To say that Dave Parker was one of the most polarizing players of his generation would be an understatement.

 

For a five-year stretch from 1975 through 1979, the 6-foot-5 outfielder was arguably MLB’s best all-around player.

 

After making his MLB debut in July of 1973 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Parker would become a two-time All Star (1977, 1979), win back-to-back NL batting crowns (1977, 1978), an NL MVP Award in 1978, and a year later, helped lead the Bucs to a World Series title.

Exclusive Missing Chapters From Baseball Legend Dave Parker’s Memoir | Cobra: A Life of Baseball and Brotherhood (Part 3)

 

Parker also led the NL in slugging percentage twice (1975 and 1978), was named to The Sporting News’ postseason National League all-star team three times (1975, 1977, 1978) and won three Gold Gloves (1977-79).

 

In 1977, Parker had 26 assists, which at the time was the most for any MLB outfielder in a season since another Pirate right fielder, Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente, had 27 in 1961.

 

His defensive prowess would be showcased during the 1979 All-Star Game in Seattle. Parker was tabbed as the game’s MVP due to a pair of outstanding defensive plays that kept the game close.

 

In the seventh inning, with the AL leading 6-5, Parker overran leadoff hitter Boston’s Jim Rice’s shallow fly ball, went back into the right-field corner to retrieve it after a high bounce, and retired Rice trying to advance to third base with a one-hop throw. 

 

An inning later with the game tied 6-6, Parker fielded New York’s Graig Nettles’ hit in deep right field and threw home. The ball reached Montreal catcher Gary Carter shoulder-high on the fly, and Carter tagged out California’s Brian Downing trying to score the go-ahead run.

 

The National League scored in the ninth and held on to win 7-6.

 

Earlier that season, Pittsburgh signed Parker to a five-year contract which replaced his current deal. While the terms aside from the length were not disclosed, for years afterward, it was referred to as baseball’s first million-dollar-a-year contract.

 

However, things began to unravel for Parker on and off the field after signing the deal. Parker’s hitting suffered due to injuries and weight problems. Disgruntled Pirate fans angered by his million-dollar contract began booing him.

 

At one point, Parker was pelted by nuts and bolts, bullets, and batteries while playing in right field. It was eerily similar to the kind of treatment bestowed on Philadelphia’s Dick Allen during his initial seasons with the Phillies.

 

 

 

During a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 20, 1980, Parker immediately removed himself from the first game of a doubleheader following a throwing incident and did not play the field in the second game.

 

Said Parker, “I could hear it go by me. It was too close for comfort. I wasn’t going to stand there and give him another shot.” Reports stated that Parker asked for a trade the following day.

 

While the Pirates did not immediately grant the request, it became apparent that Parker’s days in the Steel City were numbered. It would later be revealed that Parker was using cocaine during this period. When Parker was granted, free agency following the 1983 season, he would sign with the Cincinnati Reds. Playing in his hometown, he returned to the form that made him a perennial All-Star in Pittsburgh.

 

Dave Parker Has Rebirth With Cincinnati Reds 

 

In 1985, Parker enjoyed his best season since he won the 1978 MVP with a .312 batting average and 34 home runs; he also led the National League with 125 RBIs, 42 doubles, 80 extra-base hits and 350 total bases. 

 

Parker finished second in 1985 MVP voting to St. Louis outfielder Willie McGee.  and was also the league’s first-ever Home Run Derby winner that season.  However, Parker’s past transgressions would be revealed to the public during the offseason.

 

Parker was among several players who testified against a dealer in the Pittsburgh drug trials. Named as “a regular user”, Parker and six other players were suspended for the following season. Granted immunity in exchange for his testimony against a man charged with distributing cocaine to professional baseball players, Parker said he first used cocaine while playing winter baseball in Venezuela in 1976.

 

 

Parker added that he used the drug “with consistency” from 1979 until he quit late in the 1982 season because “my game was slipping. I felt it played a part in it.” While Parker could not face criminal prosecution, his admission had financial consequences.

 

The sentences were commuted, however, in exchange for donating ten percent of their base salaries to drug-related community service, submitting to random drug testing, and contributing 100 hours of drug-related community service.

 

Parker had another fine year for the Reds in 1986, playing every game and finishing fifth in the MVP voting. He led the league in total bases while hitting 31 homers and driving in 116 runs. 

 

In 1987 he drove in 97 runs, but his batting average dropped to a career low .253. During the offseason the Reds traded Parker to the Oakland A’s for pitchers Jose Rijo and Tim Birtsas. 

 

In Oakland, Parker was able to extend his career by spending most of his time as a DH. 

 

Exclusive Missing Chapters From Baseball Legend Dave Parker’s Memoir | Cobra: A Life of Baseball and Brotherhood (Part 2)

 

Although injuries and age caught up to him to a degree – he hit just .257 with 12 homers in 377 at-bats in 1988 and .264 with 22 homers in 553 at-bats in 1989 – his veteran leadership was a significant factor in the A’s consecutive World Series appearances.

 

In 1989, Parker led the team with 97 RBIs during the regular season and won the league’s Designated Hitter of the Year award, then hit his first postseason home runs, two against Toronto in the ALCS. Parker’s second dinger came in Game One of the World Series as he won another World Series title which came exactly 10 years after his first one with the Pirates in 1979.

 

Parker signed with the Milwaukee Brewers for the 1990 season and had a solid year as the Brewers’ DH with a .289 average and 21 home runs in 610 at-bats. He was even selected as a reserve for the 1990 All-Star Game. 

 

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Parker would finish his career a year later with the California Angels. He hit .232 with 11 homers in 119 games and was released on September 7. A week later he was picked up by the Toronto Blue Jays.  He announced his retirement at the season’s end.

 

Hall Of Fame Worthy Resume? 

 

During his 19-year career, Parker finished with a .290 batting average, 2,712 hits, 339 home runs, 1,493 RBIs and 1,272 runs scored. During his 11 years in Pittsburgh, the Pirates won the NL East three times, and finished second three times. 

 

Parker has never received more than 24% of votes on Hall of Fame ballots, and his 15-year Baseball Writers’ Association of America eligibility was exhausted on the 2011 ballot. 

 

He is currently under consideration for the Modern Baseball era committee. It’s safe to say that his involvement with the Pittsburgh drug trials has contributed to his not being voted into the Hall of Fame. That being said, two current inductees – Orlando Cepeda and Tim Raines – have been able to overcome scrutiny of their past drug usage to eventually be voted into Cooperstown. 

 

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Subsequently, Parker was elected to the Reds Hall of Fame Class of 2014. Two years earlier, he was inducted into the Cincinnati Public Schools Athletic Hall of Fame. On September 3, 2022, he was inducted into the Pittsburgh Pirates Hall of Fame as part of its inaugural class.

 

Parker was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2012 and made his condition public in an interview in August of 2013, although he added that he was able to deal with the condition with a healthy diet and exercise. Parker has had both of his knees replaced due to injuries from his playing career. He is involved in raising money to find a cure for Parkinson’s disease through the Dave Parker 39 Foundation.

 

One man’s opinion: Parker burst upon the MLB scene and established himself as one of the game’s best. After overcoming his demons, he was able to restart his career, re-establish his place in the game, and eventually become a mentor to many of his teammates in his final playing days.

 

 

To me, the Cobra deserves to have his plaque in Cooperstown.

 

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