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The Cobra, who signed as a free agent two days before Baylor became a coach, has been nicknaming people and things at every stop in his 18-year career. He used to stroll the base paths after first stopping to admire his prodigious dingers. He called his endless victory lap The Thing. And while Parker has performed The Thing 311 times in his career, through Sunday he had done it only four times this season—twice last weekend against Toronto. He is slapping doubles and singles as he did 12 years ago, when he won his second consecutive batting title, with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Thing has been replaced by frequent appearances of The Fling, a new base-on-balls trot. With theatrical disdain, Parker tosses his bat nearly to the dugout on ball four, fixes his eyes on the offending invertebrate on the mound and fairly crawls to first, via a detour that takes him near the top step of the first-base dugout. "That's because I get ticked off when I walk," Parker explains. "I believe a pitcher should challenge a hitter."
If that means being dusted, Parker expects it. Which is why the day after the Seattle Mariners' Brian Holman brushed back Sheffield at County Stadium, Parker was showing Sheffield during warmups how to properly return to the batter's box after such an indignity. "Jump back in there," said Parker, jumping. "You waited too long." Never mind that Sheffield had doubled on the pitch that followed the brushback; Parker had him jumping out of—and immediately back into—an imaginary batter's box for the next 30 seconds. When he was finished, Parker said, "You got to be the intimidator."
To that end, the Brewers have been swinging a sledgehammer in the on-deck circle, reviving a tradition Willie Stargell brought to Pittsburgh years ago. The Brewers say that the hammer is heavier than the on-deck-circle doughnut and helps to strengthen the players' wrists, but it doesn't hurt that the hammer makes even the puniest Milwaukee batter look like the Purdue Boilermaker, to say nothing of what it does for Parker. "Intimidation is a big part of my game," he says.
His numbers have been frightening enough—22 home runs and 97 RBIs for last year's world champions. Parker has won two baiting titles, three Gold Gloves and one National League MVP award. "He's a player with a pedigree," says Trebelhorn. "He's been on winners in three different cities. He's been on world championship clubs in two different leagues. He's gone through the best of times a player could have, and he's gone through times...times when it's been tough."
In 1985, when Parker, then playing for the Cincinnati Reds, admitted that he had used cocaine while playing for Pittsburgh, commissioner Peter Ueberroth threatened Parker with suspension for a year but let him off with a $100,000 fine and 200 hours of community service. Parker then was sued in 1986 by the Pirates, who wanted to stop deferred payments of $5.3 million that they owed him. "They said they didn't get their money's worth out of me, and I'm the best player in baseball six of the 10 years I'm there," Parker says. The suit was eventually settled out of court.
Parker's eyes well with tears. He is in the same clubhouse that five minutes earlier had been gleefully hooting as he reeled off his nicknames. "It was a modern-day lynching," he says of the Pirates' lawsuit. "A modern-day lynching."
In a minute the interview is over, and Parker takes to the field. Never mind that he will not be in the lineup tonight. It is one of those evenings when only Parker's presence is required, an evening that makes "this leadership thing," as he and George Bush call it, so obviously pleasing to him—even if he rarely admits it.
"He's like a second father to me," says Sheffield, a comment which Parker quickly tries to pooh-pooh. "I just came here and tried to be me," says Parker. "Some people think that provides leadership."
In the same breath Parker will tell you that his career has come both "full circle" and changed "180 degrees." As he was with Pittsburgh in the 1970s, he is among the hottest hitters in baseball; and on the other side of the circle from his 11 years at Three Rivers Stadium, Parker is now the man who steadies the clubhouse of a team in contention.