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MLB Network Airs Intimate Look At Dave Parker's Career, Parkinson's Battle

John Kiesewetter
Dave Parker, 68, at the Wednesday premiere for "MLB Network Presents: The Cobra At Twilight."

MLB Network Presents: The Cobra At Twilight provides an intimate, comprehensive look at the Cincinnati native and former MVP Dave Parker who won two World Championships in his 19 big league seasons.

It shows him as the outspoken and confident right fielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates; a Cincinnati Reds clubhouse leader in the 1980s, mentoring Barry Larkin and Eric Davis; a witness in the 1985 federal crackdown on Pittsburgh cocaine dealers; and a giant slowed by Parkinson's disease at age 68 taking 20 pills a day and struggling to walk.

The Cobra At Twilight premieres 8 p.m. Thursday on the MLB Network. The 90-minute documentary repeats at 11:30 p.m. Thursday; 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 14; 10 a.m. and 10:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 15; 8 p.m. Monday, Dec. 16 (followed by MLB's Johnny Bench documentary); 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 29; and 10 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 1 (followed by Bench).

Credit Courtesy MLB Network

Like all MLB productions, The Cobra is packed with great clips – Parker slugging home runs, throwing out runners at home plate from right field; making diving catches; doing his famous home run trot circling past the dugout on the way to first base; and wearing a menacing black-and-yellow hockey face mask to the plate after breaking his jaw and cheekbone in 1978.

Parker and his wife Kellye spoke to MLB in their Cincinnati home, and while working out and going to see doctors. His story is also told by former teammates Larkin, Davis, Pete Rose, Bill Madlock, Mike Easler, Jim Rooker, Phil Garner, Kent Tekulve, Ed Ott, Gary Sheffield and Dennis Eckersley; former manager Tony LaRussa; agent Tom Reich; Pittsburgh Press writer Bob Smizik; former Pittsburgh Steelers "Mean" Joe Greene and Tony Dungy; University of Southern California professor Todd Boyd; and five of Parker's childhood friends and classmates from Cincinnati's old Courter Technical School.

MLB also tracked down Kim and Debbie Sledge from the Sister Sledge singing group whose "We Are Family" was the rallying song for the 1979 World Champion Pirates.

Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Famer Chuck D, founder of the Public Enemy rap group, narrates the film.

The film ends noting that Parker was just passed over for the National Baseball Hall of Fame on the Modern Baseball Era ballot. He will be eligible again in 2021. At a premiere of the film here Wednesday night, Parker said:

"Anybody that played against me, or competed against me, knows that I'm a Hall of Famer in whatever I've tried… When I'm dealing with Parkinson's, you know, it's something that I don't ever think about. It's three more years before the vote comes up again, and I'll be 71 years old. I'll be spanking my great-grandchildren.  I just live day by day. And going into the Hall of Fame – whatever happens, happens."

Here's a look at The Cobra At Twilight in their own words:

LARKIN: "He was a freak. I'd never seen anyone that big… The man was a beast. That's what he was. To have him be such a dominating personality to asking him if he needs help getting up out of a chair is such a crazy turnaround."

PARKER: (On his Parkinson's): "Basically, I have good days and bad days."

TEKULVE: "In 1978, Dave Parker was the best player in the game – as had been the case in 1977 and 1976."

ECKERSLEY: "He wore the Star of David. And people would say, 'Are you Jewish? You're wearing the Star of David.' And he'd say, 'Hey, my name is David, and I'm a star.' "

PARKER: (On being compared to Pirates great Robert Clemente): "Everyone was talking about me as another Robert Clemente, but that wasn't what I was looking for. I wanted to be Dave Parker."

PARKER: "We were sitting on the (Pirates) bench and Willie (Stargell) says, 'You like that song?' And I said 'Yeah.' And he said, 'We're going to make that the team's song.' The song I wanted that year was 'Ain't No Stopping Us Now.' But if Willie wants something, Willie gets it."

BRENNAMAN: "This is one of the greatest players who ever put on a baseball uniform."

PARKER: (On testifying in the federal drug trial while playing for the Reds in 1985): "I took it out on the baseball, that's what I did. My only relief was when I was on the field. I was in my own heaven on the field."

BRENNAMAN: "He had such tunnel vision once that first pitch was thrown, it was Dave Parker at his best."

LARKIN: "I credit Dave really for creating a tipping point of my career. I remember Dave and Eric Davis seeing that I wasn't playing with a sense of urgency, and I was complacent where I was. One night they called me out to the batting cage after a game. It was dark and cold and wet, and I walked out there with my bat thinking we were going to hit, and Dave was very emphatic. He told me that I needed to start playing with a little more sense of urgency because there was going to be a physical altercation if I did not.

"He was very believable. He was a jokester. He was the guy who kept everybody loose. But he was also the policeman, the judge, the jury, the executioner. He played a lot of different roles."

ROSE: "He was like the father to a lot of the young (Reds) players.  I should have given him half of my salary. Maybe a third, not a half."

PARKER: "I inherited that (mentoring) role from Stargell. It's something I took pride in. If I saw somebody going south, I tried to get them on the right track."

DAVIS: "The thing that resonated with me more than anything was that he did not want me to drift into some of the things off the field that he did."

PARKER: "Thank God for memories, because that's all I've got right now is my memories."

The film includes Larkin's tribute to Parker when inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 2012. "There are people in your life who make an impact: Dave Parker, The Cobra. Pops led me down this path to the Hall of Fame. Once again, thank you."

Eckersley and LaRussa said Parker taught the 1989 World Champion Oakland A's how to win. At the premiere, former Reds teammate Ron Oester said the same thing about Parker's influence on the young Reds in the 1980s who won the 1990 World Series without him.

"I led the Reds (in 1983) the year before he came in RBI. I had 68. The next year Dave had 68 RBI at the All-Star break. I want to thank him for getting me my World Series ring. He taught us how to win," Oester said.

John Kiesewetter, who has covered television and media for more than 35 years, has been working for Cincinnati Public Radio and WVXU-FM since 2015.