By the time you read this, Dave Parker will have turned 60 years old — the man they called "The Cobra" was born on June 9, 1951. And in case you're not hip to what a supreme badass The Cobra was in his day, or you missed my day-long tribute to the man on the Big Hair & Plastic Grass Facebook page, here's a little primer for ya. The Cobra would have a place in my book (and my heart) just for his nickname and the fact that he wore t-shirts emblazoned with P-Funk lyrics, but he also happened to be one of the best and most dangerous players of the second half of the 1970s. A true five-tool player, he could hit for average and power, run like hell (even if he wasn't the savviest of base stealers), and he had a solid glove and a veritable cannon for a throwing arm: The man cut down 26 base runners in 1977 alone.
The NL batting champ in 1977 and 1978 (when he hit .338 and .334, respectively), NL MVP in 1978 (when he also led the league with a .585 slugging percentage and 340 total bases), and a mainstay of the "We Are Family" World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates of 1979, Parker also nabbed the '79 All Star MVP award when he cut down Jim Rice at third and Brian Downing at home with two of the most jaw-dropping throws ever unleashed. (Note to Buster Posey — all you folks whining about how catchers need to be "protected" — THIS is how you're supposed to set up for a throw from right field.)
Above, baseball commish Bowie Kuhn hands Parker his All-Star Game MVP trophy, shortly after the NL's 7-6 victory at the Seattle Kingdome. "You know, I used to be a Washington Senators scoreboard boy," sez Kuhn. "Shut the fuck up, Honky," thinks The Cobra.
One of the first players to wear gold jewelry on the field (asked why he wore a Star of David, he famously replied, "My name is David, and I'm a star") Parker also gained notoriety for the various protective masks he wore during the 1978 and early '79 seasons, after a collision with Mets catcher John Stearns shattered his cheekbone. As Paul Lukas' excellent Uni Watch column from 2008 reveals, he only wore this fearsome hockey mask for a brief period before ditching it in favor of a batting helmet outfitted with a football faceguard; but it's a good bet that any opposing infielder who saw the 6'6", 235 lb Parker bearing down on him looking like this probably still has nightmares about it to this day.
Should Dave Parker be in the Hall of Fame? He missed out again this year, in his last year of eligibility, but I think 339 career homers (most of which were hit during a period when 20 homers a year made you a legitimate slugger), 1493 career RBI, a lifetime .290 average, three Gold Gloves, one MVP award (and four other finishes in the Top 5) and World Series rings with Pittsburgh and Oakland should have made for a fairly compelling (if not overwhelming) case for enshrinement. If he hadn't had three unproductive seasons in the middle of his career (1981-83) and hadn't been implicated in the Pittsburgh cocaine trials, he may well have been a lock. But fuck it — from 1975 to 1979 (ie, one-half of the period this blog and my book are concerned with), Parker was the most feared hitter in baseball, and that's good enough to land him in the Big Hair & Plastic Grass Hall of Fame. Plus, he was called The Cobra, fer chrissakes — a nickname which some sources claim was given to him by a member of the Bucs' organization who had a tendency to drunkenly ogle the players in various states of undress...
But hey, that's a whole 'nother story. Lemme close this piece with a great 1980 commercial for 7=Up, which featutes Parker, Mike Schmidt and Bruce Sutter in some pretty choice examples of late 70s/early 80s uniform finery. It's just too bad Parker didn't try to throw the bottle home; my guess is that it would've reached the plate on the fly. Happy Birthday, Cobra — you were the fuckin' MAN.