SAN DIEGO – Last week, Dave Parker sat in PNC Park’s Hyundai Club, surrounded by family and former teammates, and watched his life play out on televisions all around the room. Parker was back in Pittsburgh for a screening of MLB Network’s “The Cobra at Twilight” documentary, which chronicled his remarkable career and his current battle with Parkinson’s disease.
Afterward, somebody asked Parker how he was feeling only a few days before he could be elected to the Hall of Fame. Parker responded with his trademark confidence – but admitted he’ll have to come to terms with the idea that his story won’t end in Cooperstown.
“I done did everything that I could do toward making the Hall of Fame. If I don’t make it, I doubt if I’ll do it again,” Parker said. “The numbers are there. I was reflected in baseball as one of the No. 1 players of my era. You can’t do no more.”
But apparently, it wasn’t enough. Parker was not elected into the Hall of Fame through the Modern Baseball Era ballot, after the results were revealed on Sunday. The Cobra, one of the most feared sluggers of his era and a two-time World Series champion, was once again denied entry into the Hall of Fame.
Among 10 candidates on the ballot, catcher Ted Simmons and late union leader Marvin Miller were elected, appearing on at least 75 percent of the 16 ballots cast in the small-committee process. Along with Parker, Dwight Evans, Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Thurman Munson, Dale Murphy and Lou Whitaker did not reach the threshold. Parker received seven votes, or 43.8 percent.
The Modern Baseball Era ballot considers candidates whose primary contributions to baseball were between 1970-87. Parker previously missed one chance on that ballot, in 2017, when he received fewer than half the votes – well short of the 75 percent he needed. Before that, he spent 15 years on the BBWAA ballot and never received more than 24.5 percent of the vote.
Parker’s candidacy may have been held back by his lack of milestone counting stats and his admitted usage of cocaine while playing. As great as he was for a time, his career Wins Above Replacement total (40.1) is roughly 30 below the average Hall of Fame right fielder. He fell short of 3,000 hits and 400 home runs, and he wasn’t a career .300 hitter. Those round numbers tend to matter in voters’ eyes, even if Parker’s numbers were unquestionably better than 2019 Today’s Game inductee Harold Baines.
But nobody denies that Parker was one of the best players of his era -- least of all Parker, whose trademark swagger still occasionally shines through at age 68.
“I think it’s all political. I’m the best damn player that they had in my era,” Parker said. “I did all I could do.”
Parker has the hardware of a Hall of Famer. He was a seven-time All-Star, a two-time World Series champion (1979 with the Pirates, ’89 with the A’s), the '78 National League MVP Award winner, a three-time Gold Glove Award and Silver Slugger Award winner, a two-time NL batting champ, the NL RBI leader in '85 and the All-Star Game MVP in ’79.
During his 19-year career, Parker batted .290 with 2,712 hits, 339 home runs and 1,493 RBIs. He enjoyed an incredible peak with the Pirates from 1975-79, batting .321/.377/.532 with 114 homers, 490 RBIs and four top-10 NL MVP finishes. He revitalized his career with his hometown Reds in the mid-80s, batting .281/.334/.469 with 107 homers, 432 RBIs and two top-five MVP finishes from 1984-87. He was an All-Star for the Brewers in 1990, 13 years after his first appearance in the Midsummer Classic.
Parker was more than just a player, though. He was a personality, the Muhammad Ali of baseball, unforgettable and impossible to duplicate. He dressed with style and, occasionally, in a T-shirt that read: “If you hear any noise, it’s just me and the boys boppin.” He was a key part of the 1979 “We Are Family” Pirates, still the last group of World Series champs to play in Pittsburgh.
In today’s era, with MLB saying “Let the kids play” and encouraging young stars to “play loud,” Parker might have fit in perfectly. He famously declared, “When the leaves turn brown, I’ll be wearing the batting crown.” And he’d boldly predict, “There’s only three things for sure today: The sun’s going to shine, the wind’s going to blow, and Dave’s going 4-for-4.”