Claim to fame: Parker broke in with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1973 and quickly emerged as one of the best young players in the majors. In his first seven seasons, Parker won two batting titles, three Gold Gloves, and an MVP. For a time, Parker looked like a surefire first ballot Hall of Fame inductee, and he was included in a book on the 100 best players in baseball history in 1981. Then problems with substance abuse surfaced.
Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Parker has made 14 appearances on the Cooperstown ballot for the Baseball Writers Association of America, consistently receiving about 10-20 percent of the vote each year. He has one more shot with the writers coming up in a few months and looks like a future Veterans Committee candidate.
Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? In May 2009, I included Parker on a list of the 10 best players not in the Hall of Fame. Sixteen months on, there are probably some players I would remove from that list. Parker is not one of them.
At the time I made my list, I wrote about Parker:
This guy’s a Veteran’s Committee pick waiting to happen. If Jim Rice and Orlando Cepeda can get into the Hall, Parker should too. He had better career numbers than those players for hits, doubles, runs batted in, runs scored, and stolen bases. However, just like Cepeda delayed his Cooperstown bid by going to prison for drug trafficking, Parker likely hurt his chances with well-publicized cocaine abuse.
Were it not for the onerous drug issues, which included being a central witness in a series of drug trials in Pittsburgh in the mid-1980s, Parker might have retired as one of the best players since Willie Mays or Hank Aaron. Early in his career, Parker had an all-around game comparable to either man, one of the few ballplayers in his generation who could hit for average and power, field and throw well, and steal bases.
Even with the marked decline in the second half of his career, when he went from regular All Star to serviceable role player, Parker still finished with 2,712 hits, 339 home runs and a .290 batting average. Baseball-Reference.com has four ranking benchmarks for Cooperstown. Parker meets two and falls just short on the other two.
Parker is perhaps a fringe candidate on statistical merit, and that’s where being a minority with a less-than-wholesome persona has likely hurt him with Hall of Fame voters. This kind of thing certainly didn’t help Dick Allen, Albert Belle, Dwight Gooden, or Maury Wills. For some reason, when white players like Dizzy Dean or Rube Waddell debauch, it adds to their lore, though others rarely get this consideration. If a black player isn’t lovable like Kirby Puckett, he’d better have ironclad lifetime stats like Eddie Murray.
Granted, there are plenty of white players with glowing reputations who haven’t been enshrined, such as Gil Hodges, Harvey Kuenn, and Dale Murphy.
Still, I have to wonder.
Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? is a Tuesday feature here.