'Cobra' not letting Parkinson's hold him back

'I'm a battler,' says 1978 National League MVP Award winner

March 31st, 2017

CINCINNATI -- He was known as "The Cobra." Dave Parker was an intimidating force when he wielded that 37-ounce bat during the 1970s and '80s for six Major League teams, including the Pirates and Reds. Who could forget that cannon of an arm -- the same arm that threw out Jim Rice and Brian Downing in the '79 All-Star Game, earning Most Valuable Player honors?

Fast forward to 2017: Parker, 65, is no longer the intimidator. This time, he is a fighter, battling Parkinson's disease since '12. Parker didn't know what Parkinson's was about until after being diagnosed. The disease runs on the father's side of the family.

Parker said he would not have been the battler that he is if not for Kellye, his wife of 34 years. Parker calls her the backbone of the family. Kellye's influence didn't start when Parker became ill. During Parker's playing days, it was Kellye who would help her husband get out of hitting slumps. As Parker put it, Kellye knew his batting stance better than he did.

"Kellye is a great wife, great caretaker, great grandmother," Parker said in an interview with the MLB.com podcast, "Newsmakers." "I don't think I can make it without her. I love her dearly. She handles a lot of my business matters. I turned that over to her. She fits right in. ... She is in my world for the betterment of me."

Parker vows Parkinson's disease will not stop him from enjoying life. He still does autograph sessions and speaking engagements. During the winter, Parker does an eight-week program at the Urban Youth Academy, which is across the street from his house.

Sometimes, Parker will talk shop with Major League hitters. One time, for example, he helped Braves second baseman with his swing. Parker felt that Phillips squatted too much in the batter's box and should straighten up a little more. He had a better chance of hitting the top half of the ball.

Parker was recently scheduled to present with his National League Gold Glove Award in Pittsburgh during the Pirates' home opener against the Braves next week, but he decided not to go. Instead, he is taking Kellye on a cruise.

"I'm a battler," Parker said. "... You have to do things, stay active. That's what I try to do. I've been as close to normal as possible."

Parker also deals with the Dave Parker 39 Foundation. He trying to make people aware of Parkinson's disease and help raise money for a cure. As he put it: "It's a heck of a thing to deal with."

There are days Parker can't believe he is dealing with the dreaded disease. This is "the Cobra" we are talking about. From 1977-79, Parker was considered the best player in baseball, winning an NL MVP Award in '78. He could do it all on the baseball field. Parker was a big guy, but he was a five-tool player.

"Great player, power hitter, one of the best arms I've ever seen," said Hall of Famer Tim Raines. "He ran pretty good, too. He was an All-Star player and a good guy as well."

Parker is not shy about saying how good he was on the field.

"I look back on my career and where I'm at now," Parker said. "I realize I was the guy, a stud. The best player in baseball. Now I'm having problems buttoning my shirt. It's one of those things where you have to take the good with the bad."

There are no signs of Parker's baseball success in his beautiful Cincinnati home. However, he has a handful of trophies that belong to his grandchildren. Talk to Parker, and he doesn't mind telling you that he put up numbers that were good enough to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. That's his biggest goal before his life is over.

Besides winning two batting titles, an NL MVP Award, three Gold Glove Awards and three Silver Slugger Awards, Parker played 19 years in the big leagues, hitting .290 with 339 home runs and 1,493 RBIs. Don't forget he was the designated hitter of the year in 1989 and '90.

"I think there are people who have numbers in the Hall of Fame -- my numbers surpass theirs," Parker said. "I would like to get elected for my grandchildren. My mark is on baseball. I think people are beginning to realize I'm one of the best players ever.

"I ran out every ground ball. I ran hard. I was a leader. I was the guy or one of the guys on every team that I played with. In the latter part of my career, I became a hired gun. I was the one guy that got them over the hump."