Known as “The Cobra”, Dave Parker played right field for the Pirates from 1973 until 1983. Born on June 9, 1951, Parker was drafted by the Pirates in the 14th round of the 1970 amateur draft. The big 6″5 left-handed swinging outfielder had dropped in the draft due to a knee injury and concerns over his attitude with his coaches. The front office for the Pirates said years later that they dropped him in their rankings because he never hit the ball in the air during high school. Whatever the reasons were, it was good fortune for the Pirates that he was still on the draft board until the 14th round that year and they were the team to select him.
In the minors right away after signing, Parker hit .314 over 61 games, playing in the Gulf Coast League. The next season he was sent to AA to start the year, a huge jump over the GCL and the differences in the two leagues were too much for the young player to handle. He hit .228 with no homers in 38 games before being moved down to A-ball, where he excelled in a more age appropriate league. Parker hit .358 with 11 homers and 96 hits in 71 games, playing for the Monroe Pirates. In 1972, he moved up to the Carolina League, where he had a big season, establishing himself as one of the best prospects in baseball. Dave hit .310 in 135 games for Salem, collecting 30 doubles and 22 homers. Skipping over AA in 1973, it took just 84 games at AAA to get him to the majors for good in July.
That rookie season was a tough one at the start for Parker, who was hitting .214 with two homers through 29 games. It ended with him batting .288 in 139 AB’s, although he was known to swing at anything close to the zone, resulting in just two walks. In a strange stat-keeping occurrence, Parker’s first major league game was actually credited as April 21,1973, over two months before he made the majors. That game against the Cubs was suspended with the score tied and completed in July, with Parker getting a pinch hit AB once the game resumed.
The Pirates used Parker in a platoon role in 1974, giving him playing time at all three outfield positions as well as a brief experiment at first base. He had the strong arm he was famous for, but his outfield assists didn’t start piling up until two years later. Dave hit .282 with four homers and 29 RBI’s in 73 games, still drawing walks at a low rate, with just ten in 233 plate appearances. In the playoffs that year against the Dodgers, Parker went 1-8 with a single, as the Pirates lost the series in four games.
Things turned around for The Cobra in 1975, going from a platoon player to one of the best players in the game. That year he hit .308 in 148 games, with 101 RBI’s and 70 extra base hits. He led the NL in slugging percentage at .541 and finished third in the NL MVP voting. His playoffs struggles continued though, going 0-10 against the Reds, who went on the win the World Series.
Parker had a strong 1976 season, even with a dip in homers(25 in 1975,down to 13). He batted .313 with 90 RBI’s, 82 runs scored and even added 19 stolen bases to his resume, after accumulating just 12 in his first three seasons. He led all outfielders in errors, starting a string of four straight seasons he would accomplish that dubious feat, but he also led all NL right fielders in putouts and finished third with 12 assists.
In 1977, Parker would win his first Gold Glove, make his first All-Star team and he won his first batting title with a .338 average, his career high. He also led the league with 215 hits(career high) and 44 doubles. Dave scored 107 runs, drove in 88, and his dangerous bat helped him draw a respectable 58 walks. He would finish third in the NL MVP voting for a second time. Parker led NL right fielders in putouts for a third straight year and this season more than any other, he showed off his arm, with 26 assists. Base runners in the league began to respect him more in the outfield, testing him less often, leading to lower assist totals in the future.
Dave had his best individual season in 1978, taking home the NL MVP award due to his second batting title (.334) as well as 30 homers, 20 stolen bases, 117 RBI’s, 102 runs scored and Gold Glove defense. He also led the NL in slugging and had a career high .979 OPS. His 340 total bases that year rank tied for sixth in franchise history, two spots ahead of his 1977 total of 338 on that list.
The 1979 Pirates won the World Series and Parker not only had a good season, he broke his string of poor playoff performances from early in his career. During the season, he hit .310 with 25 homers and 94 RBI’s. Dave set career highs with his 45 doubles, 109 runs scored and 67 walks. He also made his second All-Star appearance(he wasn’t selected during his MVP year) and won his third Gold Glove. In the NLCS, he responded with a .333 average and two RBI’s, then in the World Series, he hit .345 with four RBI’s.
He had some prior hamstring injuries that slowed his play during his pro career and his knee problems resurfaced in 1980. There were also personal problems off the field that he played through. Parker had signed a rich contract after his 1978 season, $7mil over five seasons. He had the strong 1979 season, but from 1980 until 1982, he played just 279 games and fans who were used to his strong play, became disgruntled with the star. That became most evident when he had off-season knee surgery after 1980, and reported to camp overweight the following year. In the strike-shortened 1981 season, Parker hit just .258 with nine homers and 48 RBI’s, playing only 67 games.
During the last season of his big contract in 1983, Parker played 144 games, but at age 32 it looked as if he didn’t have much left in the tank. After hitting .279 with 12 homers and 69 RBI’s, The Cobra left via free agency, signing with the Cincinnati Reds. He would soon prove that he still had something left in that tank. During his second season in Cincy, Parker batted .312 with a career high 125 RBI’s. He led the league with 42 doubles and nearly won his second MVP award, finishing in second place in the voting. The next year for the Reds, he proved without a doubt, that he wasn’t finished as a player, participating in all 162 games that year. Parker drove in 116 runs, finished fifth in the MVP voting and made his second straight All-Star appearance.
After one more strong season for the Reds, Dave moved on to the American League, signing with the Oakland A’s. He went from the Lumber Company to the Bash Brothers, helping Oakland to two straight World Series appearances, winning his second championship during the 1989 season. Parker signed with the Brewers in 1990 and had one big year left. He hit .289 with 21 homers and 92 RBI’s as their designated hitter. He was selected to his seventh All-Star team and won his third Silver Slugger award. Dave split his last season(1991) between the Angels and Blue Jays.
Parker finished his career with a .290 average, 339 homers and 1493 RBI’s, to go along with 526 doubles, 2712 hits and 1272 runs scored. Despite the strong stats and numerous awards and recognitions during his career, Parker never garnered serious Hall of Fame consideration. The highest he finished was with 24.5% of the votes his second year on the ballot, well below the 75% needed to gain induction. While with Pittsburgh, Dave hit .305 with 166 homers and 758 RBI’s in 1301 games. He is fifth in team history in homers, ninth in slugging and tenth in RBI’s.