The Book “Cobra” Drives In Baseball Great Dave Parker’s Tale Of MLB Career
Dave Parker is an honest man.
The inventory of books written on and by baseball people is endless. A select few are mandatory reads. Cobra - A Life Of Baseball And Brotherhood is one of these must reads.
The good, the bad, and the ugly sides of being a successful black athlete, beginning in the 1970's, is who Parker was. Co-author Dave Jordan doesn't disappoint in bringing Parker's words to life. Speaking in the slang of the time, reading Jordan's interpretation of Parker's accounts comes across almost as an audio recording; highly believable that it is indeed the former two-time World Series champion telling it like it was.
Teaming with Jordan was a first-class move for Parker. Five years back Jordan worked
with former big-league pitcher John D'Acquisto, in telling his colorful life story with Fastball John. The bar was set high with that project of Jordan's. Cobra, with all due respect to the former Giants' southpaw (also a 1970 MLB draftee like Parker), exceeds Jordan's first try at a baseball autobiography.
It's the details that Parker disclosures about the people central to his life, and how they mold him that is nothing short of riveting.
Family, friends who become like family members, teammates, his agent, when they were good with Parker, he had their back - and in many cases, still does.
Cobra is authentic as a life story that happens to involve a baseball career, as you can get.
Teamwork between Jordan, the listener, and Parker, the storyteller, is obvious and comes across natural. It was a match waiting to come together.
"It happened after a trip I made to Cooperstown", Jordan said during a recent telephone conversation of he and Parker's connection. "A mutual friend told me that Parker was looking for someone to work on a book with him."
Cobra began taking shape with Jordan and Parker speaking a couple times weekly, and every couple of months the writer would make the trip to the former National League MVP's (1978) home in suburban Cincinnati for a few days of reviewing material already discussed, and to explore new names and times in his past.
No part of Parker's life is excluded or sugarcoated. This is what puts Cobra ahead of the line of baseball stories told in recent years. Authenticity rules.
"Parker was a complete open book. He wanted to tell his own story, not rewrite past work done about him," says Jordan.
Many of the more important people in Parker's life are complete unknowns to those who will crack open a copy of Cobra. This is fine with Parker. These are his people that he is fiercely loyal to. These are the people who make the 3-time Gold Glove winner real. Tim Williams, Conny Warren, Bill Flowers, and Charlie Howard, these are people central to Parker's growth and stability, from high school to professional ball.
Names from Parker's Pirates past come out in mass in Cobra.
"The Pirates opened up their Rolodex for us," Jordan reveals. "I spoke with 75 players, agents, and people connected to Parker. I also spoke with his high school coaches."
Joran's due diligence is obvious. Stories from Parker about former teammates, some who have passed, are fascinating - and then some. Dock Ellis, Bob Moose, Gene Clines, Richie Zisk, Utican Dave Cash, and a loving recount of his days managed by Danny Murtaugh had me begging for time to take in 10 additional pages before lights out.
Parker's Cobra can be taken as an unofficial encyclopedia of Pittsburgh baseball for the 1970's.
Cobra is a project that Parker had been waiting for 20 years to come to fruition.
Getting to know Parker includes recounting his spring training experiences. He goes deep into baseball and the brotherhood he learned to hold dearly, when coming up with the Pirates. Readers are treated to the unique relationship between manager Murtaugh and general manager Joe Brown. So many dots are connected with each page in Cobra of how the Pirates operated.
A really cool piece of research for Cobra involved Jordan and Parker reviewing a tape of the 1979 World Series. This is the Stargell-led "We Are Family" championship collected at the expense of the Baltimore Orioles Fall Classic. Imagine how surreal this bit or "research" was for Jordan to experience.
According to Jordan, 20 percent of tales told in Cobra take place in Bradenton, Florida - the "Southern Home Of The Pirates". Conversations in Parker's condo with teammates and agent Tom Reich on Anna Maria Island (12 miles west of Pirate City in Bradenton), parties led by Willie Stargell, late night talks with fellow Pirate John Milner, and Ellis at the Blue Lantern Bar make every sentence pop with interesting information.
But, there was life after his Pirate days and with the fellas Parker was loyal to. As he said good-bye to Ed Ott and and Ron "Satch" Mitchell, Parker's next stop with his hometown Cincinnati Reds brought drama and highlights, on and off the field.
"He (Parker) was excited to be around his family everyday. It was a 20-minute drive from his house to Riverfront Stadium," Jordan offers. " Dave like being around his kids, not missing birthday parties, and seeing his parents. His happiest year came in 1984."
A true hero in Parker's life, before, during, and after being one of the most feared hitters of his time, is Helen Kugel. Parker's guidance counselor in high school, with fame and fortune attained, for honest answers in his life, Parker continued his appreciation and respect towards this unassuming molder of lives at Courter Tech.
If you haven't had a Helen Kugel in your life , find one. You'll be, like Parker, better for it.
Parker's family plays a central role in his progression in baseball, and his understanding of life on the outside of the game's perimeter. His wife Kellye is an amazing stabilizing force in Parker's career and life. When taking former teammate and future hall of famer Dave Winfield's advice to invest in fast food restaurants, Parker was glad he did so. He owned three Popeye's Chicken franchises in the Cincinnati area for a couple decades-plus, before selling them for a reported handsome profit.
As a kid, we learn in Cobra of Parker selling lemonades in the bleachers at Crosley Field during Reds' home games. Wanting to someday play for the Ohio State football program, followed by either a career in a Reds, Cleveland Browns or Pittsburgh Steelers uniform, Parker has no regrets for how his career turned out.
Of all the stories that capture your attention in Cobra, my favorite involved the late hall of famer Frank Robinson. Parker dishes details about a day where he and his friends are throwing rocks; having a pseudo-baseball game in the players' parking lot at Crosley . As Robinson and teammate Vada Pinson are making their way to Robinson's red Cadillac, they see the kids ill-equipped to catch and hit properly.
Robinson opens up his car's trunk and begins to distribute gloves, bats, and balls to Parker and his pals. This act of kindness stuck with Parker throughout his youth, and molded him to do for others, as the great Frank Robinson had done for him.
Cobra offers a journey few have traveled. The life of Dave Parker is one you can't get enough details on. May I suggest Cobra for your summer reading list?
Don Laible is a freelance sportswriter living in the Mohawk Valley. He has reported on professional baseball and hockey for print, radio, and on the web since the 1980's. His columns are featured weekly at WIBX950.com. Don can be contacted via email at Don@icechipsdiamonddust.com.