Sunday, February 3, 2008

Salty Parker's Cup Of Coffee

Francis James Parker was a baseball lifer. Spending fifty-eight years in the professional game as a player, coach, minor league instructor, scout, and manager, Salty Parker gave his life to baseball. It’s men like Parker who, unsung and without fanfare, make baseball the game of games. They don’t make all-star teams, they don’t have a plaque in Cooperstown, and most fans don’t know their names. But the game doesn’t exist without the Salty Parkers of the world.

Parker was born on July 8, 1912 in East St. Louis, Illinois. As a young man, Parker was an outstanding multi-sport athlete and upon graduation from high school in Granite City, Illinois, he received an offer for an athletic scholarship at Purdue University. Rather than pursue a collegiate education, Parker signed to play baseball with a club in Moline, Illinois, beginning his long life in the professional game. The Moline club, which was affiliated with the Detroit Tigers, was managed by Reese Parker, Salty’s uncle, and this certainly must have been a contributing factor in his decision.

Parker, a slick-fielding shortstop, played three seasons in Moline before moving up to the Beaumont club in the Texas League. By February of 1935, The Sporting News was reporting that Parker was a contender for a roster spot on the defending American League champion Tigers. The big league club was not particularly impressed with the young infielder’s hitting and advised Parker that since he “would never develop as a right handed batter…he try hitting left handed.” In April of 1935, Parker was farmed out to the Toledo Mud Hens.

In 1936, Frank Buckley wrote in The Sporting News that “When Parker joined the Toledo club in the spring of 1935, Manager Mickey Cochrane of the Tigers told Fred Haney, Mud Hen pilot, that if the youngster could develop as a hitter, he would make the grade to the majors in a season or two. Since then, Salty not only has become one of the best defensive shortstops in the American Association but this season has been hitting at a satisfactory clip, only recently falling below the .300 mark.” The youngster made the grade and was called up to the major leagues in July of 1936. Salty Parker was about to get his cup of coffee.

“On July 19, 1936,” Parker told Chuck Hershberger, “I reported to the Tigers from their Toledo farm club. I was put up at the Wolverine Hotel. Marv Owen and a few other players stayed there.” Joining a loaded Tiger club that had won the World Series in 1935, was still in contention for the AL pennant in 1936, and included future Hall of Famers Charlie Gehringer, Goose Goslin, Al Simmons, Mickey Cochrane, and Hank Greenberg, Parker had to wait almost a month before he got into a game.

In a game in Cleveland against the Indians on August 13, 1936, Salty Parker saw his first big league action. A late inning replacement for Tigers starting shortstop Billy Rogell in a game in which the Tigers were losing 8-0, Parker went 0-1 at the plate and registered an assist.

In a double hitter against the Browns in St. Louis on August 18th, Parker started at first base for the Tigers in both games and recorded his first major league hit, scored his first run, and drove in his first RBI. On the day, Parker went 2-10 with two runs scored and the lone RBI.

Salty Parker’s best game in the major leagues came on September 13th at home against the Red Sox. Facing Rube Walberg, Parker went 2-3 with two runs scored and an RBI. He turned two double plays for good measure.

In December of 1936, after the season had ended, Salty Parker was sent by the Tigers to Indianapolis of the American Association, along with Red Phillips, to complete the deal that sent Dizzy Trout and Bob Logan to Detroit.

Parker would never play in major leagues again. His entire big league career consisted of eleven games with the Tigers in 1936. For his career, Parker went 7-25 for a batting average of .280. He hit two doubles, scored six runs, and drove in four RBI. He was caught stealing twice, drew two walks, and struck out three times. In the field, Parker played seven games at shortstop and two at first base, turning six double plays and committing three errors.

Salty Parker told Chuck Hershberger an interesting story about his introduction to big league life. On his first day in the major leagues, the Tigers were playing the Yankees at home and the new rookie sat on the bench. After the game, Parker was invited by new teammate Marv Owens to a “Chevy banquet.” “At the banquet, there were six Tiger players: Schoolboy Rowe, Goose Goslin, Gerald Walker, Jack Burns, Marv Owens, and myself.” Mr. Haller, the head of Chevrolet, stated at the banquet “that each of us players would get a 1936 Chevy of our own choice.” While Parker was skeptical, Owens assured the rookie that this was how things were in the major leagues. Haller was true to his words and Parker soon found himself in the possession of a new, black, four-door 1936 Chevy. “What a first day I had in the major leagues. It wasn’t a home run my first trip up, but a free meal and a new car.”

While never getting another chance in the big leagues, Salty Parker continued to play professional baseball into the 1950’s. His 1940 season with Marshall in the East Texas League was probably his finest. That year he hit .349 and led the league in batting, doubles, fielding percentage, putouts, and defensive double plays.

Parker began a new career in 1939 when he managed Lubbock in the West Texas-New Mexico D League. Over the course of his minor league managerial career, Salty Parker would compile a record of 1308-1183. He managed three minor league pennant winners and was named Midwest League Manager of the Year in 1976 when he was with the Cedar Rapids club.

Salty Parker did get an opportunity to return to the big leagues as a coach with the San Francisco Giants in 1958. From 1958 to 1973, Parker coached in the majors with the Giants, Indians, Pittsburg, Angels, Mets, and Astros. In 1967, when he was a coach with the Mets, Parker was named interim manager after the firing of Wes Westrum and compiled a 4-7 record. He got another opportunity to manage in the majors in 1973 with the Astros after Harry Walker was fired. On August 26, 1973, the Houston Astros defeated the Montreal Expos 6-5 under the guidance of their interim manager. The next day, Leo Durocher took over the club and Salty Parker holds the distinction of being the only undefeated manager in the history of the Houston Astros.

In his last decade in the game before his retirement in 1987, Parker served as a minor league instructor for the Giants and Mariners. Over the course of his career, Parker spent time in twenty-four different major or minor league cities.

Salty Parker, who passed away in 1992, was inducted into both the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame and the Granite City Sports Hall of Fame. In the last years of his life, Parker coached youth baseball in the Houston area and the Salty Parker League in the Granite City Park District’s youth baseball program is named after him.

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