They asked Willie Mays this week, seeing as how Mays is the best player Mays ever saw, who he saw as second best, and he replied, "I'd have to say Roberto Clemente."

That left some gap in right field for the Pittsburgh Pirates when Clemente perished in a plane crash six years ago -- a gap soon filled by a player now touted by his employers, and most other National League executives, as today's best baseball player: Dave Parker.

Following yesterday's press conference in the Allegheny Club, overlooking the sonw-covered field at Three Rivers Stadium, make that Dave Parker, one of the highest-paid players in baseball. The highest paid? Over Jim Rice? Pete Rose? None of our business, they say -- suffice to say Parker agreed to a five-year contract making him quite happy to stay in Pittsburgh, "where I want to play -- the ball club is my family."

Attorney-agent Tom Reich has handled negotiations for dozens of pro athletes without ever having one play out an option, now adding Parker -- and said, "This was by far the longest and also the most complex deal in my sports career. But we're talking about the greatest player of our time." Oh-oh, Mr. Reich, now what kind of player will you be talking about next week when you dicker with the Cincinnati Reds over the contract, option year at hand, of one George Foster?

Rod Carew's hopes of joining the maybe-highest-paid elite swing in the balance as the Yankees and Angels bargain with the Minnesota Twins, and the latest on their trade offers for rights to him: New York entering "serious" stage, reportedly leav ing Twins to mull taking Chris Chambliss, Juan Beniquez, Damaso Garcia and hot-prospect pitcher Dave Righetti, plus $400,000... California shying away, Buzzie Bavasi saying he's "not going to ruin the future" of his club by acceding to Minnesota's demands of Carney Lansford and Chris Knapp along with two other young players plus $400,000.

South African boxer Kallie Knoetze's court match with the State Department has been continued again by the federal judge in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; until Feb. 12. If Knoetze can't keep his visa for employment on these shores, promoter Bob Arum notes, "It may cost him a chance to fight Leon Spinks in the United States." So, he could still fight Spinks overseas; the networks wouldn't let a little thing like an ocean stand in the way... Jimmy Young tries to avenge his upset last year in a telecast 10-rounder today against Osvaldo (Jaws) Ocasio in Puerto Rico's Roberto Clemente Stadium; fellow heavyweight contender Knoetze will watch that one, as will Larry Holmes, who is supposed to risk his WBC crown against the victor March 23... NBC-TV calls to advise that, no end to the exposure for De Matha's number one gift to basketball, at Notre Dame-Maryland halftime today the network will show Coach Morgan Wootten and team taped at practice with inquiring reporter Al McCuire... Recurrent report from Tobacco Road: Robinson's 6-8 Mike Tissaw, one of Nova's top highs hoopsters, is bound for Duke.

One more making himself at home for a time: Dodger captain Davely Lopes, newly signed for 1980-84.

So what do the Baltimore Oriole players think about the possibility of playing part of the home schedule in Washington? Thumbs down, as expressed by shortstop Mark Belanger to Jim Henneman in the Sporting News:

"I'm sure you'd find that the players would be even more upset than the fans if we had to play some games in Washington. There's no doubt it would be a disadvantage even more so for us than for the visiting team. With travel time, it would mean not getting home until maybe 2 1/2 hours after the game."

Furthermore, said the "Blade" with the Gold Glove, "We're used to playing on a good field at Memorial Stadium. I've played in RFK, and I don't like the idea... I'm zero on Washington."

Pitcher Mike Flanagan added: "We're on the road half the time as it is, and playing a game in Washington would be just like another trip."