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
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.
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
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.
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 got Parker
started keeping a book on pitchers. There is wild free-swinging and then there
is informed free-swinging. Parker charts the "patterns" of every
pitcher he hacks away against.
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 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.'
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.