"I'm sorry, my wrist is broken, I can't write." - Dave Parker, to my mom when she asked him for an autograph for her sons, 1988. His left wrist was broken. He wrote right-handed.
2466 G, 2712 H, 339 HR, 1493 RBI, .290 AVG, 154 SB
The Cobra is one of those cautionary tales that needs to be told to any young potential superstar. Dave Parker went from being one of baseball's elite to just another player for several years, before finally getting things back together later in his career. Ultimately, it's that down period that brings into question his Hall of Fame candidacy.
Parker was placed in what most would consider an unenviable position: replacing the late Roberto Clemente, one of Pittsburgh's most beloved sport figures ever. He spent 1973-74 shuttling between the big club and the minors, finally staying up for good in August of '74. Then in 1975 he broke out as a bona fide superstar, hitting .308 with 25 HR and 101 RBI's, leading the Bucs to the NL East division title and finishing 3rd in the NL MVP voting. Parker also brought with him an outfield arm that was second to none.
He slipped a little in 1976, but for the next three years he established himself as arguably the best player in baseball. His average season over those three years was about a .324 average, 25 HR, 100 RBI, and 19 steals, and won the 1978 NL MVP. During those years, the Pirates stayed at the top of their division, finally breaking out in 1979 when the "We Are Familee" squad won the World Series.
And then...everything just fell apart. Somewhere in the late 70's-early 80's, he developed a serious cocaine habit. Eventually it caught up with him, through lack of production, weight gain, and near constant injuries. He became an enemy of the Pittsburgh fan base, eventually leading him to sign with the Reds in 1984. The Cobra enjoyed a career resurgence during his Cincinnati years, highlighted by his 1985 campaign, where he hit .312 with 34 HR and 125 RBI, led the Reds to the brink of the playoffs, and should have won the MVP award over Willie McGee.
By 1987, however, he had become more of a one-dimensional slugger, hitting over .280 just once after that point. He bounced around to several teams before calling it a career in 1991.
So, what to make of Parker's career? Well, his .290 career average, among Hall of Fame right fielders, is better than only Dave Winfield, Reggie Jackson, and Harry Hooper (who I profess to know nothing about so I'll leave that alone). But, both Winfield and Jackson were far better sluggers than he, and his 339 home runs is not spectacular, more middle of the pack. Because he didn't walk much, his .339 OBP would be the worst among Hall-worthy RF's. Additionally, baseballreference.com lists Luis Gonzalez as the player most similar to Parker in history. That's not really a ringing endorsement for the Hall.
Parker suffers from the same issues as several other players in this class. He can claim a period of time where he was among the best in the game, but that period wasn't long enough, and wasn't surrounded by enough quality to warrant induction. Had the drugs not taken their toll, and had he been able to stretch his dominant streak another 2-3 years, we could have been looking at a 3,000 hit, 400 HR, 200 SB, .300 AVG hitter with multiple MVP's. But he didn't, and the voters are certainly not going to give him credit for a self-inflicted condition. I would not give him a vote for the Hall of Fame.