A Case for the Cobra: Should Dave Parker Be In The HOF?

By Joe Smeltzer and Ryan Simpson

Dave Parker had one of the coolest nicknames in baseball history, and was a pretty good player too. In fact, for a few years, it looked like “The Cobra” might go down as one of baseball’s greats.  

At the age of 28, Parker, standing at 6’4 with a physical build that many NFL players would envy, looked like a lock for the Hall of Fame. Playing right field at Three Rivers Stadium, young David seemed to be the Steve Young to Roberto Clemente’s Joe Montana. Like Young, Parker didn’t have a prayer at capturing the heart of a city the way his predecessor did. Nonetheless, Pittsburgh fans seemed destined to, with little interruption, be blessed to go 30+ years watching two all-time greats play right field. Then the ‘80s happened.  

After the Pirates won their most recent world title in 1979, the franchise began to go down the tube. Gradually, Parker, went down with them. In 1978, Parker’s MVP season, his OPS+ was 166, 66 points above the league average. In 1983, it was below the league average at 97. After that season, Parker, now fatter, left Pittsburgh, and many Pirates fans who had grown accustomed to jeering and, in at least one shameful display, throwing batteries at their right fielder, were happy to see him go. 

But Parker bounced back after leaving the Pittsburgh, playing seven more seasons with the Reds, A’s and Brewers, and winning a second world series in 1989 as part of Oakland’s famous “Bash Brothers” offense. Now, a question that has kept popping up for almost three decades is this; should Dave Parker be in the Hall of Fame?  

The closest he’s has gotten to the Hall of Fame was a measly 24% of the vote, more than 50% below the requirement for induction. The only chance Parker has now is through the veterans committee. Pirates fans, who by in large remember Parker more for his good days than his bad, seem to agree that The Cobra deserves his due. But what do the numbers say? I’ll leave that part to COMON Networks own Ryan Simpson. 

Ryan: The easiest player to compare Parker to is Harold Baines. Baines was recently inducted into via the Veteran’s committee after falling off the BBWAA ballot. The best year on that ballot for Baines was 6.1%. Here is a side-by-side comparison: 

Career Comparison: Parker v. Baines

It’s close, but Parker leads in the important categories; let this also serve as a reminder that Baines played 22 seasons while Parker played 19. If you take a 162-game average from both players to normalize this service time gap, you will see that Cobra had the better numbers: 

162 Game Averages: Parker v. Baines

One of Parker’s talents that helped the Clemente comparison was his lethal arm. Obviously, I can’t use Baines here since he was mostly a designated hitter, so enter Bobby Bonds. Bonds isn’t a Hall of Famer, but was a true outfielder for 14 seasons. Both Bonds and Parker were voted Gold Glove winners three times in their careers and played during the same general era. Here is how Parker and Bonds matchup: 

Defensive Stats: Parker v. Bonds

*Link to TZ definition: https://library.fangraphs.com/defense/tz-tzl/* 

In addition to these stats, Parker passes the “traditional” awards test with two MVPs, seven All-Star Game appearances, three silver sluggers and two batting titles. Guy was a force to be reckon with. From a numbers standpoint, Dave Parker deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.

Joe: But I’d argue that the main reason Parker isn’t in the Hall of Fame isn’t because of numbers. It’s because of narcotics. White lines were a huge deal in America in the 1980s, and baseball players did nothing to help the problem. In 1985, two years after Parker left the Pirates, the city he left behind held one of the most damaging trials in the history of the sport, with cocaine at the forefront.  

Parker was one of several Pirates who were named as frequent cocaine users, according to an article published by the Chicago Tribune in 1985.  

There are other examples of drug use interfering with players’ Hall of Fame chances. Keith Hernandez is one of the greatest defensive first basemen of all time and a World Series MVP. He used and hasn’t sniffed the Hall of Fame in more than two decades of eligibility. In the Pittsburgh Drug Trial of 1985, Tim Raines admitted to sliding headfirst for the sole reason that if he didn’t, he might break the cocaine valves in his back pocket. Raines eventually had his day in Cooperstown, but maybe he would have had it earlier without the drugs.  

Stats courtesy of: baseball-reference.com, fangraphs.com

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