MARCH 22, 1971
He was one of the finest fielding first basemen ever, the winner of six consecutive Gold Gloves from 1967 through 1972 and a key member of the Koufax-Drysdaleled Los Angeles Dodgers team that won the 1965 World Series, yet Wes Parker always had other passions to pursue. On road trips he would haunt rare book stores before heading to the ballpark, and, during home stands, he would often tell friend and teammate Maury Wills what a shame it was that they rarely saw a summer sunset outside Chavez Ravine. "I always wished I could have been more satisfied with just playing baseball," says Parker, who retired at age 32, after the 1972 season.
Today Parker frequents auction houses to maintain his collection of vintage movie posters—he has 60, all framed and hanging in his house in Pacific Palisades, Calif.—as well as first-edition books, French advertising posters from the late 1800s and handwritten letters by pre-World War II Hall of Famers such as Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner. Parker's baseball career could also be described as a collection of rarities. In 1965 and '66 he and Wills, Jim Lefebvre and Junior Gilliam formed the major leagues' only all-switch-hitting infield. Parker hit for the cycle on May 7, 1970, and went on that season to drive in 111 runs while hitting just 10 homers. His .996 career fielding percentage ties him with Steve Garvey, Don Mattingly and J.T. Snow for the best ever.
"In the beginning it was so magical to travel to the ballparks I had heard Vin Scully describe on the radio and to play with guys I grew up admiring," says Parker. "I used to go to Dodgers games with my dad. I'd watch Gil Hodges, and my dad would say, 'Just think, son, maybe one day you'll be out here.' " After nine seasons, though, Parker grew tired of traveling and tired of playing for a team that hadn't won a pennant for six years and walked away from the game. He spent the first 15 years after his retirement working as a broadcaster and an actor—he had a role in an episode of The Brady Bunch, and was a regular on the late-'70s show All That Glitters. By the mid-'80s, he was hosting the Dodger Talk program for KABC radio and immersing himself in his collecting.
Parker is now writing his autobiography and doing volunteer work at the Braille Institute in Los Angeles. He also coaches at Dodgers fantasy camps and makes appearances through the team's speaker's bureau. "I'm hugely grateful for what I learned and the people I met through baseball," he says, "but you can find that same fulfillment-teaching, entertaining and bringing joy to someone—in other areas of life. You just have to plumb your depths."