He was the first player in the Pirate clubhouse every morning. He'd run a mile and then spend half an hour on a stationary bicycle. He worked as hard as any of his teammates, and if fitness and Dave Parker had been strangers, they aren't now.
"His knees are perfect, his wrist is perfect, his thumb is perfect," says Pittsburgh Manager Chuck Tanner, recounting Parker's recent injuries. "His head is perfect as far as I'm concerned. He was the greatest player in the game, and I think he can be again."
Parker, only 31, played in just 140 games the last two seasons. Even in limited appearances he showed he could still hit (.264). "I'll tell you one thing," says Parker, "I'm not going to be half as courageous as I once was. I'm going to alter my style of play so I can stay in the lineup longer. No more diving catches, no more stealing bases for stats, no more stretching singles into doubles—that's unless I want to spark the team."
The Pirates did surprisingly well even though Parker had only 244 at bats last year. "That was the best team I've ever managed," says the ever-buoyant Tanner. "Nobody expected us to do anything, and we were in the race until the last two weeks."
In the off-season the Pirates lost Omar Moreno to Houston money and will replace him with one of two Lees, Mazzilli or Lacy. Each has his liabilities: Mazzilli can't throw, and Lacy can't throw to the right base. Both lack the range of Moreno, a centerfielder who covered a third of left and a third of right.
Gone also is Willie Stargell, which means Parker and Bill Madlock, the new captain, will have to fill that considerable spiritual void. "We're going to definitely miss Pops when things go bad," says Madlock. "We'd be on a losing streak, and he'd come in and say, 'Hey, let's have a team party,' and the next thing you know, we'd relax and start winning."
Stargell's departure may help clear up the impression that the Pirates are an old team. Madlock, who should know something about time because he collects antique clocks, says, "We're a lot younger than people think. I'm the oldest regular, and I'm only 32."
If the Pirates have a worry, it's pitching. "We've got some great arms," says Tanner, but they're fragile. John Candelaria, Rick Rhoden, Larry McWilliams, Don Robinson and Jim Bibby—all of whom Pittsburgh is counting on—each recently suffered from a sore arm. Lee Tunnell, a rookie who beat Fernando Valenzuela 1-0 last September, will help. The relief pitching, with Kent Tekulve and Rod Scurry, is so solid that the Pirates yawned when Enrique Romo said he was going to stay in Mexico.
Pittsburgh's interest in Parker is something else. "Please, just let me stay healthy," he says, "and the rest will take care of itself."