|Right fielder / Designated hitter|
|Born: June 9, 1951|
|July 12, 1973, for the Pittsburgh Pirates|
|Last MLB appearance|
|October 2, 1991, for the Toronto Blue Jays|
|Runs batted in||1,493|
|Career highlights and awards|
David Gene Parker (born June 9, 1951), nicknamed "The Cobra," is an American former professional baseball player. He played in Major League Baseball as a right fielder from 1973 to 1991. A seven-time All-Star player, Parker won two National League batting titles and was the 1978 National League Most Valuable Player. He was a member of two world championship winning teams with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1979 and with the Oakland Athletics in 1989.
Parker was the second professional athlete to earn an average of $1 million per year, having signed a five-year, $5 million contract in January 1979. Parker's career achievements include 2,712 hits, 339 home runs, 1,493 runs batted in and a lifetime batting average of .290. Parker was also known as a solid defensive outfielder during the first half of his career, with a powerful arm, winning three consecutive Gold Gloves during his prime. From 1975 to 1979, he threw out 72 runners, including 26 in 1977.
Parker grew up in Cincinnati near Crosley Field, where he learned to play baseball on the stadium's parking lots. His father, Dick Parker, was a shipping clerk in a foundry. Dave Parker attended Courter Tech High School. He has said his favorite sport was football, and he starred at tailback but injured a knee in a game during his senior year and gave up the game. Also a baseball star, one of his fondest memories is playing at Western Hills High School (alma mater of Pete Rose), where he hit a home run that landed on the roof of a Frisch's restaurant.
In 1973, as a member of the Pirates AAA minor league ball team Charleston (WV) Charlies, legend has it that Parker hit a home run that landed on a coal car on a passing train and the ball was later picked up in Columbus, Ohio. However, in a 1975 interview, Parker stated, "When I played for Charleston I always had the ambition to hit a home run onto a moving train. I really used to shoot for that. I hit a few on the tracks, but never as a train was going by." He began his major league career on July 12, 1973, with the Pittsburgh Pirates, for whom he played from 1973 to 1983.
At the 1977 MLB All-Star Game he became the only player in history to have worn batting helmets from two different teams--neither of them his own--in the same game, wearing a San Diego Padres helmet early on before swapping it out for a Cincinnati Reds one.
In 1977, he was National League batting champion, a feat he repeated in 1978 when he was named the National League's MVP. This was in spite of a collision at home plate with John Stearns during a game against the Mets on June 30, 1978, in which Parker fractured his jaw and cheekbone; he wore a specially constructed facemask in order to minimize his time away from the lineup. The Pirates rewarded him with baseball's first million-dollar-per-year contract. The following year, he was an instrumental part of the Pirates' World Series championship team.
During a game in 1979, a powerful hit he made to right field was very difficult to throw into the infield, because he had "knocked the cover off the ball." One of the seams on the ball ruptured, making nearly half of the cover come loose.
Pittsburgh fans angered by his million-dollar contract threw "nuts and bolts and bullets and batteries" at him, as pitcher Kent Tekulve stated; a typo in a news story made it appear that they threw car batteries.
In 1981, at a point in his career when it looked as if he would one day rank among the game's all-time greats, Lawrence Ritter and Donald Honig included him in their book The 100 Greatest Baseball Players of All Time. The authors, noting that Parker had succeeded Roberto Clemente at the position, wrote, "Someone must have a fondness for right field in Pittsburgh."
In the early 1980s, however, Parker's hitting suffered due to injuries, weight problems, and his increasing cocaine use. He became one of the central figures in a drug scandal that spread through the major leagues.
At the end of the 1983 season, Parker became a free agent and signed with the Cincinnati Reds. In Cincinnati, his hometown, he returned to the form that made him an All-Star in Pittsburgh. In 1985, he enjoyed his best season since he won the 1978 MVP with a .312 batting average, 34 home runs, and 125 RBI. Parker finished second in 1985 MVP voting to Willie McGee. Parker was also the winner of the League's first-ever Home Run Derby in 1985.
Following the season, Parker was among several players who testified against a dealer in the Pittsburgh drug trials. Named as "regular users", Parker and six other players were suspended for the following season. 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.
After the 1987 season, Cincinnati traded Parker to the Oakland Athletics for José Rijo and Tim Birtsas. In Oakland, Parker was able to extend his career by spending most of his time as a designated hitter. 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 which included another World Series title for Parker 1989, exactly 10 years after his first title with the Pirates in '79.
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. Milwaukee opted for youth, however, at the end of the year and traded the aging Parker to the Angels for Dante Bichette.
Parker's last season was 1991. He played for the California Angels until late in the season when he was released. The Toronto Blue Jays then signed him as insurance for the pennant race, and Parker hit .333 in limited action. Since he was acquired too late in the season, however, he did not qualify for inclusion on the post-season roster and thus was unable to play in the American League Championship Series against the Minnesota Twins, which the Blue Jays lost in five games. Parker retired at the end of the season.
Parker has served as a first-base coach for the Anaheim Angels, a batting coach for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1998, and a special hitting instructor for Pittsburgh. He owned several Popeye's Chicken franchises in Cincinnati until selling his interest in them in 2012 after 25 years.
Parker never got 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 can now be considered for the Veterans Committee Expansion from 2014. Supporters of Parker's Hall of Fame candidacy argue that Parker's involvement with the Pittsburgh drug trials has contributed to his not being voted into the Hall of Fame, which may have also harmed the candidacies of Keith Hernandez (who never received more than 10.8% and fell off the writers' ballot on his ninth try) and Tim Raines (debuted at 24.3%, but was elected on his tenth year on the ballot), serving as a precursor to those listed on the Mitchell Report not being voted into the Hall of Fame due to steroid abuse. Critics say that Parker's stats fall short of accepted standards of inclusion in the Hall. While Tim Raines became a cause célèbre among the sabermetric community which pushed for his election, Dave Parker does not fare as well when using advanced stats.
Parker has had both of his knees replaced due to injuries from his playing career. In 2013, he confirmed to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. He is involved in raising money to find a cure for Parkinson's disease through the Dave Parker 39 Foundation.
Parker was elected to the Reds Hall of Fame Class of 2014, which also included fellow Cincinnati natives Ron Oester and Ken Griffey Jr. In 2012, he was inducted into the Cincinnati Public Schools Athletic Hall of Fame.