January 19, 2001
Not Getting His Due
One Player Who's Been Overlooked in the HOF Discussion
Let's play Name That Player. Today's HOF-eligible mystery player was an outstanding hitter over his long career, finishing with 339 homers (65th on the all-time list), 526 doubles (27th), and 4405 total bases (35th). He is the career leader in Equivalent Runs among all eligible players not yet in the Hall of Fame. He was an outstanding corner outfielder, winning three gold glove awards and gunning down 143 baserunners with his Howitzer arm. He uncorked a throw in an All-Star game that is still the first vision that pops into my mind whenever someone discusses all-time great throws. He won an MVP (deserved), and he played for five division winners and two World Series champions.
Yet this player's name was practically absent from HOF candidate evaluations over the past few months. Rob Neyer's recent ESPN.com column evaluated sixteen different candidates without mentioning his name. Same with CNNSI's Tom Verducci. Jayson Stark did mention him among the 23 players he evaluated in his HOF column, but only for a quick one-sentence dismissal: "a great hitter at times but didn't maintain the discipline to sustain his greatness."
Given this lack of attention, it's not surprising that he finished only fourteenth in the HOF voting with 16% of the ballots. He did even worse among readers of this site, finishing eighteenth in the STATLG-L Internet Hall of Fame voting with only 8% of the ballots.
OK, enough with the guessing game. By now, many of you have figured out I'm talking about Dave Parker. I'll be the first to acknowledge that Parker's numbers are not good enough to make him an automatic Hall of Famer. But I do think he has a reasonable case as a borderline pick. And it's puzzling to me that he receives so little attention compared to similar -- arguably inferior -- players.
For example, I would argue that Parker would make a better addition to the Hall than soon-to-be-inducted Kirby Puckett. That's probably not an argument worth dwelling on here, though. Puckett's election has as much to do with "peripheral" aspects of his career -- his likeability, the sad end to his career, the one dramatic postseason swing of the bat -- as it does with his career regular season numbers.
A much better comparison is with Jim Rice. Parker and Rice's careers spanned almost the exact same years. Both spent the majority of their careers as corner outfielders and transitioned to DH in their last few seasons. Both had reputations of being surly with the media. Both won a single MVP -- in the same year, no less. Clay Davenport calculates Parker's offense as being worth 61.3 Wins Above Replacement over his career, while Rice was worth 62.9. Rice had a better rate of offensive production (.293 career EQA to Parker's .284), but Parker had the longer career. And even if Rice has a small offensive edge, Parker catches up with his fielding: he played 300 more games in the outfield than Rice, put up better defensive numbers, and had a better defensive reputation.
So what is it about Rice that gets him listed on three times more ballots than Parker, and five times more ballots in the Internet voting? Why is Parker all but ignored by columnists who devote several column inches to carefully considering Rice's credentials? Parker's drug troubles might have played some role with the BBWAA, but it doesn't come close to explaining the amount of extra support and attention that Rice gets. I really don't have the answer, but it might have something to do with how we remember the two players. Rice's Red Sox of 1975 and 1978 are still talked about today, so we tend to remember him in his heyday of the late 70s. Parker's "We Are Family" Pirates, on the other hand, got and get relatively little attention (except in discussions about all-time worst uniforms), so we tend to remember him for his more recent years when he was overweight and well past his prime.
I'm not saying that Parker is suffering the same level of injustice that, say, Bert Blyleven and Rich Gossage are. Like I said above, he's a borderline Hall of Fame candidate. But with Rice getting substantial support for the honor -- not to mention guys like Tony Perez and Orlando Cepeda making it in -- Dave Parker deserves more consideration than he's getting.
Michael Wolverton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.