Reds remember Parker as 'big hand' in rebuild
'I think he should be in the Hall of Fame,' says Brennaman of slugger, who raked during 4-year Cincy tenure
Before bidding adieu to the Hot Stove season, we asked our 30 beat reporters to look back at their club's past and answer the following question: Who is the best free-agent signing in the team's history?
We narrowed the choices with the following parameters: The signings had to be multiyear contracts, to exclude fluky one-year deals and to focus on players who got real commitments. And contract extensions don't count. Only instances when every team in the league had a chance to bid on the player were allowed, including international free agents who received Major League contracts.
CINCINNATI -- As the free-agent era took hold in the 1970s, the Reds were way late to the party. Even after the Big Red Machine dismantled, the club didn't make a big expenditure until after it had back-to-back losing seasons in 1982-83.
But Cincinnati's first significant signing proved to be the best in franchise history -- Dave Parker.
On Dec. 7, 1983, Parker was signed to a two-year contract worth $2,070,000 by the Reds after he spent his first 11 seasons with the Pirates. In Pittsburgh, he had won a World Series in 1979 and the National League MVP Award in 1978. But he was also tarnished during the early 1980s by his implication in a drug scandal that rocked baseball.
Parker, who grew up in Cincinnati and graduated from Courter Tech High School in 1970, was able to get his career back on track in his hometown.
"I've come full-circle on him. One time, I thought he might be a borderline Hall of Famer," Reds longtime radio voice Marty Brennaman, the 2000 Ford Frick Award winner, said this week. "Now, I think he should be in the Hall of Fame. Looking at his body of work in Pittsburgh and his big hand in the rejuvenation of the Reds after the bad years of the early 1980s, I endorse him and the contributions he made to this franchise. He was a great player."
During his four-year tenure with the Reds that totaled 631 games, Parker batted .281/.334/.469 with 107 home runs, 432 RBIs and a 4.7 WAR. He was a two-time All-Star, a two-time Silver Slugger Award winner and the team MVP from 1984-86. Cincinnati finished second in the NL West from 1985-87.
One of the best seasons of Parker's career came in 1985, when he batted .312 while setting career highs with 34 homers, an NL-leading 125 RBIs and also leading that league with 350 total bases. After the season, he finished second in NL MVP voting to Willie McGee of the Cardinals.
"The guy was a machine," said Rick Walls, the executive director of the Reds' Hall of Fame. "He had all the things you look for to rally around. The impact was there. You couldn't ask for a better guy during a rebuilding period."
After the 1985 season, Parker re-signed with the Reds on a three-year, $3.325 million contract. He didn't finish the deal with Cincinnati, which traded him to the A's on Dec. 8, 1987, for pitchers Jose Rijo and Tim Birtsas. Rijo would emerge as the rotation ace and key member of the 1990 World Series-winning team.
Besides his numbers, Parker proved to be a valuable team leader. That included his taking a future Hall of Famer in shortstop Barry Larkin under his wing during the 1986-87 seasons. Larkin credited a postgame conversation with Parker and Eric Davis for getting him to perform at a higher level.
"They noticed I wasn't playing with the urgency and the confidence that they knew I had within me," Larkin said during his 2012 Hall of Fame induction.
"[Parker] was a tremendous influence in the clubhouse," Brennaman noted. "He was the epitome of what you want a veteran player to be, especially when surrounded by young players.
The Reds inducted Parker into their Hall of Fame in 2014.
Jeff Brantley: Originally signed for one year before the 1994 season before re-signing as a free agent during the '94 strike for two more years at $2.5 million, Brantley remained in Cincinnati through '97. He had a 2.64 ERA and 88 saves, including a club-record 44 saves in 1996.
Pete Harnisch: The starter battled back from depression issues the previous year and signed a one-year, $300,000 deal with the Reds before the 1998 season. During his 14-win season, when he had a 3.14 ERA, he extended for two more years at $7 million. He went 16-10 with a 3.68 ERA in '99.
Francisco Cordero: When signed to a four-year, $46 million contract in November 2007, it was the largest contract ever for a reliever at the time. Cordero stayed all four years and had a 2.96 ERA and 150 saves over 283 appearances.
Albertin Chapman: Not a traditional free agent, Chapman was signed out of Cuba in 2010 for a $30 million deal. A curiosity when he arrived, he brought immediate electricity and a velocity that once reached a record 105 mph. The left-hander had a 2.17 ERA, 146 saves and a 15.4 strikeouts-per-nine-innings ratio in six seasons with Cincinnati.