1972 would see the Cobra spend the season with the Salem Pirates, a “A” level outfit in the Carolina League. He hit .310 with 22 round-trippers and 101 RBI. His performance saw him join the “AAA” International League’s Charleston Charlies in 1973, where he hit .317 over 84 contests with nine home runs and 57 RBI. The season would see him split time between the Charlies and the mother ship, where he made his debut on April 21st, earning a hit in his only plate appearance in the seventh inning of a 10-9 loss to the Chicago Cubs. He eventually appeared in 54 games with the Bucs, hitting .288 with four home runs and 14 RBI (and drawing only two walks in 144 plate appearances). On September 15th, he hit a double and a home run, scoring twice with three RBI in a 7-4 win over the St. Louis Cardinals. The Pirates finished third in the National League East, at 80-82.
1974 would open for the Pirates with Parker on the active roster. He appeared in 73 games overall for the Bucs, hitting .282 with four home runs and 29 RBI filling in mostly in the first two and the last two months of the season. He played first base and all three outfield positions, batting in every spot except for the first and the last. His best game came in a 7-6 11-inning loss to the Cardinals on April 12th, as he went 4-for-6 with a double, a home run, and three RBI. The Pirates took home the NL East crown by 1.5 games over the Cards, finishing at 88-74. In losing the best-of-five NLCS to the Los Angeles Dodgers in four games, Parker went 1-for-8 in three appearances.
In 1975, Parker made a real impact on the National League, finishing third in the MVP vote. He played in 148 games, hitting .308 with a league leading .541 slugging percentage. He hit 35 doubles (NL eighth), 10 triples (NL second), 25 home runs (NL fifth), and 101 RBI (NL fifth). He also posted a 6.3 WAR amongst position players (NL fifth), an .898 OPS (NL third), 302 total bases (NL third), and a .973 fielding percentage in right field (NL fifth). Unfortunately, he also led the NL in RF errors (the first of many such dubious distinctions), with nine. From June 29th through July 19th, he hit safely in 16 straight games, going 26-for-63 (.413) with nine extra base hits and 12 RBI along the way. He hit in mostly the fourth, fifth, and sixth slots throughout the season. In the second game of a doubleheader on August 22nd, he hit a go-ahead home run with a man on in the bottom of the eighth inning in a 4-2 Pirates win over the Cincinnati Reds. Pittsburgh again won the NL East, at 92-69 finishing 6.5 games ahead of the Philadelphia Phillies. They were swept out of the NLCS by the Reds, as Parker went 0-for-10 with a walk.
1976 would see Parker finish 20th in the NL MVP balloting, hitting .313 (NL eighth) with a .475 SLG (NL eighth) and 28 doubles, 10 triples (NL third), 13 home runs and 90 RBI (NL seventh), along with 19 stolen bases over 138 games. He also led the league with 293 putouts and finished third with 12 right field assists (and a league leading 14 (!) errors). On May 1st, he went 4-for-5, scoring four times with a double, two round-trippers, and a total of five RBI in a 10-6 win against the San Diego Padres. The Pirates string of post-season appearances would come to an end, as the team missed the playoffs by nine games at 92-70, behind the Phillies.
In 1977, Parker again finished third in the NL MVP vote with his first all-star appearance and his first Gold Glove. He led the NL with 215 total hits, 44 doubles, and a .338 batting average. He also scored 107 runs (NL fifth), hit 21 home runs with 88 RBI, and stole 17 bases (out of 36 attempts, unfortunately) in 159 games (NL fourth). Additionally, he finished with 7.4 total WAR (NL seventh, third amongst position players), a .397 OBP (NL fifth), a .531 SLG (NL sixth), a .927 OPS (NL fifth), and 338 total bases (NL second). Defensively, he led the NL with 381 putouts, an incredible 26 assists from right field, nine double plays turned, and 15 errors. He finally found a permanent position in the batting order, taking his cuts in the three slot all season. On July 22nd, he hit a single and three doubles, scoring three times in an 8-7, 12-inning win over the Reds. The Bucs went 96-66, finishing five games behind the Phillies for the NL East title.
1978 would see Parker win the NL MVP by hitting a league leading .334 with 102 runs (NL third), 32 doubles, 12 triples (NL second), 30 home runs (NL third), and 117 RBI (NL second). He also stole a career high 20 bases and won his second Gold Glove. He led the NL with a .585 SLG, a .979 OPS, 340 total bases, 23 intentional base-on-balls, a 6.9 offensive WAR, and a 166 OPS+. In addition, he finished with 7.0 total WAR (NL second, first amongst position players), a .394 OBP (NL second), 304 putouts (NL third), and 12 assists (NL third). On August 8th, he went 5-for-5 with a double, a homer, three RBI and two runs scored in a 9-5 win over the Chicago Cubs. On September 19th, he went 4-for-6 with two home runs and four RBI in 12-11, 11-inning triumph over the Cubs. The Pirates missed the playoffs by 1.5 games to the Phillies, finishing at 88-73. Parker was rewarded with Major League Baseball’s first $1 million per season contract, signing on with the Bucs to the tune of 5 years, $5 million.
In 1979, Parker continued his hard-hitting ways, finishing 10th in the NL MVP vote, earning his second all-star selection, and winning his third Gold Glove in a row. According to Wikipedia:
During a game in 1979, a powerful hit he made to right field was very difficult to throw into the infield, because he had "knocked the cover off the ball." One of the seams on the ball ruptured, making nearly half of the cover come loose.
He hit .310 (NL seventh), scoring 109 runs (NL third), and hitting 45 doubles (NL third), seven triples, 25 home runs and 94 RBI (NL eighth). He also equaled his career high with 20 stolen bases (against only four times caught stealing). He finished with a 6.7 WAR rating (NL fifth overall, fourth as a position player), a .380 OBP (NL 10th), a .526 SLG (NL seventh), a .906 OPS (NL seventh), 327 total bases (NL second), 343 putouts (NL third), and 16 assists (NL second). On May 29th, he hit a home run and two doubles with three RBI and two runs scored in an 8-0 blanking of the Cubs. The Pirates won the NL East by two games at 98-64 over the Montreal Expos. Parker did much better in his third NLCS, collecting four singles and two walks in 14 plate appearances, scoring twice and knocking in two more as the Pirates eliminated the Reds in three straight games. In the Bucs seven game series win against the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series, Parker went 10-for-29 (.345) with three doubles and four RBI.
In 1980, Parker hit .295 over 139 games and earned his third all-star selection, and second in a row. ,He scored 71 runs, hitting 31 doubles and 17 home runs with 79 RBI. Although he posted a somewhat unremarkable offensive season, he continued to rank with the league leaders defensively, with 237 putouts (NL fifth), and 14 assists (NL second) from right field. On September 3rd, he went 4-for-4, going yard twice and knocking in five in a 10-4 win against the Houston Astros. The Pirates went 83-79, finishing in third place and missing the NL East title by eight games.
1981 would see Parker hit .258 in 67 games of the strike shortened season with 14 doubles, nine home runs, and 48 RBI. He made his fourth all-star roster and his third in a row. Although not his best season, he had a few notable performances, including a 4-for-4 performance with a triple, two runs and two RBI on April 28th in an 8-0 win over the New York Mets. On May 10th, he went 4-for-5 with a double, a home run, and three RBI as the Bucs beat the Cards, 8-2. On September 27th, he provided all of the Pirates offense in a 7-5 loss to St. Louis, hitting a double and a homer with five RBI. Pittsburgh was 46-56 on the season.
In 1982, Parker’s performance began to suffer due to injuries, a persistent weight problem, and cocaine use. He hit .270 in 73 contests, with 19 doubles, six home runs, and 29 RBI. For the first time in seven seasons, he didn’t earn a single MVP vote or an all-star nod. On July 15th, he went 3-for-4 with a home run and four RBI in a 5-1 victory over Houston. The Pirates finished the season in fourth place, at 84-78.
1983 would see Parker continue his performance, albeit over a larger sample size. He hit .279 over 144 games with 29 doubles, 12 home runs and 69 RBI. On July 25th, he hit a single, a double, and a home run with three RBI in a 6-3 win over San Diego. Pittsburgh went 84-78 again, finishing in second just six games behind Philadelphia. He was granted free agency after the season, and soon thereafter signed on with Cincinnati.
Parker played for four seasons as a Red (631 games, .281, 107 home runs, 432 RBI), later spending time with the Oakland Athletics (245 games, .261, 34 home runs, 152 RBI), the Milwaukee Brewers (157 games, .289, 21 home runs, 92 RBI), the California Angels (119 games, .232, 11 home runs, 56 RBI), and the Toronto Blue Jays (13 games, .333, three RBI).
After retiring following the 1991 season, Parker appeared on 15 all-star ballots from 1997-2011, always earning over 10% of the vote but never more than 25%. He currently owns several Popeye’s Chicken franchises in the greater Cincinnati area.
All-Time Statline: 11 seasons, 1301 games, 1479-for-4848, .305/.353/.494, 296 doubles, 62 triples, 166 home runs, 758 RBI, 123 stolen bases, 346 walks, 777 strikeouts, 33.0 WAR
Next up: A Hall-of-Fame third baseman who once led the NL with 42 sacrifice hits.