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The Hall of Fame Case for Dave Parker

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On Sunday, December 8, the Modern Baseball Era committee of the Baseball Hall of Fame, which includes candidates whose primary contributions to baseball came between 1970-87, will vote on candidates for the 2020 induction class. Between now and then we will take a look at the ten candidates, one-by-one, to assess their Hall worthiness.

Next up: Dave Parker

 

The case for his induction:

Dave Parker was the 1978 National League MVP, a two-time batting champion and a seven-time All-Star who, for a couple of years there in the late 1970s, was considered the best player in the game. Really, if, during spring training in 1979, you asked 100 baseball fans who the top guy in all of Major League Baseball was, I’m convinced that at least 80 of ’em would’ve said Parker and the others would’ve been wrong.

The Cobra may not have been the first guy referred to as a five-tool player, but he was one. He hit, hit for decent power, could run some — he stole 20 bases three times — was a good enough glove man to win multiple Gold Gloves and, in what is thanks to YouTube the best-known part of his game today, he had an absolute howitzer for an arm:

As for the stats, he was a .290/.339/.471 hitter, smacked 339 homers, drove in 1,493 runs, and had a career WAR of 40.1. In addition to those two batting titles, he led the National League in slugging in 1975, led the league in hits and doubles in 1977, led it in on-base percentage, slugging, OPS+, total bases and intentional walks in 1978, led the league in doubles, RBI, total bases, and intentional walks in 1985, and led it in games and total bases in 1986. He picked up Silver Slugger Awards in 1985, 1986, and 1990.

 

The case against his induction:

Notice the big gap up there when I mention the years in which he led the league in stuff? That coincided with him falling off a dang cliff for five seasons — 1980 through 1984 — right in the middle of his career. His 1975-79 seasons were definitely good enough to constitute a Hall of Fame peak, but those five lost seasons right after that are when he could have, but didn’t, pad out his resume with some good, just-off-peak seasons like most Hall of Famers do.

That little Parker renaissance when he joined the Cincinnati Reds in the mid-80s was nice, but in a lot of ways it was overrated. His best year with the Reds, 1985, was only the fifth best season of his career by most measures and his next-best year with the Reds, 1986, was actually kind of bad for him, with his RBI totals having less to do with how well he hit and more to do with Eric Davis, Buddy Bell, Tracy Jones, Kal Daniels and some other high-OBP guys in the lineup with him. He’d have some other high points late in his career — I think most people forget that he was a pretty useful slugger for the 1990 Brewers — but in all he was only a great player for six years out of a 19-year career, and his less-than-great seasons were far less than great far too often.

The reason for that mid-career swoon is well-documented, of course. Parker suffered from numerous injuries, weight problems and, yes, cocaine abuse. Indeed, after his second season with the Reds he was the biggest star to testify in the Pittsburgh drug trials, during which he was named as one of the defendant dealers’ biggest users back when he was with the Pirates. Parker admirably kicked his drug habit and had a second act of his career that lesser players who went through what he went through may not have been able to manage, but the damage to the broader arc of his career and his Hall of Fame case was done.

Would I vote for him?

He falls short for me.

Parker’s prime was fantastic, but it was too short to carry a peak-heavy, Sandy Koufax-style Hall of Fame candidacy and the fact that he was in the wilderness for a good five or six years harmed his overall career value.  If that hadn’t happened — if he had kept himself in shape and off the blow during what should have been the prime-to-late-prime of his career — sure, we’d be having a different conversation right now. Indeed, we’d probably be talking about one of the greatest players to ever play the game.

But it didn’t go down like that and one’s Hall of Fame candidacy should not be judged on potential. In the end, Parker had less overall career value than his 1978 MVP counterpart Jim Rice did, and Jim Rice is a pretty low bar all things considered.

 

Will the Committee vote for him?

I don’t think so. He hasn’t gotten much love from them in the past, that’s for sure. Maybe if he was the best guy on a Modern Baseball Era ballot he might, but there are multiple men on this year’s ballot with stronger cases.