December 7, 1983: The Reds signed their first “major” free agent of the free agency period when they signed Dave Parker to to a three-year contract.
While with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Parker was one of baseball’s biggest superstars of the late 1970’s. Parker won the MVP for the Pirates in 1978 when he hit .334 with 20 homers, 32 doubles, 12 triples, and a 117 rbi. He led the league with a .585 SLP, a .979 OPS, and a 166 OPS+. Parker had finished third in MVP voting in both 1975 and 1977 while receiving MVP votes for five consecutive years from 1975-79. As a right fielder, Parker was known for his powerful arm and won three consecutive Gold Gloves from 1977-79.
However, Parker developed weight and drug issues and his performance suffered, playing approximately half seasons in both 1981 and 1982. After an every man’s average 1983 (.279/12/69/.722 OPS/97 OPS+), Parker was granted free agency by the Pirates.
Meanwhile, the Reds had not been seriously active in the free agent market. Spurned by Tommy John following the 1977 post season, the Reds had not signed a new style free agent before signing utility OF-PH Larry Biittner following the 1980 season. Biittner played two seasons for the Reds, hitting .286 with two homers in a part-time roll.
However, stricken by the loss of other players to free agency, the early 1980’s Reds were but a mere shadow of the legendary 1970’s Big Red Machine. The 1982 Reds had finished last in the National League west with a 74-88 record. The team had an athletic outfield of Gary Redus, Eddie Milner, Paul Householder, Duane Walker, and an aging Cesar Cedeno, but the three had little production with only Milner hitting above .250 at .261 and only Redus smashing more than nine homers (Redus led the team with 17).
The Reds needed power and Parker needed Cincinnati to re-start his career. Parker, a Cincinnati native, came home and embarked, more or less, on a second career. His first season with the Reds was little better than average, batting .285 with 16 homers, 94 rbi, and a .738 OPS (104 OPS+) in 1984. However, 1985 was a great one as Parker reverted to MVP form, hitting .312 with 34 home runs, and a league leading 42 doubles, 125 rbi, and 350 total bases. He had an OPS of .916 (149 OPS+) and became the leader of a Reds team that finished in second place with an 89-72 record, five and 1/2 games behind the division leading Los Angeles Dodgers. He finished fifth in 1986 MVP balloting when he hit .273 with 31 homers, 116 rbi, 31 doubles, an .807 OPS and a 117 OPS+ as the Reds played themselves back into competitiveness in the National League Western Division.
Parker played four seasons with the Reds, batting .281 with 107 rbi, 432 rbi, and an .803 OPS (116 OPS+). For his career, Parker played 19 seasons, batting .290 with 339 homers, and 1493 rbi, and an .810 OPS (121 OPS+). The Reds traded Parker to the Oakland Athletics following the 1987 season for Reds future ace Jose Rijo and starter Tim Birtsas. Parker retired after the 1991 season.