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Pick an award, and Parker probably won it. He won the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1978. He was a seven-time All-Star, a three-time Gold Glover and a three-time Silver Slugger. Parker won back-to-back NL batting titles. He was the All-Star Game MVP in 1979. And Parker was a two-time World Series champion, with the Pirates in ’79 and the A’s a decade later. That’s a lot of accolades, and a lot of different kinds of accolades, and they were no accident. Parker was an elite all-around player.
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Parker showcased that against the best competition. To win the All-Star Game MVP in 1979, he threw out Jim Rice at third base and Brian Downing at the plate. When Parker led the “We Are Family” Bucs to a World Series championship later that year, he hit .341 in the postseason and .345 against the Orioles in the Fall Classic, while also throwing out the go-ahead run at the plate in the sixth inning of a one-run win in Game 2.
2. At his best, he ranked among the best
Check out Parker’s numbers from his 1978 NL MVP Award-winning season for the Pirates: 30 home runs, 20 stolen bases, 117 RBIs, an MLB-leading .334 batting average and .979 OPS, an NL-leading .585 slugging. The year before, he’d led the NL with a .338 batting average and 215 hits.
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Parker closed out the 1970s with a five-year peak run from ’75-79 in which …
• His 345 extra-base hits trailed only Hall of Famers Rice and Mike Schmidt.
• His 942 hits ranked sixth behind Pete Rose, Steve Garvey, Rice, Rod Carew and George Brett.
• His .321 batting average ranked second to Carew, his .532 slugging percentage ranked third behind George Foster and Rice, and his .909 OPS ranked third behind Foster and Rice.
• He led the Majors with 72 outfield assists, ahead of Dwight Evans and Dave Winfield.
3. He has numbers that stand up
Parker retired after 19 big league seasons as a .290 hitter, with 2,712 career hits, 940 extra-base hits, 339 home runs, 1,493 RBIs, 154 stole bases and 143 outfield assists.
There are 26 right fielders in the Hall of Fame. Parker would rank 15th out of that group in hits — ahead of, for example, recent strong-armed inductee Vladimir Guerrero (2,590). He’d rank 10th in extra-base hits, 11th in homers and 13th in RBIs.
Parker’s 143 outfield assists, meanwhile, are tied for eighth-most of any player to debut in the divisional era (since 1969).
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Among all Hall of Famers, Parker would rank just outside the top 50 in hits (right behind Lou Gehrig), 44th in RBIs (right behind Guerrero) and 38th in extra-base hits (just ahead of Eddie Mathews and Ivan Rodriguez).
4. He persevered
Parker’s pinnacle was his 1978 MVP season and ’79 World Series run, the early part of his career, when he looked like he was on the path to surefire all-time greatness as Roberto Clemente’s successor in right field in Pittsburgh. All of that was nearly derailed by injuries, weight gain and off-the-field issues during the early ’80s. But Parker revitalized his career after signing with his hometown Reds in December 1983.
In Cincinnati, Parker returned to star form with back-to-back top-five NL MVP Award finishes in 1985 and ’86, including a runner-up finish in ’85, when he belted a career-high 34 homers and led the league with 125 RBIs. Parker’s last All-Star season was in ’90, at age 39 with the Brewers, 13 years after his first with the Bucs. He won his final Silver Slugger Award that year, too.
On top of that, Evans was an eight-time Gold Glove winner compared to zero for Rice, with one of the best right-field arms of any era. Evans lasted longer and got on base more, but Rice trumped him in fame and fear factor as an MVP winner and RBI guy.
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Candidates for the Modern Era ballot – which includes players not elected by the BBWAA, plus executives, managers, umpires and owners – are selected by an 11-person committee of veteran writers and historians. The 16-person Hall of Fame Board-appointed electorate will review the ballot and vote at the winter meetings in San Diego on December 8. That electorate consists of Hall of Fame players and executives, plus veteran writers. Future committees:
2021: Golden Age (1950 to 1969) and Early Baseball (pre-1950)
2022: Today’s Game (since 1988)
2023: Modern Baseball (1970 to 1987)
2024: Today’s Game
2025: Modern Baseball
2026: Golden Age
In terms of career WAR, Evans fits right in with some other big-name right fielders:
Tony Gwynn: 69.2
Dave Winfield: 64.2
Vladimir Guerrero: 59.4
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Case against: Evans was a late bloomer who had his breakout season when he was 29. Similar to Whitaker, he doesn’t rate as high in peak value, with just four seasons of 5+ WAR. He was a career .272 hitter who hit .300 just once and topped 30 home runs just twice.
Chance of election: Low. I love that Evans finally gets on the ballot with a chance to have his case discussed. He’s criminally underrated and had a remarkable nine-year run from 1981 to ’89 when he hit .291/.388/.498, an OPS+ of 139. For the entire decade, he ranks 16th among position players in WAR — 12 of the 15 ahead of him are in the Hall of Fame. Evans is a personal favorite and has a very good case, but the fact that it’s taken him this long just to get on the ballot likely suggests his support isn’t strong (although the 16-person committee that will vote is different from the overview committee that selects the ballot).
The case against
1. He didn’t hit the milestones
Parker’s career numbers are very good, but are they really Hall of Fame-worthy? He’s not in the 3,000-hit club. He didn’t reach 400 home runs. He wasn’t a career .300 hitter. Round numbers aren’t everything, but Parker doesn’t really have that one standout stat or milestone number that screams “Hall of Fame.”
2. Cooperstown levels
Wins Above Replacement is far from a be-all, end-all stat for Hall of Fame worthiness. But it’s a good quick benchmark of how a player performed over his career, and Parker is pretty far below the typical Hall of Famer.
The average WAR for Hall of Fame position players is 69, according to Baseball Reference. For Hall of Fame right fielders, it’s 71.5. Parker’s career WAR was 40.1. That’s about a 30 WAR difference, which is a lot.
Recent right-field inductees like Guerrero (59.4 WAR) and Tony Gwynn (69.2) easily exceed Parker. So do Parker’s outfield contemporaries who were elected, like Andre Dawson (64.8), Winfield (64.2) and Reggie Jackson (74.0). But Parker does have the edge over 2019 Today’s Game inductee Harold Baines (38.7).
3. Was he elite for long enough?
Parker’s resurgence with the Reds was impressive, but does it get him to the Hall? As good as he was in 1985 and ’86, and as a 39-year-old in ’90, Parker’s stardom might have been too sporadic once his late-’70s run was over.
Parker had four seasons with a .900 OPS or higher; only one came after the 1970s. He had six seasons hitting .300 or better, and five seasons slugging .500 or better; only one of each came after the ’70s. Four of his five highest extra-base hit totals were in the ’70s, as were each of his four highest stolen base totals.
It’s not that Parker was unproductive after that amazing half-decade for the Pirates. But the majority of his career came after that one sustained superstar run. Did he have Hall of Fame consistency?