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Who is that masked man

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Thirty years ago this month, an odd sight began appearing in National League ballparks. It was the sight of the league’s best player a player whose potent bat and massive physical presence already struck fear into the opposition looking even more intimidating than usual.

The year was 1978 and the player was Dave Parker of the Pirates, who would be named the league’s MVP at the season’s conclusion. But there was a slight detour on the way to that award, and it came in the form of a home plate collision with Mets catcher John Stearns on June 30.cheap nfl jerseys The play knocked Parker out of the lineup with a fractured jaw and cheekbone.

“He wanted to play again right away, so I knew I had to come up with something fast,” recalls Tony Bartirome, who was the Pirates’ trainer at the time. “If he’d had his way, he would have missed only four games.”

Parker ultimately sat out a little over two weeks. But when he returned to action on July 16, something was different like, very different.

That photo is from Parker’s first game back, when he pinch hit in the 11th inning while wearing a hockey goalie’s mask. He was intentionally walked, leading to a macabre spectacle on the bases. The “Friday the 13th” movies didn’t yet exist in 1978, but Parker was already perfecting the art of masked menace. It marked the beginning of a bizarre chapter in uniform history, a summerlong series of creative headgear experiments that had opposing teams asking, “Who was that masked man?”

Dave Arrigo

Forget the eye black and a deadly stare . the goalie mask is the most intimidating thing you can bring to the plate.

The hockey mask was actually the second full face mask that Parker and Bartirome had tried. The first one, which fans never saw (and which was apparently never photographed, much to Uni Watch’s dismay), was a clear Plexiglas model similar to what Rip Hamilton now wears in the NBA. But when Parker tried it out in batting practice, he found that it distorted his view of the incoming pitch, so he switched to the hockey mask.

“We were real creative with it,” says Parker, who divides his time these days between speaking engagements, autograph sessions and selling fried chicken. “We painted one side yellow, one side black. I’d put it on and then put my helmet on over it. The first time I wore it in batting practice, I was hitting balls in the second tier, third tier, so I used it in that first game. But I found it kind of prevented me from seeing some of the pitches, because of the way it was constructed, so we had to try something else.”

“Something else,” meant abandoning the hockey based design and going in a football direction a convenient option, since the Pirates shared Three Rivers Stadium with the Steelers, whose equipment manager, Tony Parisi, was happy to help.

Parisi, now retired but still living in the Pittsburgh area, remembers the unusual request. “I told them we could put a football facemask on there,” he says. “But it was a little tricky, because of the way a baseball helmet is structured. If you drill the holes crooked, any impact would crack the helmet.”

His first solution was a two bar faceguard (a Riddell

220, also known as the BD 9, for those keeping score at home), which was still common in the NFL at the time. But Parker didn’t like it. “It was positioned too high,” he says. “It was up in my eyes and affected my vision. I wanted something a little lower and wider.”

So Parisi came up with this version (a Dungard 210), which met with Parker’s approval. But he didn’t wear it while batting only while running the bases.

Dave Arrigo

Parker turned in the hockey mask for more of a Lando Calrissian undercover look.

Was Parker the first player to wear a baseball/football hybrid helmet? Yes but there’s an asterisk. According to this New York Times clipping from September of 1959, “a special helmet fitted with football type face guarding bars” was prepared for Billy Martin, then with the Indians, after he’d been beaned by a pitch a month earlier. But although Martin returned to Cleveland’s active roster, he never got into another game that year, so his mask/helmet combo was never used (and, apparently, never photographed).

So Parker appears to have been the first player to wear such a contraption in a big league game, although nobody seems to have grasped the historic implications at the time. “I didn’t think nothing of it,” says Parisi. “Now, of course, I wish I’d saved some of this stuff.”

It’s not clear if the Pirates got permission from the league office for Parker’s assorted face masks, although everyone seems to agree that the umpires never objected. But that’s not to say everyone was in love with Parker’s new headgear. At 6 foot 6 and 230 pounds, he was already a fearsome presence on the base paths, and at least one middle infielder wasn’t thrilled about him having the additional advantage of facial armor.

“I thought I could get hurt at second base if that thing hit my knee or hit me some other place,” recalls Joe Morgan, who played second base for the Reds at the time. “When we played them [in mid August] and he got on base, I made a point of telling the umpires that I didn’t want him wearing that mask sliding into second base, because Dave always came in very hard. I was never afraid of that, but if he hit me with that helmet, I thought it could hurt me. I told ’em that if I got hurt, I was gonna sue ’em all. I’d already had my knees hurt in a clean play, and I didn’t want to get hurt by some makeshift thing.”

So at Morgan’s request, Parker traded in his mask equipped helmet for a regular helmet after reaching base on a walk on Aug. 15. Then he took his lead off first loitering with intent, you might call it.

“It just so happened that the next batter hit a ball to the shortstop, Dave Concepcion, which is just what I was hoping would happen, because Morgan had to cover second for the double play,” says Parker. He pauses, laughs, and adds, “Well, of course I tried to kill him, because of the complaining. He jumped up and started yelling, ‘Did you see that? He tried to kill me, he tried to kill me!'”

Other players had issues with the facemask too. The following April, when Parker was still wearing the helmet/mask rig, he won a game by knocking the ball out of Expos catcher Gary Carter’s glove at home plate. “Afterward,” reported Sports Illustrated, “Parker claimed Carter had tried to hurt him by pouncing on him, shin guards first.

Carter, who said he was merely trying to control the relay throw,

injudiciously replied, ‘Tell Parker to take off his helmet, and I’ll ram the ball down his throat.'”

Parker who emphasizes that he “played the game hard but would never try to hurt someone” stopped wearing the mask early in the 1979 season. But other players soon followed his example and wore extra protection while recovering from facial injuries: Gary Roenicke in 1979, Ellis Valentine in 1980, and a steady trickle of others over the years, including Terry Steinbach, Charlie Hayes (who later wore a different design), David Justice, Kevin Seitzer, Terrence Long (here’s a side view) and former collegiate star and Yankees farmhand Tony Roth (additional views here and here). In addition, many of today’s high school softball players wear face guards on their helmets. Little Leaguers, too. So Parker’s MVP season wasn’t just a milestone for him it started a whole new branch on the baseball equipment tree.

Parker’s career, incidentally, featured several other uni notable details. During the late ’70s, he wore white tape on his fingers (“To get a better feel for the bat,” he says) and shoes (“It gave me a little more support, plus it looked cool”). When he wore batting gloves, they usually had has uni number inscribed in huge numerals, and in 1980 he added his nickname, “Cobra.” And as noted in Uni Watch’s recent survey of , the 1977 ASG found Parker wearing a Padres helmet and then a Reds helmet (“Mine must have gotten lost or stolen, I don’t remember”).

Other players have done similar things, of course. But thanks to that one pinch hitting appearance 30 years ago, Parker is the only ballplayer ever to have worn an old school goalie mask, a distinction he’s likely to keep.

Three decades years later, former Pirates manager Chuck Tanner still remembers that day. “Nobody had ever done anything like that,” he recalls. “So when he went up to the plate that first time with that hockey mask, people were buzzing in the stands and the guys on the other bench all stood up to get a better view. But I didn’t care what he wore, as long as I could put him in the lineup.”

Written by steve@cabinquest.us

October 19th, 2007 at 4:14 am

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