Ex-Pirates great Parker's long wait for Hall of Fame could finally end
Dave Parker never expected it to come to this.
Every winter from 1997 to 2011, Parker waited by his phone for a call from the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He always imagined it would ring, and a voice on the other end of the line would say that this year, finally, baseball writers had seen the light and voted him in. Then Parker would allow himself a chuckle, thank the caller, hang up and celebrate.
Parker's phone never rang.
To earn induction into the hall, a player must be named on at least 75 percent of the ballots cast by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America. The closest Parker got was 24.5 percent in 1998, his second year of eligibility. In his final year, Parker was chosen by only 89 of 581 voters (15.3 percent).
Although he no longer is on the regular Hall of Fame ballot, Parker has one more shot at enshrinement. He is among 12 former players, managers and executives on the Expansion Era ballot, which is voted upon by a special, 16-person board appointed by the hall. Results will be announced Monday morning at the start of MLB's annual winter meetings in Orlando, Fla.
The Expansion Era ballot includes only candidates who made an impact in the game from 1973 to the present. Just like the regular ballot, a candidate must get 75 percent approval for enshrinement.
This time, however, Parker insisted he isn't fretting about whether his phone will ring.
“I stopped thinking about it,” he said. “It's been so long. I feel like I should've been in (the hall) years ago.”
Over 19 seasons, including 11 as the Pirates' right fielder, Parker compiled a .290 batting average, .339 on-base percentage and .471 slugging percentage. He won two National League batting crowns, was the league MVP in 1978 and hit .341 in the 1979 playoffs to earn a World Series ring.
Baseball-reference.com compared Parker's career stats against those of every other major leaguer. Among the six players with the most similar totals are Hall of Famers Tony Perez, Billy Williams and Andre Dawson.
“I was always ‘the guy' on just about every team I played for,” Parker said. “I did enough to be a Hall of Famer.”
So why isn't he? Parker thinks he knows the reason.
In 1985, Parker was granted immunity and testified during the infamous MLB Drug Trials in Pittsburgh. Parker believes admitting he used cocaine during his career caused him to be blacklisted by many Hall of Fame voters.
“That's the only thing it could be,” Parker said. “My numbers speak for themselves.”
Jon Heyman, who reports for CBS Sports and MLB Network, voted for Parker in each of 15 years he was on the Hall of Fame ballot. Heyman said he does not believe writers who did not support Parker were being vindictive about his drug use.
“(Parker) might think that, but I wouldn't go that far,” Heyman said. “He was a great all-around player, and I obviously think he's worthy of the Hall of Fame, but it's not clear-cut. He didn't get 3,000 hits. He wasn't a (career) .300 hitter.”
These days, baseball faces a different type of drug scandal. Players suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs — such as Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Roger Clemens — have been shunned by Hall of Fame voters.
However, Parker said he does not believe MLB is an innocent bystander in the PED saga.
“Baseball had to know that those guys were taking steroids,” Parker said. “Guys were hitting balls out of the stadium — not into the seats but out of the stadium. It benefited baseball because it got the fans back, so it was OK. I think a lot of that stuff was by design.”
Hall of Fame voters have long memories when it comes to scandals. Parker is hoping his peers who played the game are more forgiving.
Expansion Era voters are a mix of Hall of Famers (such as Rod Carew, Joe Morgan and Tommy Lasorda), big league executives (such as Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf) and historians (such as Steve Hirdt of Elias Sports Bureau). There are only three reporters: San Francisco Chronicle columnist Bruce Jenkins, BBWAA president Jack O'Connell and retired Fort Worth Star-Telegram writer Jim Reeves.
“I think that's going to help a lot,” Parker said. “Those guys have been through the battles. They know what it takes to go out there with a bad leg or a sore arm and still produce. Guys who have played the game will play a major part if I get in there.”
Parkinson's takes toll
Speaking on his cell phone from his home near Cincinnati, Parker sounded weary and paused occasionally while answering questions. His voice had none of the booming, larger-than-life quality he displayed as a player.
This past summer, Parker revealed he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease about two years ago. The disease is incurable, slowly robbing Parker of the ability to control his body. He tries to stay active, exercising and playing golf when the weather cooperates.
The special committees that vote on hall membership work on a three-year cycle, so the Expansion Era group won't come up for a vote again until 2016.
“I think my chances are decent,” Parker said with a sigh. “But I won't get my hopes up as much as I used to.”