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Parker thrived, entertained over great career

MLB.com @JALaymance

Over the course of February, which is Black History Month, MLB Network and MLB.com are looking back at some of the most prominent African-American players in MLB history. Today, we look back on the career of Dave Parker.

Parker was one of baseball's most talented and entertaining players during his 19-year big league career, which began with the Pirates in 1973. An imposing figure on the baseball diamond, Parker was nicknamed "Cobra" because of his 6-foot-5, 230-pound frame.

Over the course of February, which is Black History Month, MLB Network and MLB.com are looking back at some of the most prominent African-American players in MLB history. Today, we look back on the career of Dave Parker.

Parker was one of baseball's most talented and entertaining players during his 19-year big league career, which began with the Pirates in 1973. An imposing figure on the baseball diamond, Parker was nicknamed "Cobra" because of his 6-foot-5, 230-pound frame.

Faced with the difficult task of replacing Pirates legend Roberto Clemente in right field, Parker made a name for himself during 11 productive seasons in Pittsburgh, where he won consecutive National League batting titles (1977-78) and the '78 NL Most Valuable Player Award before helping the "We Are Family" Bucs capture a World Series championship in '79. He represented the Pirates in four All-Star Games.

An outspoken player with a big personality, Parker famously declared during the 1977 and '78 seasons, "When the leaves turn brown, I'll be wearing the batting crown." And he backed it up.

Parker's exploits extended beyond Pittsburgh, however, as he spent four seasons with the Reds and two with the A's before stints with the Brewers, Angels and Blue Jays. He slugged 339 career home runs and had 1,493 RBIs, while totaling 2,712 hits and batting .290 with an .810 OPS.

Video: Parker on career and hopes to make the Hall of Fame

In Cincinnati, his hometown, Parker was twice named an All-Star and won a pair of Silver Slugger Awards, logging two top-five NL MVP finishes, in 1985 and '86. He was later elected to the Reds Hall of Fame in the Class of 2014.

Parker earned the last of his seven All-Star nods with the Brewers in 1990, when he hit .289 with 21 homers and 89 RBIs in his age-39 season.

"The Cobra" was more than a slugger, though, and he followed Clemente's Pirates legacy as a strong all-around player, winning three NL Gold Glove Awards from 1977-79.

Parker certainly had the arm strength to play right field, a skill that helped him earn MVP honors at the 1979 All-Star Game. Parker showcased his rocket arm in the Midsummer Classic by throwing out future Hall of Famer Jim Rice at third base and Angels catcher Brian Downing at home plate. Parker also had a sacrifice fly.

Video: 1979: Parker throws Downing out at home

Of course, Parker's legend began in the batter's box.

The story goes that while in the Minor Leagues, Parker hit a home run in West Virginia that landed in a coal car on a passing train. The ball was eventually picked up about 150 miles away in Columbus, Ohio, when the train finally stopped.

During a Pirates game in 1979, Parker literally knocked the cover off a ball on a hit to right field, rupturing one of the seams.

Perhaps most importantly, Parker was a trailblazer for others. He became the first professional baseball player to average more than $1 million a year in salary when he signed a five-year contract with the Pirates in advance of the 1979 season.

Austin Laymance is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JALaymance.