Remembering Dick Allen

Dick Allen, the outstanding slugger, died on Monday. His obituary in the Philadelphia Inquirer is here.

Fortunately, the Philadelphia Phillies finally got around to honoring their former superstar during a game this September, just in time. After that event, I wrote this appreciation of Allen:

Allen, who yesterday became the first Phillie not in the Hall of Fame to have his number retired by the team, was an immense talent and a major star. From 1964 through 1967, he was as good a hitter as anyone in baseball. Indeed, I’d say that only Hank Aaron was as good during that stretch.

Allen was no slouch in 1969-69, either. In ’68, the year of the pitcher, he hit 33 home runs and drove in 90 runs. In ’69, playing only three-quarters of the season, he produced nearly identical totals.

But Allen was unpopular with a portion of the fan base. The problem began when, in 1965, he fought with teammate Frank Thomas after the popular veteran taunted him, asking “who are you trying to be, another Muhammad Clay?”

The Phillies released Thomas, and the fans turned on Allen. From that point on, some fans booed Allen incessantly. He began wearing a batting helmet at all time for protection from projectiles being thrown at him.

Allen also had occasional disciplinary problems. In July 1967, he arrived late for a night game and in no condition to play. Manager Gene Mauch had to bench him.

In 1968, after Allen again arrived late for a game, Mauch gave the Phillies an ultimatum — either he goes or I go. The Phillies fired Mauch. In 1969, the new manager, Bob Skinner, had to deal with Allen’s tardiness, including a missed airline flight.

Allen claimed the booing didn’t bother him, but he also expressed a desire to move on from Philadelphia. In 1967, he stated:

I’d like to get out of Philadelphia. I don’t care for the people or their attitude, although they don’t bother me or my play. But maybe the Phillies can get a couple of broken bats and shower shoes for me.

When the Phillies finally traded Allen after the 1969 season, they got a bit more: Tim McCarver, Curt Flood, and Joel Hoerner. Byron Browne also went to Philadelphia with Jerry Johnson and Cookie Rojas going to St. Louis. When Flood refused to report to the Phillies, St. Louis sent minor leaguer Willie Montanez to Philadelphia. Montanez became the teams starting first baseman in 1971.

Liberated from Philadelphia, Allen had a great first four months of the season for the Cardinals, whose fans greeted his arrival with much enthusiasm. He was the National League’s starting first baseman in the 1970 all star game. However, Allen tore his hamstring in August and barely played the rest of the season.

A hamstring injury can keep an athlete sidelined for six weeks. However, rumors surfaced that the Cardinals thought Allen was “jaking it.”

The team denied the rumors, but as soon as the season ended, they dealt him to the Dodgers for Ted Sizemore and Bob Stinson. Sizemore was a good player and added value to the Cardinals batting second behind stolen-base king Lou Brock. However, Allen might have been expected to fetch more on the trade market.

Allen had a productive season in Los Angeles, but the Dodgers traded him after one year to the Chicago White Sox for Tommy John and utility infielder Steve Huntz. This was a classic trade that helped both teams.

John became a mainstay of the Dodgers pitching staff. Allen was the American League’s MVP in 1972 and nearly carried the White Sox to the AL West title that year.

Allen was having another outstanding season in 1973 until he was injured in late June. He had a productive 1974 season, but, plagued by more injuries, he announced his retirement in September.

Allen “unretired,” though, and said he would like to return to the Phillies. He was dealt to Philadelphia for minor leaguers and in May of 1975, he replaced Montanez whom the Phillies had just traded.

Philadelphia fans welcomed him back with a standing ovation.

The Phillies were on the rise. Allen wasn’t a consistently productive player, and in 1976 he briefly went AWOL. Nonetheless, Allen became a mentor for young emerging stars like Mike Schmidt.

It was Schmidt who paid passionate tribute to Allen at the ceremony in Philadelphia yesterday. He said:

Dick was a sensitive Black man who refused to be treated as a second-class citizen. He played in front of home fans that were products of that racist era [with] racist teammates and different rules for whites and Blacks. Fans threw stuff at him and thus Dick wore a batting helmet throughout the whole game. They yelled degrading racial slurs. They dumped trash in his front yard at his home. In general, he was tormented and it came from all directions. And Dick rebelled.

My friends, these [negative] labels have kept Dick Allen out of the Hall of Fame. Imagine what Dick could’ve accomplished as a player in another era, on another team, left alone to hone his skills, to be confident, to come to the ballpark every day and just play baseball.

Schmidt’s comments gloss over a fair amount of unprofessional behavior by Allen, not all of which occurred during his time in Philadelphia. However, there’s no doubt that the treatment of Allen in Philadelphia was abhorrent, and it’s possible that, without the mistreatment, he would have performed even better than he did.

As for the Hall of Fame, you can make the case. During the period from 1964-1974, Allen had the fifth-most home runs (319) behind only four Hall of Famers: Hank Aaron (391), Harmon Killebrew (336), Willie Stargell (335) and Willie McCovey (327). His .940 OPS during that time was second to Aaron’s .941.

However, the other four all had more productive years and played many more games than Allen. His career WAR (wins above replacement ) — better than Stargell’s but worse than the other three — suggests that he’s a borderline candidate for Cooperstown.

However, he’s not a borderline candidate to have his number retired by the Phillies. I’m happy that Dick Allen finally received this deserved honor.

I may have understated the case for Allen’s inclusion in the Hall of Fame. His obituary in the Inquirer points out that during his first ten seasons, Allen’s 165 OPS+ (a stat that combines on-base percentage and slugging percentage and normalizes it by accounting for factors like ballparks) was better than that of Hank Aaron, Harmon Killebrew, and Willie McCovey (not all of whom were not in their prime throughout that period, though).

It also observes that from 1880 to 1990, 24 players registered a slugging percentage of .510 or better over at least 6,300 plate appearances. Allen is the only one not in the Hall of Fame.

Allen might have made the Hall this year, but the committee meeting to vote on his candidacy was postponed due to the pandemic.

At least he lived long enough to get his big day during a Phillies game.


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