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Baseball Preview : Q & A With Dave Parker

April 07, 1991|ROBYN NORWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Even on the doorstep of 40, Dave Parker's body is massive and muscled. It is fed, surprisingly, on a delicate diet: Such things as sushi and Thai food, fruit, tofu-pasta and yogurt.

Mark McGwire, his former Oakland Athletic teammate, calls Parker a big teddy bear.

To the Angels, he is a statesman and a presence, meant to hit 20-some home runs, drive in 90-plus runs and inject the kind of swagger they think can help this team win.

He was the National League MVP with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1978 and a two-time NL batting champion. With Willie Stargell, he was one of the leaders of the "We Are Family," World Series champion Pirates of 1979.

He became known as the Cobra, for the threatening waver of his bat.

"At that point I held my bat real high, with like a coiling motion, a cobra before it strikes," Parker said.

Later, he was one of the players who admitted drug use when called to testify in the 1985 drug trafficking trial of Philadelphia caterer Curtis Strong.

In recent years, he has been credited for his leadership roles--and still potent bat--with the Oakland Athletics and, last year, the Milwaukee Brewers, who voted him their MVP.

When the Angels acquired Parker, a 39-year-old designated hitter and first baseman who will turn 40 June 9, it took not only Dante Bichette, a 27-year-old with years of productivity ahead, but also a player to be named.

"I've had a career a lot of people look at, and I look at, as a full-circle thing," Parker said. "I went from the best player in the game, to the lowest thing they've seen in the game, to a leadership. Now I've got leadership qualities, and I'm a good offensive producer. It's been interesting."

Parker discussed his past and future in a recent interview at the Angels' facilities in Palm Springs:

Q: People must keep coming to you, wanting to ask, "Aren't you getting old yet?" Seems like you were supposed to be old about 150 home runs ago.

A: Yeah, true. I've been through since I was 30. Somehow I keep producing. Believe me, a player like me who's a pretty much outspoken player, innovative in the things I do on the field, if I weren't productive, I'm sure I still wouldn't be around. Basically I've been improving myself since 30. Basically after 35, everybody wants to know, "How much more have you got left?" I really am a strong believer that when a player loses it, he loses it mentally way before he loses it physically.

Q: Was it easy for you when you were young? Do you look back now and laugh at how easy it was?

A: It was easy. The whole formula. You come to spring training, you could be 10 pounds overweight, the next week you're down to playing weight and ready to go. Normally you go through the stiffening period now. The first week after stretching those muscles you haven't used all winter, you become a little stiff. When I was 21, 22, 23, I didn't even know what that was. So you kind of look back on those years and miss 'em.

Q: Did you start taking care of yourself, anticipating, "Hey, I want to keep playing, I want to be able to beat it?"

A: I've been working year 'round since probably '82. It's just an everyday thing, an everyday grind, once you get beyond a certain age. You want to compete with these young men, you've got to keep fit year 'round.

I always wanted to play to my uniform number, 39. I did that last year. Then the fact that I'm closing in on a few personal goals I've set for myself over the last few years, to try to get to 3,000 hits (He has 2,592). Of course to try to get 400 home runs (He has 328). I'd have to have a few years of 30 to do so. But those are the type of challenges I set upon myself. I still have an extremely quick bat. I've got that intangible, that bat speed and strength, so I'd like to get a few years of 25 or 30. I don't think it's that impossible to do. I'm 60 some-odd away from 400 home runs. If I can get 3,000 hits and 400 home runs, it's only a handful of guys that have done that (Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Stan Musial and Carl Yastrzemski).

Q: Would it be easier to think about quitting when you hit those numbers?

A: I can quit the day I get my 3,000th hit. I'd be more than content. The thing with me is I still have pride. I don't want to be one of those guys that's considered a hanger-on. I've been in the top five or six in RBIs the last few years (His 92 RBIS last season were seventh in the AL.) That means a lot to me.

Q: Talk about the years right before you got to Cincinnati. Your numbers were down, you were injured. Later those were the years concerned in the drug trial.

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