Philography: Dick Allen
By Matt Veasey
Dick Allen belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Let’s get that out-of-the-way with right off the bat. I’m one of them, supporters of this man for enshrinement as a player.
He is a finalist on the ‘Golden Era’ ballot, which selects an old-timer once every three years. The results for that slot will be announced in a little over a week from now.
Allen was born on March 8th, 1942 in the middle of World War II out in Wampum, Pennsylvania, a tiny borough less than an hour from Pittsburgh, not far from the west-central state line.
Raised in a rural part of the state, Allen developed a love of horses early in life from his father. It would be a love that he would carry into and through adulthood right to the present day.
One of five boys raised in a mostly white town, he doesn’t remember much personal experience with prejudice, despite the 50’s still being a time of segregation in much of the country. Allen and his brother were tremendous athletes who helped their local school sports programs to become regional powers, which went a long way towards their being accepted.
Dick and his brothers were especially talented as basketball players, and two of those brothers, Hank and Ron, would each earn college basketball scholarships before eventually briefly reaching the Majors as baseball players.
Dick himself became a baseball fan and player after watching some of the top Negro League games and players in his early years as a boy, and then following the career of the great Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Roberto Clemente, his first real baseball idol.
After an aggressive push by one of their scouts, Allen signed with the Phillies, but almost immediately had problems with the organization when they decided, without his input, to begin referring to him in official organizational materials as “Richie” Allen.
His own pro baseball career would begin at just age 18, with Elmira in the NY-Penn League, and over the next couple of years his prodigious power allowed him to quickly rise through the Phils minor league system. In 1963, after a salary power play with Phils GM John Quinn failed, Allen was shipped to Arkansas for another year in the minors, and here he was subjected to his first real taste of extended racism from fans.
After destroying minor league pitching for 33 homeruns in 1963, Allen eventually won over many of the fans who had begun the year vilifying him. He finally got the call up to the big club in September of that year. Playing in parts of 10 games, he got to experience being a part of the best Phillies team in a decade. The club finished that year with 87 wins, good for 4th place in the National League.
The 1964 season dawned with great optimism in Philadelphia. The Phils had already shown they were becoming competitive the previous year, and now would be adding the mega-hyped rookie Allen for a full season for the first time. His presence in the lineup was felt immediately.
In that ’64 campaign, Allen produced a season that would see him be named the NL Rookie of the Year, and come in 7th in NL MVP voting. He hit .318 with a .382 on-base percentage, crushed 29 homers, 38 doubles, knocked in 91 runs, and scored 125 runs.
Unfortunately, that 1964 season is largely remembered in Philadelphia for the historic collapse by the team at the end of the year. Holding a 6 1/2 game lead in the NL Pennant race with just 10 games remaining, the Phils blew it all. The collapse was no fault of Allen’s, however. He hit .442 with 3 homers, 12 runs, and 11 rbi in those final 10 games. But it wasn’t enough.
Over the next three seasons, Allen continued to develop his game, becoming one of the most feared hitters in all of baseball. He was an NL All-Star each season from 1965-67. He received MVP votes each of those years as well, finishing 4th in the 1966 balloting.
He tailed off a bit in 1968 and ’69, possibly still recovering from a career-threatening freak hand injury that ended his 1967 season early. He hurt the hand while fixing his car one day. Still, his power remained, and he topped the 30 homerun mark in each year.
In his first 6+ seasons in a Phillies uniform, from his September callup in ’63 through the 1969 season, Allen hit an even .300 with a .380 on-base percentage. He had 966 hits, 177 homeruns, 544 rbi, and 591 runs. And he was just entering his prime years, as the 1970 season would see him turn 28 years old.
Unfortunately for the Phillies, he wouldn’t play any of his prime here in the City of Brotherly Love. Following that near-miss campaign of 1964, the Phillies did not contend again. From 1965-67 they continued to record winning records, but never finished higher than 4th. In 1968, the club collapsed to 76-86.
Many in the town’s fan base turned on its enigmatic slugger as a symbol of their frustrations, and frankly there was still an element of the team’s fan base that could be described as nothing less than racist in that late-60’s civil rights era.
Some of the fans in the left field bleachers at old Connie Mack Stadium took to throwing pennies, even batteries, at him. He began to wear a batting helmet in the field, a practice that would follow him throughout the rest of his career.
In 1969, Allen was off to a hot start, but then in June of that season he was suspended by new manager Bob Skinner for showing up late to a game. For Allen, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. During his down time, he purchased horses for his growing stable on a farm in Bucks County, and told the Phillies that he wouldn’t return from suspension.
Fearful of losing a prized asset in the prime of his career at the top of his trade value without compensation, GM Bob Carpenter talked Allen into returning, with the promise that he would be traded at the end of the season. Allen returned, finished out another strong individual season, and was indeed dealt away.
The trade came on October 7th, 1969 as the Phillies sent Allen, Cookie Rojas, and Jerry Johnson to the Saint Louis Cardinals in exchange for outfielders Curt Flood and Byron Browne, catcher Tim McCarver, and pitcher Joe Hoerner. But as with seemingly everything involving Allen at the time, even his trade would not come without major controversy.
These were the days before free agency, and when baseball’s “reserve clause” was still in effect, basically binding players to a team unless they were traded. Flood wanted no parts of going to a losing situation in Philly, and balked at reporting. In the end, he would not only refuse the trade, he would take on all of baseball in fighting for the elimination of that reserve clause.
Curt Flood challenge baseball’s reserve system after trade
Though Flood’s fight would ultimately prove of major historical importance for all Major League Baseball players, it didn’t help the Phillies at all. The young outfielder was considered a key piece in the deal from their perspective. Saint Louis would ultimately send along Willie Montanez as compensation to complete the deal.
Allen’s stay in Saint Louis would prove short, just one season, but it was a highly productive season. Allen returned to his place among the game’s top stars. He was voted the starter at 1st base for the NL in the All-Star Game, his 4th All-Star appearance. He hit 34 homers and drove in 101 runs. And still, again there was controversy.
A series of late-season injuries, including a torn hamstring, ended his season early while the Cards were still in contention. It would prove to be a fatal blow for the team. But also, Allen chose to recover at his home near Philadelphia, rather than back in Saint Louis where the team could monitor him.
Almost immediately after the season concluded, the Cards dealt him away to the Los Angeles Dodgers for 2nd baseman Ted Sizemore and catcher Bob Stinson. The deal appeared to be a steal for LA, and Allen did produce, but it was again only a one year performance. In his one season out west, Allen hit .295, slugged 23 homers, knocked in 90 runs, and nearly led the Dodgers to an NL West crown.
Still, he was gone in the off-season, this time to the Chicago White Sox in a deal in which the Dodgers in return received a talented southpaw pitcher by the name of Tommy John. It would be Allen’s first time in the American League, and it would prove to be a perfect fit for player and franchise.
The AL West seemed up for grabs behind the Oakland A’s, who were becoming a legitimate power in the division after winning the 1971 World Series. To challenge them in ’72, the Sox believed that Allen’s power was just what they needed. They were right, as Chicago battled Oakland all year, leading the race as late as late-August.
Allen became the AL Most Valuable Player with Chicago in 1972
Though the AL West crown would slip slowly away to an eventual 5 1/2 game margin for the A’s, the 2nd place 87-win season was a big step in the right direction, and it was indeed led by Dick Allen. He was named the American League Most Valuable Player after hitting .308 and leading the AL in on-base percentage (.420), Walks (99), Homeruns (37) and RBI (113) in what was the first of 3 consecutive AL All-Star seasons.
The success would not repeat in 1973 due to injury. In late June, Allen was in the midst of another big campaign when he broke his leg in a 1st base collision. At the time of the injury he was hitting .310 with 16 homers and 41 rbi, and he was voted to another All-Star Game appearance. He would only return for parts of 3 more games that year. The Sox, tied for first at the end of June, faded to a 5th place finish.
The 1974 season saw Allen return healthy, but also saw yet another controversy develop. Future Hall of Famer Ron Santo arrived from the cross-town Cubs. A Chicago baseball icon, Santo was basically playing out the final season of his career. A clubhouse power struggle ensued between the two, and by the end of the year, Allen confided that he was retiring. He left the team in mid-September and would not return.
Realizing that he was discontented, the Sox sought to get a return for their powerful 1st baseman while they could still get some value. He had shown that he still had that power with a 32 homer season in a 1974 during which he also hit .301 on the year. In December of ’74 they dealt him to the Atlanta Braves, but Allen never played in Atlanta.
Meanwhile, back in his old Philly stomping grounds, the Fightin’ Phils were indeed beginning to fight their way back up the standings once again. Allen was courted by a number of current Phillies like Mike Schmidt, as well as old-timers like his former teammate Robin Roberts. They convinced him that things had changed in Philly, both on and off the field, and Allen relented to a return.
The Braves traded Allen’s rights to the Phils, and on May 14th, 1975, Dick Allen returned to the Philadelphia Phillies lineup for the first time in a half-dozen years. He played 7 innings at 1st base that night at Veteran’s Stadium, going 1-3 with a single as the Phils shutout the Cincinnati Reds 4-0 behind a Steve Carlton complete game.
In that 1975 season, Allen helped the Phillies young sluggers Schmidt and Greg Luzinski in their development while providing a veteran slugging presence behind them in the batting order. He only hit a dozen homers, but drove in 62 runs in just 488 plate appearances.
Allen returned to the Phillies and helped the club win the NL East in 1976
The 1976 season opened with a ton of excitement around the team. They were expected to challenge the Pirates for the NL East crown, the All-Star Game would be held in Philly that year, and the nation would be celebrating its Bicentennial, with many of the important festivities centered in the city.
1976 would not play out as a healthy year for Allen. Two separate injuries at the end of April and the end of July cost him a month each time. Still, despite just 298 plate appearances, basically half a season, he managed to bomb 15 homers and drive in 49 runs. And the team did indeed finally win the NL East, setting a franchise record with 101 wins and pulling away in September to a 9-game victory in the division.
The 1976 playoffs would be Allen’s only postseason appearance of his 15-year career in Major League Baseball. The Phillies were matched up with the defending World Series champions, ‘The Big Red Machine’ era Cincinnati Reds. It would prove to be a quick knockout for the champs, as the Reds swept the Phils with 6-3, 6-2, and 7-6 wins. Allen went 2-9 with a run scored. It was mostly uneventful, except for a Game 2 error that proved ultimately to be the winning run.
That off-season, for the first time in his career, Dick Allen was a free agent. Unfortunately for him, it would not result in the kinds of big paydays that future free agents would enjoy. He was now 35-years old, clearly at the end of his career. He signed with the Oakland Athletics during Spring Training of 1977, but despite getting regular playing time through June, Allen was not happy.
Following a June 19th doubleheader in Chicago against the White Sox team for whom he had enjoyed success just a few years earlier, Allen retired. In his final at-bat, as a pinch-hitter in the top of the 7th inning, Allen struck out. In what was a more complete story to the goodbye, he had started the opener and gone 2-4.
Dick Allen retired having played in parts of 15 seasons, just 11 of those as full seasons due to either youth, age, or injury in between those two extremes. He accumulated 351 homeruns, drove in 1,119 runs and had a career .292 average. He had been the 1964 NL Rookie of the Year, and the 1972 AL Most Valuable Player, as well as a 7-time All-Star.
Allen’s retirement years were difficult. He went through a divorce that included a major financial settlement against him, and then suffered further with a destructive fire at his home which also destroyed his horse stables. Having said he would never be a coach in the game, he would indeed return as a hitting instructor with both organizations for which he had his most career success, the White Sox and Phillies.
In retirement there have been few players whose Hall of Fame credentials have been more vigorously debated. Many of his detractors point to two main negatives: that he was a “clubhouse lawyer” type who sowed discord behind closed doors and caused friction that hurt his teams. Also, that he simply didn’t produce over a long enough period of time.
However, almost every major player and coach who was a part of Allen’s career has stepped forward to refute the claims of his negativity in the clubhouse, including two of the game’s greatest managers, Chuck Tanner and Gene Mauch. Among players, no less than the greatest 3rd baseman, and the greatest Phillie, in history, Mike Schmidt, has called Allen a mentor.
A reasonable evaluation of the dominance of the numbers produced by Dick Allen, largely during that era of the 1960’s historically dominated by pitching, is absolutely worthy of his enshrinement in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
If there is any justice in this great game, he will get a phone call in a little over a week letting him know that in the summer of 2015, he will finally get his long-deserved day in the Cooperstown sun