Kevin Gorman: Once baseball’s best, Dave Parker belongs in Hall of Fame
When the Pittsburgh Pirates celebrated their 1979 World Series champions on Saturday at PNC Park, there was only one other place in the world Dave Parker would have rather been.
That’s Cooperstown, N.Y.
Parker was regarded as the best player in baseball from the mid-1970s until the early ‘80s, a five-tool player who was a two-time NL batting champion and a three-time Gold Glove winner.
That Parker was being honored in Pittsburgh but not in Cooperstown is disappointing, especially with the timing of the 40th anniversary of his All-Star Game heroics and the World Series victory. And it has left Parker disillusioned.
That he’s not in the Baseball Hall of Fame is as much of a black eye for the game as Parker was front and center of the cocaine scandal of the infamous Pittsburgh drug trials in 1985.
Baseball deemed him the game’s best player in his prime.
It shouldn’t blackball him.
“General managers had a poll, and they were asked who would be the first guy they would begin a franchise with, and it was me,” Parker said. “I did everything that you can do. I journeyed some things twice. They said I was the best player in the game, so live up to it and do what’s right: Make me the Hall of Famer that I should be.”
Parker fell short of the milestone markers that can clinch a Hall of Fame candidacy, with 2,712 hits, 339 home runs, 1,493 RBIs and a career .290 batting average.
But he was a seven-time All-Star, an NL MVP and a two-time World Series champion.
Just like Willie Stargell.
Where Stargell had superior power numbers, with 475 homers and 1,936 RBIs, he also had 480 fewer hits than Parker in 106 fewer games. That’s not to suggest Parker was as good as Pops, just that he resided in the same stratosphere and should have a bronze bust in Cooperstown.
“I think I should be there,” Parker said. “Most people that know me and played against me, they look at me as a Hall of Famer anyway. I don’t think that there was anybody from 1975 to ’81 that was a better player than me.”
Over that seven-year span, Parker compiled 1,157 hits, 140 home runs, 617 RBIs and slashed .313/.364/.517. Problem is, he didn’t sustain that momentum. Parker batted below .300 and hit fewer than 20 homers every season from 1980-84, despite becoming one of baseball’s highest-paid players.
Yet in 15 years on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot, he never received more than 24.5 percent of the vote. A candidate who receives 75 percent of votes is elected.
Parker is hardly alone in his belief he belongs in Cooperstown, a sentiment shared by his teammates from the ’79 World Series champions for which he was a catalyst.
“I can’t disagree with that statement,” former Pirates pitcher John Candelaria said. “Should he be in the Hall of Fame? Absolutely, with some of the people they’re letting in today. No offense to some of them. They’ve got the votes, but I believe Dave was better than some who have gotten in.”
In 2017, Parker was one of nine former players on the ballot for the Modern Era vote. Only pitcher Jack Morris and shortstop Alan Trammell were elected. Trammell was a six-time All-Star, four-time Gold Glove winner and 1984 World Series MVP who had a career .285 batting average, 2,365 hits and 185 homers.
What’s more, the 2019 class includes a pair of borderline candidates in Harold Baines and Edgar Martinez. Both spent a good portion of their careers as designated hitters, and neither ever was considered the best player in the game like Parker.
Martinez had 2,247 hits, a career .312 batting average and 309 home runs over 18 seasons with the Seattle Mariners. A seven-time All-Star, he benefited by being a designated hitter but had only one 30-homer campaign and never won a World Series.
Baines, voted in by the Veterans Committee, was a six-time All-Star who had 2,866 hits and 384 home runs over 22 seasons but never had 30 homers and only topped 100 RBIs three times.
“He ain’t no Dave Parker,” Parker said pointedly.
Neither was Dale Murphy, despite similar statistics and an eight-year stretch where the former Atlanta Braves outfielder was regarded as one of baseball’s best players. A seven-time All-Star, five-time Gold Glove winner and a two-time MVP, Murphy had 2,111 hits, 398 homers but a career .265 average.
If Murphy is left out because of his hitting, Parker could be punished for his power numbers. He had only two 30-homer seasons and three with 100-plus RBIs.
But there’s no room for discounting his defense. Parker possessed one of the most dangerous arms in the game, as evidenced by his throwing out Jim Rice at third and Brian Downing at home plate in the 1979 All-Star Game, for which Parker was named MVP. But Parker’s arm also prevented many runners from taking an extra base, just by the sheer threat. And he had 154 career stolen bases and batted .345 in the 1979 World Series.
Parker played hard and he played through pain, wearing first a football facemask and then a hockey goalie mask upon returning from a broken jaw after a collision with Mets catcher John Stearns in 1978. That was his NL MVP season.
“I felt like a bad dude because of the way I played the game,” Parker said. “I never ran a ball halfway to first base. I hit the ball to second base and guys would barely throw me out. I had outstanding speed, above-average throwing arm. I did everything. No more you can do. You just sit back and wait.
“It’d be great to be there, but I’m in the Reds Hall of Fame, the Negro (Leagues Baseball Museum) Hall of Fame. It would be nice to get into the regular Hall of Fame, but you just sit and wait, just sit and wait.”
Parker has waited long enough. There was a time when he was baseball’s best. The black eye has healed. It’s time the game honors him for it by putting Parker where he has long belonged.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .