Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Bob Smizek: Parker is a Hero Here Now; Is Bonds Next?

Wednesday, August 25, 2004 By Bob Smizik, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The year is 2012, and the Pirates, in the midst of making a run at a second consecutive Central Division title, have invited their championship team from 20 years ago back to PNC Park, which still remains the crown jewel of baseball stadiums.
One by one these somewhat paunchy men, most in their 50s, come out of the home dugout to polite applause. There's Jim Leyland, Andy Van Slyke, Gary Redus, Roger Mason, Jay Bell, Orlando Merced, Don Slaught, Bob Walk, Randy Tomlin, Mike LaValliere, Zane Smith, Jeff King, Stan Belinda, John Wehner, Gary Varsho, Tim Wakefield. All receive a cordial welcome. Then the applause picks up as Lloyd McClendon, the dean of National League managers and in his 12th season with the Pirates, comes on to the field.

Finally, the place comes alive, and people are on their feet as the final returnee from the 1992 team hits the top step of the dugout and comes on the field. PNC Park is rocking for Barry Bonds, recently inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame, owner of the all-time home run record and universally regarded as one of the greatest players in the game's history.
Bonds doffs his cap to the crowd and joins his teammates on the third-base line as the applause thunders down.

The preceding, you say, could never happen. No way will Bonds ever be received in such a manner in Pittsburgh. The dislike, bordering on hatred, is too thick, the memories still too fresh.
But if Dave Parker can be welcomed back a hero to Pittsburgh, and he has, so can Bonds.
Time, they say, heals all wounds. That certainly has been the case with Parker.
He will be the keynote speaker Friday at a luncheon kicking off African-American Heritage Weekend. Imagine that, the Cobra as a keynote speaker. Those who knew him back in the day when he was the biggest, baddest, brashest man in baseball can only imagine the text of a Parker speech.

But he's a fine choice. Parker's a smart guy, who has carved himself a place in the business world. He's a success beyond baseball. He's a man with a story worth hearing.
When Parker was in town earlier this summer for a reunion of the 1979 World Series champions, he was warmly embraced by the fans at PNC Park.
That was amazing.

Parker once was Bonds in Pittsburgh. In fact, he was more than Bonds.
Did they fans ever throw batteries at Bonds?
Did the Pirates ever sue Bonds over back wages?
There was an ugliness that existed between Parker and the fans and Parker and the Pirates that can never be replicated with Bonds.
Parker joined the struggling Pirates in July 1973. The team, world champion in 1971 and a division winner in '72, was reeling from the death of Roberto Clemente and playing below .500. Parker had played half a season of Class AAA ball and before that no higher than Class A. But he was anything but a timid rookie.

Dal Maxvill, the shortstop on two championship St. Louis teams in the mid-1960s, had joined the Pirates only days earlier. He watched Parker -- 6 feet 5 and, then, 235 pounds -- strut around the locker room that belonged to Willie Stargell and said, "I don't know who he is, but I'm glad he's on our side."

Parker made that kind of impression on everyone. He was loud, boastful and big.
When his production failed to match his mouth in 1974 and he didn't receive the playing time he thought he deserved, he didn't shrink.
"Play me or trade me," he announced late that season, as if he were some established veteran.

The Pirates heeded his words and Parker lived up to them. He won two batting titles and an MVP award in 1977 and '78. He could hit for average and power, run, had one of the strongest arms in the game and was a natural leader. More than that, no one -- absolutely no one -- played the game harder. A ground ball in the infield was a 30-yard, all-out sprint for Parker. If a catcher was in his way at home plate, he bowled him over.
He embodied almost everything Pittsburgh should love in a baseball player.

If only he had shut up.
His brash personality never quite fit in Pittsburgh. When his production tumbled and his weight climbed after 1979, he became a whipping boy.
That's when batteries came out of the stands in his direction. When it was learned after his trade in 1983 that cocaine abuse might have contributed to his decline, the Pirates sued.

Parker resurrected his career in Cincinnati and Oakland, but his lapse in his final seasons with the Pirates ultimately will deny him a spot in the Hall of Fame.
But not in heart of Pirates fans. He's speaking Friday at PNC with part of the proceeds going to Parker's charity of choice, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Western Pennsylvania.
Parker is a Pittsburgh favorite. If it can happen to him, it can happen to Bonds.

(Bob Smizik can be reached at

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