Sports

Next competition for former baseball great Dave Parker, fighting Parkinson’s

Sharon Robinson, daughter of Jackie Robinson and award recipient at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum Hall of Game ceremony on Saturday, turned the table on the other winners who made up the 2019 Class for the Hall of Game.

An educational consultant for Major League Baseball, Robinson wanted to know about the post-career contribution to youth groups from this class of former baseball greats Eric Davis, Dave Stewart, Fred McGriff and Dave Parker.

The players were deeply involved, from funding of Urban Youth Academies to fund-raising golf functions to Stewart helping coach four youth travel teams.

When the question came to Parker, his response took a different direction.

“Basically, what I do now is raise money for the Parkinson’s Society,” Parker said. “I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s seven years ago and ever since then, I’ve said as long as I got the disease I might as well do something to help raise money for it.”

For those who remember Parker as perhaps baseball’s most dynamic force of the late 1970s, a do-everything talent who was named National League MVP in 1978 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, it’s difficult to see him walk with the help of a cane.

Everything about his game at its peak, right down to the Pirates’ mix-and-match uniform of the “We Are Family” days, was bold. Parker’s bat boomed. Over 19 seasons with the Pirates, Reds, A’s and three other teams he blasted 339 home runs, won a pair of batting titles and was named to seven All-Star teams.

He was the 1979 All-Star Game MVP as much for his defense as his hitting after throwing out two runners from right field.

When Negro Leagues Baseball Museum president Bob Kendrick said this group played the game with “a little flair, or as young people say, swag,” no one was filled with that spirit more than Parker.

Now, his voice is soft, his walk slow and interviews focus on coping with Parkinson’s, a long-term degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that impacts about 1 million Americans and has no cure. Parker joins a list of high-profile people with the disease — the late boxer Muhammad Ali, actor Michael J. Fox and singer Neil Diamond for examples.

In 2012, Parker noticed his hand trembling. That’s when he was diagnosed.

“I didn’t know anything about the disease until I got it,” Parker said. “I went home and read about it, and decided to get involved.”

Parker raises money with golf tournaments and galas, working with a hometown school, the University of Cincinnati. He remains active with a regular exercise routine and manages the disease through medication.

Saturday, Parker sat among several greats at the NLBM as event moderator Joe Posnanski, former Kansas City Star columnist, rattled off the accomplishments.

Over a two-year stretch of 162 games for the Reds, a full major league season, Davis once hit 47 home runs and stole 98 bases. Stewart is the last pitcher to start at least 37 games in consecutive seasons. McGriff, with 493 career home runs, the same as Lou Gehrig. And he was cut from his high school team in Tampa, Fla., as a 10th grader.

For Davis, sharing the stage with Parker on Saturday was special. He remembered the nervous feeling of meeting Parker for the first time as Reds teammates.

“He shot me down,” Davis joked. “He said, ‘I know who you are, kid, I’ll see you on the field.’

“I’m like, damn, this league is tough when your teammate and idol treats you like that.”

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