For Cincinnati Reds fans of a certain generation — mine, to be precise –the free agent signing of Dave Parker in the winter of 1984 marked the team’s inflection point as they rebounded from the nadir into which they fell after the wheels came off the Big Red Machine. On Friday night, the Reds elevated Parker to his rightful place in the team Hall of Fame, alongside two other huge figures from the not-so-distant past: Ron Oester and Ken Griffey, Jr.
Old-timer Jake Beckley was also inducted, according to Manny Randhawa at MLB.com.
The Cobra and The Toaster
By the time Dave Parker signed with the Reds in December of 1983, he was mostly viewed as damaged goods, an overweight, aging slugger whose once brilliant career was marred by the Pittsburgh Drug Trials. He was no longer feared as “The Cobra” who helped the “We Are Family” Pittsburgh Pirates of the 1970s to dizzying success.
Meanwhile in Cincinnati, the Reds had taken a precipitous tumble from the dominating days of the Big Red Machine, when stars like Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, George Foster, and a host of others smacked the fear of God into opposing teams on a daily basis. In 1982, Cincinnati fielded one of the worst teams in modern history,and in 1983 Bench retired.
The bloom was off the Rose, who himself had left town five years earlier.
General manager Bob Howsam and farm director Chief Bender were putting together young talent, though, in hopes of rebuilding some semblance of pride on the Riverfront. One of the guys charged with helping the team survive the bumpy transition back to respectability was second baseman Ron Oester, who had been around since before Peter Edward took his talents to Philly.
Oester was a steadying influence and seemed like an everyday man on TV and on our baseball cards, and my friends and I adopted him as a favorite during the dark days of the 1980s, even anointing him with a nickname — The Toaster. (Get it? Oester is like Oster who makes toasters, among other handy items).
With Oester still in the fold, Parker gave the Reds a big name to draw in fans, even if he was less than perfect. He also gave young fans the hope of seeing some power in old Riverfront Stadium, which was an exciting thought, because even way back then kids dug the long ball.
As it turned out, our optimism was justified, even though 1984 was mostly another lost season. By 1985, Parker had rebuilt himself into a feared slugger and strong-armed right fielder, though much of his blazing speed was gone. Oester continued as a rock at second, and the young Reds blossomed around them, led by a fiery prodigal son, player-manager Peter Rose.
After a string of second-place finishes, the Reds finally got over the hump and won their last World Series title in 1990. More importantly, there has scarcely been a year since 1984 when fans didn’t have some reasonable expectation of watching a contender, and that streak began with the arrival of Dave Parker
The Kid Comes Home
In 1999, the Reds were once again thumping their way to contention, though they would ultimately finish second in their division. In the Pacific Northwest, hometown kid Ken Griffey, Jr., was in the midst of a Hall of Fame career with the Seattle Mariners that had many labeling him the best player in the game as he prepared to turn 30 in 2000.
Reds’ general manager Jim Bowden was a notorious wheeler-dealer, and determined that he could use Griffey’s impending free agency to get over on the Mariners and score a major coup for the Riverfront. In a series of events that was sometimes cloak-and-dagger, and sometimes downright uncomfortable, Bowden and Griffey’s “people” engineered a deal to bring The Kid home.
We all rejoiced and figured that adding Griffey to a 96-win team should guarantee a series of championships unseen in the annals of sports. Junior was LeBron before LeBron was Michael.
Of course, some ideas look much better on paper than they do in real life, and such was the case with the Griffey-Reds reunion. Griffey was never the player in Cincinnati that he was in Seattle, and as his performance slipped in subsequent years, his sulking increased. He eclipsed 140 games in a season only twice in eight years with the Reds, and his big salary hampered the team’s efforts to improve.
On a fateful day in 2008, Griffey became Willie Mays, traded to the Chicago White Sox at age 38.
To be fair, Griffey’s Cincy stats weren’t terrible and would look really good if they belonged to anyone other than Ken Griffey, Jr., Franchise Savior. He rightly deserves his spot in the team HOF, even if he did leave us with a bad taste six years ago.
Hey, That’s Not Josh Beckett
And, so, that leaves us with Jake Beckley, who, um, well I really don’t know much about him. Manny Randhawa knows, though, so I’ll leave it to him:
Beckley had a 20-year career from 1888-1907, playing for the Reds from 1897-1903. He batted .325 over his seven seasons with Cincinnati, batting over .300 in six of those seasons. When he retired in 1907, his 244 career triples ranked first all-time. He was posthumously inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971.
So Beckley was a burner who made it to the BIG Hall of Fame. A Billy Hamilton role model, perhaps?
For me, it’s very fitting that Griffey, Parker, and Oester, enter the Reds’ Hall of Fame together. All three grew up around the Queen City, and all three have ties that link them to the modern era of Reds’ baseball, from the Big Red Machine through the present.
They are three legendary Reds who will always have a place in the basepaths of our memories.