Boy” Don Robinson (whom they started calling “Caveman” at that point) on the team from those trades San Francisco made with Pittsburgh in ’87.
Not gonna lie, I’m still annoyed that the Reds didn’t get one of those cats during the pennant race, but anyway. The score was tied at one when Big Daddy walked Canseco in front of me after Jose fouled off five straight pitches. Reuschel was a low-ball pitcher and after he threw me a high fastball, he tried going low and I was waiting for him, hitting the ball off the top of the right field wall, inside the foul line, scoring Jose to take the lead. Rick Honeycutt and Eck went six and out to lock down the win. We were looking forward to Game 3 and heading to the ‘Stick with a commanding lead. The next day would be known for everything except baseball.
* * * * *
I left our townhome in Alameda around noon. Kellye told me she was gonna drive over a few hours later. I got to the ballpark in San Francisco and chilled out with Rickey and Stew in the clubhouse. I taped up my knees, did some stretching just like any other early evening game. I was in the bathroom with Eckersley when we felt it. Sure, I lived in the Bay Area for two seasons, been traveling to the West Coast for over 15 years but I never experienced shaking urinals and sinks. I turned to Eck.
“Is this what I think it is?” Dennis was born and raised in California.
“Yep.” The first thing I thought about?
Kellye. I ran through the clubhouse toward the dugout, popping my head outside looking for my wife. I found Kellye in the stands and we quickly walked out to the middle of the field. 42 people died when the extension to the Bay Bridge collapsed. Amazingly, no one was hurt at the ballpark. Matter of fact, the crowd started cheering when the trembling ceased until we all heard about what happened on the bridge.
The game was finally cancelled and the players’ families waited in the parking lot for hours. We couldn’t travel on the bridges, ground-only, so it took us like half the night to get home. Once we entered the townhouse, all of our things on the kitchen counter were broken and scattered across the floor. Never seen anything like it, which was nothing compared to the human cost that afternoon on the bridge but I remember that night holding Kellye a little tighter, upset for those who lost lives and thankful for her safety.
Considering all the damage to the Bay Bridge, MLB commissioner Fay Vincent decided that the World Series needed to continue. Tony made a good point. “If restaurants were opening, why shouldn’t we be playing?” Alderson made the decision to have us work out in Phoenix. We played a couple of intra-squad games to prepare for Game 3.
I got some swings in against Eck. We charged $5 per person and gave the proceeds to earthquake relief. When we returned to San Fran to resume the series, something occurred to us. We could pitch Stew in Game 3, and he came through in a big way, tossing seven innings, eight strikeouts while giving up just three runs.
We were up 13-3 going into the bottom of the ninth. San Fran put up a fight, scoring four times in the ninth but Todd Burns came in and got Kevin Mitchell to fly deep to Rickey, ending the game. Because the games were in the National League, no DH, which meant that I didn’t play, but I was getting eager for that closing sip of the season. La Russa decided that a typical champagne shower would be in poor form so there was no overt celebrating if we were to win.
Game 4 we took an 8-0 lead into the sixth, but the Giants showed some life, scoring two in the bottom of the inning, then lighting things up for four more in the seventh. We increased our lead when Terry Steinbach was walked with the bases loaded to give us another run. I was sitting on the bench with Stew, getting some in-game QT. Wasn’t sure how many more minutes I would have with him.
“You comin’ back?” Stew asked me. I could tell in his voice some hope that my answer would be yes.
“I dunno, Smoke,” I replied, using his other nickname, “But if I’m out there against you next year, in Boston, New York or California, I’m just gonna tattoo your ass.” I never saw the man laugh so loud, followed by half a hug and a wrist shake.
“That’s a bet.” Soon Tony Phillips made a spectacular play, past a diving McGwire, tossing to Eck to win the game 9-6, winning the Series and completing the sweep. It was rowdy in the clubhouse afterwards, just no alcohol. Except in my mobile chest. I called over Stew, Hendu, Rickey and Tony Phillips, dragged them into the trainer’s room. I saluted my Oakland fellas, embraced them all one more time. Phillips was also a free agent and I knew he was gone, too.
And it didn’t bother me none. It was a business, and I don’t say that with any bitterness. They just brought back the icon of the franchise. Of course, they needed to pay Rickey. Canseco needed to get his, just like I got mine in ’79 with the Buccos.
I did the dance with Sandy for a couple of months. He offered to bring me back for the 1990 season, but after I went through some personal issues, which is a story for another day, I still needed to fortify my retirement and Alderson was honest with me. There just wasn’t enough money there to sign everyone.
La Russa’s patience with Tony Phillips eventually paid off, except it was the Detroit Tigers that reaped the benefits, where he became the most underrated player in the major leagues for the next decade. As for me, well, after I cleaned out my locker at the Coliseum, I threw my junk into the back of the Porsche. Driving away from Paradise City, I turned on the radio and heard some of that Guns & Roses music one more time, but it meant more to me leaving.
Whenever I see that green and gold, it takes me away to that special place, the lifelong friendships I made with Stew, Rickey, Hendu, Carney, Phillips, Groove Baylor and the work we did offering our experience to Canseco, McGwire, Walt Weiss, and especially Tony La Russa, who believed in me in ’89 even when things weren’t lookin’ so good. When I see Oakland A’s fans today and they ask me about my time there, I tell them the truth.
I really enjoyed your company. Sorry that it couldn’t have been a touch longer.
But it was on to the next stop and as that sweet song asked me….
Where do we go now?
NOTE: The following is a link to a list of those that we lost in the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. May the memory of their lives remain with us.
List of Fatalities in San Francisco Earthquake (apnews.com)