Retro Jays Cards

Baseball cards helped me fall in love with the game and the Blue Jays. Over a couple of decades I have spent way too much time, and probably money, collecting memories of my baseball fandom. This is a place to wallow in nostalgia for cheap pieces of cardboard and the players on them.

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Dave Parker, 1992 Upper Deck, #522

Continuing on with requests:

Dave Parker would be a good one to see

A bit of a tough one because not many cards were produced featuring Dave “The Cobra” Parker’s extremely brief time in Toronto, but I did have one. Signed as a free agent in September of 1991 to add depth to the bench, Parker only had 36 at bats and was ineligible for the playoff roster due to the lateness of his signing.

Frankly, it was a bit of a shock the Jays grabbed Parker at all. While the team was certainly in the spending mood, Parker and the Jays had a rocky history. During his time in Oakland, Parker took some heat from Jays players, most notably Kelly Gruber, for what they felt was a showboating style of trotting the bases after a home run.

Here is an excerpt from a Sun-Sentinel article in 1989:

"Oakland`s Dave Parker and Toronto`s Kelly Gruber continued their war of words before Game 3 of the American League Championship Series Friday.

Gruber was upset after Game 2 Wednesday, won by Oakland 6-3, complaining about Parker`s slow trot after a homer.

“It took a day and a half,“ Gruber said Thursday.

Parker, who said Gruber was “overexaggerating his importance on the face of the earth,“ took another shot Friday.

“I didn`t know there was a school for etiquette in our business. Well, I guess Kelly Gruber just started one.“

Responded Gruber: “I`ve seen the guy play the past two days and before that, and he didn`t do anything different than he`s done in the past. I was asked a question, and I answered it. I`m not out to start any trouble. Let it be known: I was asked a question and I answered it. If you can`t be honest in this world, then I don`t know what you can do.

“I won`t lose sleep over it. I`m in this game to enjoy it.“

Parker homered in the fourth inning Friday and again rounded the bases slowly. He appeared to say something to Gruber as he passed.”

If my memory is right he kind of waved to Gruber as he passed him that game. So it was a bit surprising that Parker was signed after getting cut by the Angels. He retired after the 1991 season

Parker’s career history is fairly loaded, especially concerning his involvement in the Pittsburgh drug trials which led to an overhaul to baseball’s drug policies and him and six other players being suspended an entire season for cocaine use. A deal was struck by Commissioner Peter Ueberroth to remove the suspensions as long as they donated 10% of their salary to drug-related community service.

Parker was always viewed as a problem, even before being drafted. Taken in the 14th round of the 1970 draft by Pittsburgh, Parker’s talent was undeniable, but his reputation preceded him. Pittsburgh scouting icon Howie Haak recalled the reaction after drafting Parker in “Dollar Sign on the Muscle.”

"He was drafted in the fourteenth round, but shouldn’ta been. He got kicked off his high-school baseball team, and you’d hear scouts spread the rumor that he used dope - which wasn’t true. They all talked about his bad attitude. Parker was from Cincinnati, and after the draft Joe Bowen, the Reds’ scouting director, said, ‘Geez, you guys really picked a dandy.’ Well, we did, but not the way Joe meant."

Over 11 seasons in Pittsburgh Parker certainly was a source of controversy at times but he also had an OPS+ of 131 and was the 1978 National League MVP. He was a talent defensively too with a cannon of an arm, which was on display gunning out Brian Downing with a bullet throw to the late, great Gary Carter in the 1979 All-Star game.

My favourite bit of Parker trivia is the bizarre headgear he wore during the 1978 season. A collision at home plate fractured his jaw and cheekbone and forced him to experiment with some unique protective gear including a bright yellow, old style hockey goalie mask and a modified football helmet. The whole story, including images is detailed in this great post on ESPN’s Uni Watch blog.

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