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They didn't laugh for very long thereafter. Parker was an immediate minor league star, and from the beginning he soaked up instruction, thought on his feet and worked hard. Bill Virdon, as a Pirate coach and then the team's manager, pushed the youthful Parker through exhaustive seminars on the fine points of outfielding, and although the Cobra didn't have to be taught to attack pitches with Piratical zest, he acknowledges the value of tips from Stargell and Batting Coach Bob Skinner.
Pirate players also helped bring Parker along. "I idolized Clemente in some ways," Parker says. "In spring training of '71 I worked out with him in the outfield. He would say, 'Wooo, I used to be able to throw like that.' I found that to be a relaxing thing.
"And Stargell took me under his wing. He is a soft-spoken, very kind individual, 24-karat gold. In '71, when I was playing A ball and he was hitting 48 home runs for Pittsburgh, I read where people would tell him he was going great, and he would say there was a guy in the minor leagues going to rewrite the record books." Parker hasn't forced the statisticians to stop the presses yet, but his claim about being better than Mays and Clemente were at the same juncture in their careers, while not wholly accurate, gives a good idea of how close Parker has come to fulfilling Stargell's brash prediction. After five full seasons, he has a .320 batting average, 93 homers and 425 RBIs, far better than Clemente's .282, 26 and 237 if not quite on a par with Mays' .314, 183 and 486.
"And Dock Ellis," says Parker. "The first time I saw Dock, here he comes in white pants with a purple stripe down the side, a purple suede jacket with spangles hanging and a little band around his head. He was wearing about four rings." Parker is more into earth tones—he has a brown Mercedes with brown bearskin upholstery—but Ellis' flamboyance encouraged him not to repress his own vocal outrageousness.
From the beginning Parker was a big-talking kid, but the Pirates didn't resent him. "That goes back to Joe L. Brown, when he was general manager," says Ellis, who now pitches for the Rangers. "He always told us, 'Make the new ones feel at home.' And we did."
Ellis also did Parker a good turn economically, by introducing him to Tom Reich, the Pittsburgh lawyer whose firm negotiates contracts for about 50 players including Joe Morgan and George Foster of Cincinnati and J. R. Richard of Houston. Reich, who for all of his wide-ranging associations refers to the Pirates as "we," counseled Parker before Parker could afford to pay him, and this winter he saw to it that the Pirates made the Cobra a rich man. "We wanted to make sure Dave was financially secure for life, but not set in concrete," says Reich. When Parker's five-year, $7 million commitment with the Pirates is up, he will be only 32.
"I could make more money in another city," says Parker, "but I want to know where my roots are. And the Pirates are different. In the clubhouse, the Dodgers couldn't take me. The Yankees, with the situation the way it is now on that team, they couldn't take me.
"I'm verbal. I verbalize to get up for the game. I got to get in there and air it out. 'I'm wall to wall and treetop tall. Two things for sure, the sun's gonna shine and I'm going 3 for 4.'
"The great Ali says the reason he talks a lot is that he puts himself on the line and then has to go out and back it up. I push myself in that regard.