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On this date: Parker not your typical ballplayer

May 7, 1970: In the top of the 10th inning, Dodgers first baseman Wes Parker cracks an RBI triple to complete the cycle, thus becoming the first Los Angeles Dodger to accomplish the feat.

The first and the last (so far, at least). Oddly enough, Parker remains the only Dodger to hit for the cycle since 1958, when the franchise left Brooklyn.

Parker doubled in the second off Mets left-hander Ray Sadecki, homered off Sadecki to lead off the seventh, and singled to lead off the eighth against Cal Koonce before tripling in the 10th against Jim McAndrew.

It wasn't a complete coincidence that Parker hit for the cycle in 1970, because 1970 was easily Parker's best season. One-fourth of the cycle is "double," and Parker's league-leading 47 doubles in 1970 were nearly twice as many as he hit in any other season.

Parker was a good player for his entire career, but 1970 was the only season in which he was a great player.

Games Runs 2B 3B HR RBI OBP Slug
1970 161 84 47 4 10 111 .397 .458
not 1970 141 58 18 4 7 45 .346 .361

So what happened in 1970? For one thing, it was a lot easier to hit in 1970 than it had been during most of Parker's career. After batting just .239 with three home runs in 1968, the Year of the Pitcher, Parker was off to a great start in 1969 before suffering appendicitis shortly after the All-Star break. Prior to his emergency appendectomy, Parker had hit 12 home runs -- already a career high -- and after the appendectomy he hit just one more.

Parker credits Dodgers hitting coach Dixie Walker for his improvement in 1969, and he credits Tommy Lasorda, then a minor-league manager, for his further improvement in 1970. As Parker told author Michael Fedo, "Al Campanis wondered how to turn Wes Parker into a good major league hitter. Tommy said, 'I can do it.' And he did. He hung around all spring training, talking, telling me why I should be a better hitter than I was. He said I had the physical attributes of eyesight and coordination, and he convinced me I could be just as good a hitter as I was a fielder."

We all know that Lasorda may rank as the greatest cheerleader in sports history, but Parker needed more than a cheerleader. He needed himself. He was sick and tired of people saying he was a one-dimensional player -- Parker was widely considered the best defensive first baseman in the game -- so he changed his lifestyle to become something else.

"I gave up a lot of things," Parker told Fedo. "I gave up dating completely. Before that I had dated voluminously. And it wasn't that I wasn't getting rest, it was just that it was preoccupying my time. It was interfering with focus. I didn't answer the phone hardly at all, because I didn't want to know anything about leaving tickets for people. That would be distracting and keep me from focusing on the game. So I pretty much became a recluse and a hermit. I eliminated everything I thought would interfere with my concentration."

In 1971, Parker went back to what he'd been. The lifestyle of a baseball ascetic didn't suit Parker any more than it would suit most of us, so he returned to living a normal-for-a-baseball-player life. "1970 was for one season only. I'm glad I did that once, but I wanted to enjoy all aspects of my career, part of which was dating again, part of which was enjoying people. I didn't want to live like a hermit again ..."

After the 1972 season, the Dodgers released Maury Wills. According to Baseball: The Biographical Encyclopedia, "Parker, a close friend of Wills, underwent a period of self-assessment and decided to retire only a week after his 33rd birthday. He said that he wished for 'a more settled life' and longed to pursue other interests. 'Major league baseball,' he said, 'is a game for single men in their twenties....If you're in it too long, you're trapped."

Parker's exit left a hole at first base, which was filled in the middle of the 1973 season by Steve Garvey. So you could argue that one of the best things Wes Parker ever did for the Dodgers was retire.

After one season away from the game, Parker resumed his career in Japan, where the travel was virtually non-existent. He batted .301 with 14 home runs, and retired again

You know what's really interesting about Wes Parker? His acting career. Have you ever noticed that baseball players don't become movie stars? But if you take a moment from your busy schedule and apply yourself, you should be able to think of at least a dozen football players who wound up making good livings acting (or in most cases, "acting") on TV or in movies.

And baseball players? Well, there's Chuck Connors and there's Johnny Beradino, both of whom enjoyed long careers on television. And then there's ... hmm, I can't think of anybody else.

Except Wes Parker, that is. Handsome, articulate, and a star for Hollywood's favorite baseball team, Parker got his shot on both the big and small screens. In 1977, he played a substantial role in a TV series called "All That Glitters." Among his co-stars were Linda Gray (who the next year became famous as J.R. Ewing's mistreated wife on "Dallas") and Gary Sandy (who the next year became moderately famous as the mistreated program director on "WKRP in Cincinnati"). "All That Glitters" didn't last long, but Parker later appeared in a couple of TV movies in the late 1970s, and then in 1986 he played a feature role in something called "Cry from the Mountain" (among his co-stars was Billy Graham, as himself).

In the end, of course, the acting career didn't amount to much. Wes Parker wasn't your typical ballplayer, but as the years roll along, most of us will forget what really set Parker apart. What we'll remember are the six straight Gold Gloves, Parker's place among the only all-switch-hitting regular infield in baseball history (1965 and 1966, when he teamed with Jim Lefebvre, Maury Wills and Jim Gilliam), and his 1970 season, in which he hit for the cycle on May 7.