Dodgertown Memories

Wes Parker

First Baseman

Wes Parker chats with Ted Williams, baseball’s last .400 hitter, at Pompano Beach, FL. during Spring Training. Williams managed the Washington Senators from 1969-72.

A model of consistency at first base for the Dodgers, skilled and graceful Wes Parker won six consecutive Rawlings Gold Glove Awards at his position (1967-72). In August 2007, Parker was named as the greatest defensive first baseman since the inception of the Rawlings Gold Glove Award in 1957, according to balloting cast by more than one million fans. At the time, Parker said, “I am proud to bring this award home to Los Angeles, prouder still to call it my own personal Hall of Fame.” Parker is remembered for hitting for the cycle in a game, which he accomplished on May 7, 1970 against the New York Mets at Shea Stadium (he had a double, home run, single and triple in a 7-4 Dodger victory in 10 innings). That same season, he had a career-high .319 batting average and collected 47 doubles, while driving in 111 runs. Parker also appeared as himself on television in an episode of “The Brady Bunch” in 1970. He was a member of the famous Dodgers’ all switch-hitting infield of 1965-66 (along with second baseman Jim Lefebvre, shortstop Maury Wills and third baseman Jim Gilliam). After playing in two World Series (1965 and 1966), Parker retired following the 1972 season with a major league record .996 fielding percentage at first base, with just 45 errors in 10,380 chances. Not only did Parker take pride in his defensive skills, he worked as hard as any player on the field, taking countless ground balls and throws. He credits his brother Lyn, Coach Danny Ozark and former Dodger first baseman Gil Hodges with his development at the position. When he was 18, Parker went to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and worked out with the Dodgers, including Hodges who gave him some pointers about footwork at first base. Walter O’Malley once said about Parker, “Wes was a gentleman.”

The first time I saw it in 1963 was dark and flat and very uninteresting and I didn’t like it. I didn’t like Florida. I had never seen Florida before, but over the years I got to liking it. I remember the smell of the orange blossoms at night. Of course, we had no air conditioning or heating, so it was cold and hot, but it toughened us in those old Navy barracks for the season. I could remember you could hear noises 20 rooms away, all the way down at the other end you could hear a conversation because the walls were so thin. I remember the newsstand where you got soft drinks, candy, potato chips and magazines, because in the evenings there wasn’t a lot to do. So, we all hung out in the lobby and either shot pool or hung out telling stories. Just being there and looking at those big oversized photos of Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale and thinking they are so good and we are so little, so small. I remember Herman Levy who blew the whistle and woke us. Every morning he would salute the flag and do the pledge of allegiance to the flag.

“I remember especially my first year when I was in the minor leagues, the Dodger airplane, the Electra, you could hear the (propeller) engines roaring for the take-off. No matter where we were or what we were doing, everything came to a standstill and we all looked north over the palm trees. You couldn’t see the plane. You’d hear it start to come down the runway and you’d hear the lift off and 10 seconds later, there it would be up in the sky coming over the palms and the pines and you’d look up and see that big Dodger insignia on the tail and you knew that was the big league ballclub flying off to West Palm Beach or Sarasota or Winter Haven or some other place to play an exhibition game, big leaguers all of them and you think to yourself wouldn’t I ever love to be on that plane one day, flying with those guys, to play a major league game against other major leaguers.

“All the minor leaguers dressed in the minor league clubhouse, which was very small. It was partitioned off into separate rooms that were extremely small. We all dressed together maybe 15-20 of us, shoulder to shoulder. You hardly had enough room to stretch and put your arms up to put on your jersey. It was cold in there. They had I think electric heaters, but it didn’t matter, it was cold, very cold. Air didn’t circulate well. The funny thing is, you started to love it. That’s the funny thing. I remember the movie theatre. We spent a lot of time in that movie theatre, that old (Naval Air base) auditorium. It was not a long walk. You go out that main gate and go another maybe a couple hundred feet. There it was. You walk in every night and see a movie, because there was so little else to do. After a movie, you came back and that’s when you got your soda pop or shot a couple of games of pool before you went to bed. Of course, we were always tired by 10 o’clock. I think it was a beautiful set up that there weren’t distractions because guys would have gone out. As it was, we had our focus completely on baseball because there was nothing else to do, nothing else to think about.

“(Walter and Kay) were there all the time. They were wonderfully nice and social. Walter was very generous. I saw him over at the golf course a couple of times. Jackie Pung, the lady professional golfer, used to come out and became a very close personal friend. Kay always had a great smile. Walter with his wonderful sense of humor. I was always glad to see him. They always made us feel welcome. I love the feeling of having a private owner rather than a corporate owner. My memories of the O’Malley’s are absolutely top-notch.

“For the spring of 1964, I was on the 40-man roster. I had a good minor league season the year before, but I was not expected to make the team. Even Buzzie (Bavasi) told me that – ‘We had planned to send you out to Triple-A Spokane.’ After the first five days or so, we have intrasquad games and the writers are the managers, like (Herald-Examiner’s) Bob Hunter and (Pasadena Star-News’) Joe Hendrickson. So, I happened to be on Joe Hendrickson’s team. We had four of those games, four successive days before we started exhibition games. I’m on the bench watching this game at Holman Stadium. It’s about the seventh inning, no one is in the stands, everybody is tired of watching, it’s hot and Joe Hendrickson turns to me and says, ‘Kid, pinch hit.’ Doug Anderson was a Dodger batboy – a big strong, strapping right-handed hard-throwing kid about 6-4, 220. He was there for a look-see and trying to make the team, too. He had just come in and was going to blow everybody away with his fastball. So I go up against this guy. After sitting on the bench in this heat for two and a half hours and he throws me a fastball for ball one. The next pitch is a curve down the middle and I just crushed it. If I had hit it on a home run arc, it would have cleared the palm trees down the right field line. It would have cleared everything. As it was, it hit the front of the bank and bounced over for a ground-rule double. When they told me it was a ground-rule double, I was already standing on third base. The point of the story is that it sent an electric shock through everybody. The sound of that ball and this no-name, nothing guy who nobody even realized had a name suddenly just crushes a ball like that. Nobody, even (Ron) Fairly and Tommy Davis had not hit a ball that hard that day. I could see Fresco (Thompson) was still behind home plate, (Walter) Alston was there and Buzzie was there. I could see their heads together, because I had to go back to second, so I’m looking right past the pitcher, past the catcher, right where they are sitting right behind home plate. I saw their heads together, who’s that guy, what’s his name, where’s he from, what did he do last year? I could just see this stuff. I could almost read their lips. That, without a doubt, was the highlight. As it turned out, for those four intrasquad games I hit .700. That is basically how I got to make the Dodgers from those four games. It all started with that first hit. I made the Dodger ballclub and my career started with that hit.”

Wes Parker