October 27, 1997: Just twelve days after releasing Steve Parris, the Reds re-sign the 30-year-old starting pitcher, who proceeds to have the best three seasons of his major league career and help anchor the pitching staff for the 1999 Reds team that won 96 games, the most Reds wins since the 1976 Big Red Machine won 102.
Parris was an oft-injured, eight-year minor league veteran when the Reds signed him to pitch for their AAA Indianapolis team for the 1998 season. He had been a 1989 fifth round draft choice by the Philadelphia Phillies and had already worked his way through the systems of the Phillies, Los Angeles Dodgers, Seattle Mariners, and Pittsburgh Pirates before first signing as a free agent with the Reds in May, 1997. He didn’t even get to pitch for the Dodgers in a season as the Dodgers had claimed him off waivers only to waive him again a week later with the Mariners claiming him in 1993.
Parris had pitched both in starting and relief roles in the minors, but had been injured so often that he only pitched a total of 748 innings (191 appearances) in the eight minor league seasons before joining the Reds, an average of 24 games and 93 innings per year. His major league rookie season came with the Pirates in 1995 when he went 6-6 with a 5.38 ERA in 15 starts, but only made eight appearances with the Pirates in 1996, going 0-3 with a 7.18 ERA before being returned to the minors.
With the Reds system in 1997, Parris made 19 starts, but only pitched 116 innings for AA Chattanooga and AAA Indianapolis going 8-5 with a 3.96 ERA, and striking out 7.4 hitters/ nine innings pitched. The Reds released him on October 15, but re-signed him on October 27 to maintain starting pitching depth in their system. Parris captured lightning in a bottle at age 30 and started the 1998 season 6-1 with a 3.84 ERA but was now striking out nearly 11 batters per nine innings through 13 starts. With Parris finally healthy, Reds manager Jack McKeon put him to work.
With the Reds and making $175,000, Parris made two relief appearances before starting his first game on June 28 and winning a 1-0 decision over the Detroit Tigers. He remained in the rotation for the remainder of the year, finishing the season 6-5 with a 3.73 ERA, including a three-hit shutout of the Montreal Expos. His major league strikeout rate was seven K’s per nine innings while allowing one home run per 11 innings pitched.
For 1999, his salary was increased to $275,000, and he went 11-4 with a 3.50 ERA despite missing two months of the season due to injury and rehab. He pitched one shut out (a six-hitter vs. the Pittsburgh Pirates, walking one and striking out eight), but his K rate for the season dropped to six/nine innings and his home runs allowed rate increased to one per eight innings. After winning four of his five previous starts, manager McKeon asked Parris to pitch against the New York Mets in a regular season playoff game with the wildcard at stake. However, that didn’t go so well; Parris gave up three runs on three hits and three walks in 2 2/3 innings, including a two-run homer to the second Mets batter of the game, and the Mets won, 5-0.
Parris’s only full major league season came in 2000. With his salary now at $1.4 million, Parris made 33 starts and went 12-17 with a 4.81 ERA. His K-rate dropped to 5.5/nine innings, his home rate increased again to one hr/6.5 innings, and his WHIP increased to 1.547/inning. He averaged less than six innings per start and his ERA remained over 5.00 from the beginning of the season until August 13. In August he was 4-1 with a 2.21 ERA, but it wasn’t enough to keep the Reds from trading him to the Toronto Blue Jays in the offseason for minor league pitchers Clayton Andrews and Leo Estrella, neither of whom ever pitched for the Reds in a major league game. As for Parris, he pitched for parts of three more seasons going 9-14 with a 5.37 ERA before retiring, but not before pocketing over $6.5 million dollars in those three seasons alone with the Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Devil Rays.