There's only one
thing bigger than me, and that's my ego," says the Pirates' Dave Parker.
"No, not really, but take Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente and match their
first five years up against mine, and they don't compare with me. When I have
trouble with my girl friend or there's something else I need to push aside, I
say, 'Wait 35 years and see if anybody comes along like me.' "
mild talk for Parker; sometimes he goes a step further and comes on like David,
Goliath, Paul Bunyan and Richard Pryor rolled into one. But he only does it
among friends. From a dais, upon receiving something like the National League
Most Valuable Player award, which he won hands down last season, Parker is more
likely to say, "It was a team effort. A lot of people had a part in
disparity between Parker's public and private utterances does not constitute a
contradiction, because he is just about everything he purports to be, including
a team man. In his own eyes and those of a majority of knowledgeable observers,
he is, at 27, the best all-round player in baseball—a base-stealing,
morale-building power hitter who has won two straight batting championships and
Gold Gloves. With a new contract worth more than $1 million a year, Parker is
also the highest-paid performer in team sports.
As for his team,
it has been seven years since the Pirates were in the World Series and last
season they drew fewer than a million fans for the first time since 1969. But
that doesn't make Parker an isolated star on an ignored team in an unglamorous
city. He reflects the influences of a long, irregular line of Pittsburgh
guys—Clemente, Willie Stargell, Bill Virdon, Dock Ellis, Joe L. Brown, Tom
Reich, to name just a few—and embodies the free-swinging tradition of
generations of Pirate line-drive hitters, who have generally been the best in
It was 1973, but
it could have been 1903 or yesterday, when Dodger Pitcher Don Sutton said,
"Each club has a special hitting personality. One club will watch your
delivery and say, 'Oh boy, here comes a fastball,' and they'll jump on it.
Others say, 'Oh boy, here's a changeup.' The Pirates just say, 'Oh boy, here
comes a baseball.' "
That's the way
Parker hits. "I be hacking at anything that go by, high, low or in
between," he says. "My approach is: see something I like and attack
it." That is also his approach to locker-room conversation. He will see
Shortstop Frank Taveras, for example, and yell, "Hey, Frank, you can't
And that is his
approach to playing rightfield. "He's like the 10th man in Softball out
there," says First Baseman Stargell. "On a ground ball he's backing up
first before I'm there to take the throw. We were both after a foul ball one
time with our arms outstretched, and we came together face to face like two big
pairs of scissors. It was the only time I ever kissed him. We hit and flew
apart by yards and yards." Parker covers second on infield pop-ups, he gets
involved in rundowns between second and third, he is everywhere. Pete Rose may
be Charlie Hustle, but Parker hustles just as hard and considerably faster.
On the bases,
too, he takes all he can get. Says Parker, "The highlight of the game to me
is scoring from first on a double in such a way that people look at me in
amazement, as if they're saying, 'My, how fast that big man can move.'
is—6'5", 230 pounds. His legs terminate, after a lengthy run, in an upper
body that looks like two Doberman pinschers bound tightly together. In addition
to his speed afoot, he has general quickness—hence his nickname, Cobra—and a
rifle arm. "He's one of those rare individuals who come along every 15 or
20 years," says Stargell. "Rare, and unique, and strong."
people who have been watching Parker since he came out of a rough Cincinnati
neighborhood nine years ago agree that it has not been just natural aptitude
that has made him what he is. It is a popular misconception, shared by Parker
himself, that the reason he was drafted so low—on the 14th round—by the Pirates
in 1970 was a knee injury he suffered in high school football. Actually, say
Pittsburgh Executive Vice-President Pete Peterson and scout Howie Haak, Parker,
who then seemed incapable of hitting a ball in the air, just didn't look like
all that much of a prospect. Furthermore, because he had a history of wrangling
with coaches, he was dismissed by some scouts as a "militant." "The
Reds had been watching him all along," says Haak. "They laughed at us
when we took him."