December 8, 1987: Jose Rijo is traded by the Oakland Athletics with Tim Birtsas to the Cincinnati Reds for Dave Parker

Jose Rijo is one of the most popular Reds of all time and deservedly so.

He was an excellent ballplayer, produced excellent results, was a post season hero, was loyal to the Reds, and played the game with fun…including the fans when possible.

His overall counting stats are diminished by injuries and the change in baseball strategy with the increased use of the bullpen. What’s hard to believe is that two teams had literally given up on him at the time of his acquisition at age 22.

Rijo signed with the Yankees at age 15 and roared through the minors, even pitching 200 innings in a questionable management move at age 18. He was in the majors at age 19, but faltered in the big leagues when he went 2-8, 4.76 ERA, in 24 games with the Yankees. That fall he was traded (along with Birtsas) to the Oakland A’s for future Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson In three years with the A’s, Rijo went 17-22 with a 4.74 ERA. His final year year in Oakland was 2-7 with a 5.90 ERA, but the previous year he struck out 176 batters in 193 innings at age 21. That’s what the Reds noticed.

So, new Reds GM Murray Cook makes his second important pitching acquisition in about five weeks on the job. After trading for an undervalued Danny Jackson the month before, he now trades for youngster/veteran Jose Rijo and his trade counterpart, Tim Birtsas.

Rijo becomes one of baseball’s best pitchers. While Jackson is winning 23 games in his best season (his first season with the Reds), Rijo pitches 162 innings as a swingman out of the Reds’ bullpen going 13-8 with a 2.39 ERA. Rijo becomes a rotation stalwart for the Reds through 1995 when injuries stopped him. Twice he finished in the top five in Cy Young Award voting, and he leads the league in strikeouts in 1993. He wins two games during the 1990 World Series, beating A’s star Dave Stewart both times, allowing only 9 hits in 15+ innings and posting an 0.59 ERA against his former teammates. For the Reds, Rijo goes 97-61 with a 2.83 ERA.

Birtsas was a lefty reliever who pitched three seasons for the Reds, going 4-8 with the Reds and a 3.93 ERA.

The Reds had to give up value to get Rijo, and they traded high and wisely in dealing star outfielder Dave Parker.

Parker was one of baseball’s absolute best players with the Pirates, winning an MVP in 1978 when he batted .334 with 30 homers and 117 rbi. He led the league in slugging percentage and OPS. He had a cannon for an arm in right field, winning three Gold Gloves, and three times he finished in the top five in MVP voting.

Then some injuries hit and a drug problem surfaced and Parker’s performance suffered. He was pretty much chased out of Pittsburgh and the Reds made one of their best free agent signings ever.

A new, revived Dave Parker joined the Reds and became a team leader and enjoyed four underrated, very good seasons with the Reds. His Cincinnati perfomance may have been somewhat overshadowed by the return of Pete Rose to the Queen City. Parker began to hit again as he had before. One his best career seasons came in 1985, when he hit .312 with 34 homers, and led the league with 125 rbi and 42 doubles. He placed second in the MVP balloting, and finished 5th for MVP in 1986 when he batted .273 with 31 homers and 116 rbi. He led the league in total bases both years. In four years with the Reds, Parker averaged .281 and average 27 homers, 108 rbi, and 32 doubles each year.

To give some idea of what Parker meant to the Reds and the young Reds outfielders during this time, I found this quote in The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract where Bill James rates Parker as the 14th best right fielder of all time. This quote is from Eric Davis in his book “Born to Play.”

James begins his story by saying “One time a reporter told Willie Stargell that Dave Parker had said that he (Stargell) was his idiol. ‘That’s pretty good,’ said Stargell, ‘considering that his previous idol was himself.'”

May be not quite as tough as it was back in the 60’s and 70’s, as Pops Parker pointed out to me time and again in that agitated honeybee voice. “Little ‘un, I’m tellin’ ya, you used to go in against the Phillies, that (Steve) Carlton with his slider….Pops never missed a beat filling me up with historical details, and he wasn’t the kind you interrupt with something as meaningless as your rookie opinion.

The Reds dealt him for Rijo after the 1987 season (age 36) when he slumped to .253 with 26 homers, 97 rbi, and an OPS of .744. The Reds had expressed an interest in Parker moving to first base to make room for young outfielders Kal Daniels, Tracy Jones, and Paul O’Neill to join young centerfield star Eric Davis. Parker balked at the move and the Reds traded him in the offseason.

Parker was declining and it was the right time to trade him. His value was still high, and Rijo’s was low. Parker played four more big league seasons, and he played well, but not to the level he had in Cincinnati or with Pittsburgh. He finished his career with a .290 batting average, 339 home runs, and 1493 runs batted in. As the steroid scandal dies down, Parker will most likely have his chance for Baseball Hall of Fame election.

Parker, the aging veteran, with young reinforcements available, was dealt for a young prospect, but still proven pitcher.