Monday, March 14, 2022

Veteran Players Who Were Forced to Shave Their Mustaches and Beards Due to the Cincinnati Reds’ Ban on Facial Hair: Dave Parker


In 1972, the Oakland Athletics broke a longstanding baseball tradition when the franchise began allowing their players to grow facial hair.  Other clubs quickly followed the A’s lead and, as the decade wore on, more and more teams permitted their players to sport whiskers.  Once a very conservative sport, it soon became common to see mustaches and beards on the baseball diamond.  However, through the 1970s, 1980s, and well into the 1990s, one franchise, the Cincinnati Reds, stood firm on its ban of facial hair.  Despite enforcing this ban, over the years, the Reds acquired several prominent veteran players who had worn facial hair for the majority of their careers.  Some of these players were traded to the club and thus found themselves forced to adhere to their new club’s grooming policy.  Others signed with the team as free agents, well aware they would be required to shave their facial hair—although many of these veterans were in the twilight of their careers and found their options limited.  Oftentimes, it was amusing to see these now clean-shaven players take the field for Cincinnati, some of whom were almost unrecognizable without their whiskers.  One of these players was slugger Dave Parker who signed a free agent contract to join the Reds for the 1984 season.  As a former MVP who stood an imposing 6’5” and sported a full-faced beard, Parker was one of the most recognizable and intimidating figures on the ball field.

Born on June 9, 1951 in Grenada, Mississippi, Parker moved with his family to Cincinnati as a young child.  Parker grew up rooting for the Reds and lived less than a block from the club’s home ballpark, Crosley Field.  As a teenager, he worked as a vendor at Crosley Field and dreamed of one day playing for the Reds.  Parker was a multi-sport star in high school but suffered an injury to his left knee while playing football.  The knee injury required surgery and hurt his draft value.  Parker was selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the fourteenth round of the 1970 MLB June Amateur Draft.  He made his major league debut on July 12, 1973 and by 1975 had established himself as one of the young stars of the game, batting .308 with 25 home runs and 101 RBI while finishing third in the NL MVP vote after helping lead Pittsburgh to the NL East division title.  With the ability to hit for both power and average while also possessing a cannon-like throwing arm and speed on the basepaths, Parker was a true five-tool talent.  Nicknamed “Cobra”, Parker hit .300 each year between 1975 and 1979, winning a pair of batting titles in 1977 and 1978.  Brash and cocky, the towering slugger carried himself with swagger and was not afraid to make bold statements like, “When the leaves turn brown, I’ll be wearing the batting crown.”  Parker also earned three straight Gold Glove Awards from 1977 to 1979 for his defense in right field.  In 1978, Parker reached the pinnacle of the baseball world when he was named NL MVP after hitting .334 with 30 home runs and 117 RBI.  As the decade drew to a close, Parker appeared to be in the early stages of putting together a Hall of Fame career and was regarded by many as the game’s most dominant player.  Prior to the 1979 season, the right fielder signed a multi-million dollar, five-year contract extension to stay with the Pirates.  In this first year of his contract extension, Parker played a pivotal role in Pittsburgh’s championship run when he batted .333 against the Cincinnati Reds in the NLCS and followed it up by hitting .345 in the Fall Classic to help defeat the Baltimore Orioles in a closely-contested seven-game series.  However, in the aftermath of the World Series victory, his abilities sharply declined as the former MVP spent the next four seasons battling a combination of injuries and dealing with weight problems.  Parker particularly struggled after undergoing surgery on both knees prior to the 1981 campaign.  In addition, Parker became a target of abuse from Pittsburgh’s largely blue-collar fan base, many of whom felt they could no longer relate to the slugger after he signed his multi-million dollar extension.

At the conclusion of the 1983 season, Parker became a free agent for the first time.  Coming off a lackluster campaign in which he hit .279 with just 12 home runs and 69 RBI in 144 games, the 32-year-old only drew serious interest from two teams, the Seattle Mariners and his hometown Cincinnati Reds.  As a flashy player with a bold personality and a full beard, Parker seemed like an odd fit for a button-down franchise like the Reds who had, up until this point, shied away from signing free agents.  However, after last place finishes in 1982 and 1983, Cincinnati’s attendance had dropped substantially and the club was looking to improve the results on the baseball diamond and at the turnstiles.  Opening discussions between Parker and the Reds went well with the team’s general manager Bob Howsam showing an interest in signing the free agent right fielder.  In advance of their next face-to-face meeting together, Parker underscored his commitment to signing with Cincinnati by shaving off his facial hair, a wise move seeing as Howsam had been the architect of the franchise’s long-standing grooming policy.  On December 7, Parker signed a two-year contract with the Reds.  “You’re seeing a different Dave Parker now,” the slugger said to the press after the signing.  “It was hard to break the relationships in Pittsburgh after 10 years.  But I had three injury years and didn’t produce the numbers I’d grown accustomed to.  But I’m healthy now, I’m content with a two-year contract and I’m going back to my hometown, Cincinnati.  It’s a transfusion for me.”  During the offseason, Parker had been working on losing weight to help alleviate the pressure on his knees.  He made light of his weight loss and new stubble-free look after the signing, saying, “I lost 10 pounds last night when I shaved the beard.”  Parker’s new baby-face look took away some of his swagger and aura of intimidation but fortunately the veteran had an abundance of both traits.  

In his first season with Cincinnati, Parker led a weak-hitting, 70-win club in each of the three Triple Crown categories, batting .285 with 16 home runs and 94 RBI.  Finally healthy for the first time in several years, Parker’s 156 games played was his highest total since 1979.  Although the Reds lost four more games than the prior season, the team improved one spot in the standings and avoided a third-straight last place finish in the NL West.  Despite the club’s poor record, the campaign ended on a high note as Parker was joined by another Cincinnati native when franchise icon Pete Rose returned to the Reds in mid-August to serve in the dual role of player-manager.  Rose immediately designated Parker as one of his leaders in the clubhouse and the two veterans quickly formed a friendship away from the ball field.

Content to be playing for his hometown team, Parker signed a three-year contract extension that ran through the 1988 season and included an option for 1989.  Parker’s new contract immediately paid dividends as the clean-shaven slugger and the franchise both experienced a resurgence in 1985.  The 34-year-old resembled the dominant player of seasons past, batting .312 with a .365 OBP, 34 home runs, and a league-best 125 RBI.  Parker also led the NL with 350 total bases, 80 extra-base hits, 42 doubles, and 24 intentional walks while trailing only Willie McGee in hits, Dale Murphy in longballs, and Pedro Guerrero in slugging percentage.  In addition, the veteran right fielder earned his fifth career All-Star selection and first in four years.  Parker’s potent bat helped Cincinnati re-emerge as a contender and battle the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres in the NL West pennant race.  Los Angeles took the division lead just before the All-Star break and never relinquished it.  The Reds mounted a strong drive in the latter half of the campaign to finish in second place with an 89-72 record, five and a half games behind the Dodgers.

However, as Parker was experiencing his on-field renaissance, his off-the-field problems reared their ugly head when he was called to testify in the Pittsburgh drug trial late in the season.  Under oath, Parker admitted to experimenting with cocaine as early as 1976 and using the drug with more regularity after the Pirates’ 1979 World Series victory before kicking the habit in late 1982 when he felt his game was being adversely affected.  Despite the controversy, Parker won the Silver Slugger Award and received substantial support for the NL MVP, collecting six first place votes and finishing runner-up to McGee in the election.  Parker’s manager, Pete Rose, was a vocal critic of the election results, “I’ve never played with someone who was more consistent for the entire year than Parker was in 1985,” the skipper said.  “A lot of guys had great years, but I personally do not think anyone had as good a year as Dave Parker.  I have been around a lot of MVPs during my career, including myself.  I played with John Bench, Joe Morgan, George Foster, and Mike Schmidt.  None meant more to the team in the year they won it than Dave Parker did to us this season.  And he wasn’t surrounded with as much talent as those other guys—or Willie McGee this year.”  During the offseason, Parker reflected on his resurgent 1985 campaign, saying, “It wasn’t my best season.  That had to be 1978.  And my team didn’t win a world championship like it did in 1979.  But I sure had more fun in 1985 than I did in any other year.  Coming back to Cincinnati, my hometown, was like the start of my second life in baseball.”

Parker followed up his excellent 1985 campaign with a solid 1986, once again leading the circuit in total bases with 304 while his 31 home runs and 116 RBI were eclipsed only by the season’s NL MVP winner Mike Schmidt.  However, Parker’s production totals were tempered by struggles on defense.  He also struck out a career-high 126 times and saw his batting average dip to .273 and OBP slide to .330.  Nevertheless, Parker’s home run and RBI marks drew him enough support to rank fifth in the NL MVP vote.  In addition, he earned his second straight trip to the Midsummer Classic and was a repeat winner of the Silver Slugger Award.  Cincinnati spent the majority of the season under .500 after playing abysmally during April and the first half of May.  A strong close to the campaign gave the club an 86-76 record which was good enough for another runner-up result, this time finishing 10 games behind the Houston Astros.

After having played a respective 156, 160, and 162 games in his first three seasons with Cincinnati, Parker’s knee issues, which had hampered him on and off throughout his career, returned during the summer of 1987.  Parker delayed surgery until the offseason, opting instead to take cortisone shots and have his knee drained in an effort to stay on the field as the Reds battled the San Francisco Giants and Houston Astros in the NL West pennant race.  “I said when I left Pittsburgh I’d never play hurt again,” Parker explained.  “But this club has a chance to win, and I want to be part of it.  So I’ll try to make it.  Then I’ll have the surgery and be a lean, mean machine next year.”  Parker played through the pain, still managing to appear in 153 games but saw a decline in his production, particularly during the second half of the season.  The 36-year-old slugger completed the campaign with 26 home runs and 97 RBI but these totals were accompanied by a pedestrian .253 average and .311 OBP.  For the third straight season, Cincinnati finished second in the NL West.  However, unlike their two previous runner-up finishes, the Reds stood atop the standings for most the summer before relinquishing the lead during the latter half of a disastrous August.  Cincinnati tumbled all the way to third place before a September surge moved the team back into second.  The Reds concluded the campaign with an 84-78 record, six games behind the Giants.  Parker’s struggles at the plate coincided with Cincinnati’s August skid but the lack of effective starting pitching, which plagued the club throughout the season, was the main culprit in the team falling short in the division race.

As the 1987 season drew to a close, Parker’s name began popping up in trade rumors, a surprising development since he was recognized as one of the veteran leaders in the clubhouse and had forged a strong bond with manager Pete Rose.  However, with center fielder Eric Davis and left fielder Kal Daniels establishing themselves and outfield prospects Paul O’Neill and Tracy Jones in need of playing time, it became apparent that Parker would likely be the odd man out in Cincinnati’s crowded outfield.  Rather than part with one of its blossoming young outfielders, the club could solve two problems by reducing payroll and addressing the need for pitching by dealing the well-paid Parker.  The trade rumors grew louder during the offseason with Parker being linked to deals involving the New York Yankees and Oakland Athletics.  During a meeting with Cincinnati’s newly appointed general manager Murray Cook, Parker was disappointed to learn that Rose felt the slugger was misguiding the young players on the team.  “I heard I was supposed to have provided negative leadership last season,” Parker said.  “I don’t know why Pete is saying the things he is saying.  All I know, is I played hurt and I played under all conditions.  If they trade me, it’ll be Cincinnati’s loss and New York’s or Oakland’s gain.”  On December 8, the Reds pulled the trigger on the deal and sent Parker to the Athletics for a pair of young hurlers, Tim Birtsas and Jose Rijo.

Contrary to Rose’s accusation of negative leadership, many of Parker’s Cincinnati teammates have spoken highly of his leadership abilities and how his guidance helped shape their careers.  Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin played his first two major league seasons alongside Parker.  In 2012, Larkin invited Parker to attend his Hall of Fame induction ceremony.  During Larkin’s induction speech, he detailed how Parker helped instill confidence in him as a young ballplayer and challenged him to reach his full potential.  Eric Davis shared the Reds outfield with Parker during his initial four major league seasons.  In his autobiography, Davis wrote about the veteran’s positive impact on his career: “Dave Parker was the teammate who was most important, my instructor and mentor on all things peculiar and particular to the big leagues, my guide and benefactor, my model and the one who showed me by example what the Man is supposed to do on a team.  Not everybody has the capability of carrying a team.  Parker had that capability, even though he was getting older by then and had come to the Reds from the Pirates a few seasons after they won the World Series in 1979.”  Davis described Parker as a being “like a second father” to him and mentioned how Parker stressed the importance of staying away from drugs.

Parker’s trade from Cincinnati to Oakland benefited both teams.  Parker promptly grew his full-face beard back and once again embraced the veteran leadership role, passing along his knowledge to the A’s budding superstars, Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire.  Slowed by offseason knee surgery and a mid-season thumb injury, Parker had a disappointing year at the plate in 1988 but helped Oakland reach the World Series where the club was upset by the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Parker moved into the full-time designated hitter role for 1989, batting .264 with 22 home runs while leading the A’s potent offense with 97 RBI.  Parker’s rebound campaign netted him the Designated Hitter of the Year Award.  Oakland returned to the Fall Classic and swept the San Francisco Giants, giving Parker his second World Series championship.

Left-handed pitcher Tim Birtsas adequately filled the mop-up role out of the Reds bullpen for the 1988, 1989, and 1990 seasons.  Although Jose Rijo was just 22 years old at the time of the trade, the right-handed hurler already had four major league seasons under his belt.  Rijo had shown potential but had yet to succeed at the big league level, bringing a career record of 19-30 and a 4.75 ERA to Cincinnati—having just finished a horrendous 1987 campaign in which he went 2-7 with a 5.90 ERA.  Rijo shaved off his mustache to join the Reds but more importantly shaved a few runs off his ERA, going 13-8 with a 2.39 ERA in his first season with his new club.  The young righty proved his breakout 1988 campaign was no fluke, becoming one of the finest starting pitchers in baseball.  The highlight of Rijo’s career came in 1990 when he won a pair of World Series games against his former team and was named MVP of the Fall Classic after the Reds completed an improbable sweep over the powerhouse A’s.  Cincinnati’s roster had largely turned over since Parker’s final season with the team.  However, among the key contributors to club’s championship run were two players mentored by Parker, Barry Larkin and Eric Davis.

Parker was not part of the Reds/Athletics World Series matchup, having joined the Milwaukee Brewers as a free agent for the 1990 season.  Parker played well for Milwaukee, batting .289 with 21 home runs and 92 RBI.  Parker’s impressive campaign earned the veteran his seventh All-Star selection, third Silver Slugger, and second straight Designated Hitter of the Year Award.  During the offseason, Parker underwent his fourth knee surgery.  A few weeks before the beginning of the 1991 campaign, Parker was traded to the California Angels in exchange for outfielder Dante Bichette.  Parker hit just .232 for the Angels and was released by the club on September 7.  A week later, the 40-year old signed with the Toronto Blue Jays.  Parker finished the season strong, batting .333 in 13 games for Toronto and helped the team clinch the AL East division title.  Since Parker joined the Blue Jays after August 31, he was ineligible to participate in the postseason.  Parker’s difficult 1991 proved to be the final campaign for the towering slugger who retired with a .290 career batting average, 2,712 hits, 339 home runs, and 1,493 RBI.

Dave Parker came to the Cincinnati Reds as a humbled superstar looking to rebuild his reputation.  The former MVP experienced a resurgence at the plate and proved he was still one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball.  Parker also established himself as a clubhouse leader and embraced the elder statesman role.  The clean-shaven slugger’s four seasons in Cincinnati helped the franchise breakout of its post-Big Red Machine malaise and re-emerge as a contender.

----by John Tuberty

Follow me on Twitter @BloggerTubbs

Stat links to main players mentioned: Dave Parker, Pete Rose, Willie McGee, Dale Murphy, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, George Foster, Mike Schmidt, Barry Larkin, Eric Davis, Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Paul O’Neill, Jose Rijo, Pedro Guerrero, Tim Birtsas, Tracy Jones, Kal Daniels

Sources: Baseball Reference, Dave Parker SABR bio,, The Sporting News via SABR’s Paper of Record, New York Times December 1983 article, New York Times September 1985 article, Washington Post February 1985 article, Washington Post September 1985 article, Barry Larkin’s Hall of Fame induction speech via MLB YouTube channel, Dave Parker and Dave Jordan-Cobra: A Life of Baseball and Brotherhood (University of Nebraska Press), Eric Davis with Ralph Wiley-Born to Play: The Eric Davis Story: Life Lessons in Overcoming Adversity On and Off the Field (Signet)

Quotes credit:

-Parker quote about signing with Cincinnati is from a New York Times December 8, 1983 Joe Durso article

-Pete Rose quote about Parker deserving the 1985 NL MVP is from p.56 of the December 2, 1985 edition of The Sporting News and was retrieved via SABR access to Paper of Record

-Parker quote about his 1985 season is from p.12 of the March 24, 1986 edition of The Sporting News and was retrieved via SABR access to Paper of Record

-Parker quote about playing through 1987 knee injury is from p.21 of the September 21, 1987 edition of The Sporting News and was retrieved via SABR access to Paper of Record

-Parker quote about 1987 trade rumors is from p.55 of the December 14, 1987 edition of The Sporting News and was retrieved via SABR access to Paper of Record

-Eric Davis quotes about Parker are from p.109 and 112 of Davis’ autobiography

Cards: Dave Parker crop of 1982 Topps, 1987 Topps Album Stickers, 1984 Topps, 1987 Fleer, 1986 Topps, 1988 Topps, 1989 Topps; Pete Rose 1986 Topps, Barry Larkin 1988 Topps, Eric Davis 1988 Topps, Jose Rijo 1989 Topps

Other articles by Tubbs Baseball Blog:

How Dwight Evans Overcame a Mid-Career Crisis to Evolve into a Hall of Fame-Caliber Player

My Favorite Baseball Cards of Jimmy Key During His Nine Seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays

Dave Parker Brings His Unforgettable Career to Life in “Cobra: A Life of Baseball and Brotherhood”




  1. Until stopping to look at his Reds cards in this post, I don't think I ever noticed him without a beard. Sure glad he grew it back when he came to Oakland.

    1. I’m glad Parker grew back the beard too, it is an important element in him being Cobra

  2. Awesome article about the Cobra! One of my favorite players! Pretty ironic that Pete Rose accused Parker of providing negative leadership to young players. (Insert eye roll)

    1. Mark, thank you for taking the time to read my article and leave a nice comment. It’s disappointing Rose laid Parker low but I was glad to read in Parker’s excellent autobiography that him & Rose got on good terms again years later.