By Glen Sparks
Dick Allen sure made things hard on himself. That might be one reason he is not already in the Hall of Fame.
Well, maybe that is the wrong way to start this post.
Dick Allen supporters might say that people made things hard on Dick Allen. And, they’d be right about that.
Allen, clearly a sensitive guy, put up with bigotry and booing. He didn’t handle either very well, in the minors or in the majors.
On the field, Allen gave fans plenty to cheer about. He hit long home runs, won the Rookie of the Year award, put up an MVP season and was as good as anyone in baseball from 1964 to 1974.
He also sulked a lot, left his team in a snit, and punched at least one teammate in the face. Add to that, Allen battled managers and front offices. He showed up late to more than a few games, not exactly in playing shape.
What did all this add up to? Allen, one of the most feared hitters of his time, did not once even pick up 20 percent of the Hall of Fame vote.
Now, he is getting another chance. And isn’t that what Dick Allen is all about? Another chance?
The former slugger for the Phillies, White Sox and other teams is one of 10 nominees on the Golden Era ballot. If he can get 75 percent of the vote, he’s in. The Hall of Fame will announce the vote results Dec. 8.
Bob Nightengale of USA Today wrote about Allen in a column published Tuesday. Predictably, Allen did not apologize for some of the controversies that swirled around his 15-year baseball career.
He said, “I would not change a thing in my life.”
And, some people would not ask Allen to change anything. Goose Gossage, a Hall of Fame pitcher and a teammate with the White Sox, has called Allen the greatest and smartest baseball player he has ever seen.
Allen was born March 8, 1942, in Wampum, Pa., outside Pittsburgh. The Phillies signed him out of high school for $70,000. In 1963, Allen played AAA ball in Little Rock, just six years after the integration of Central High School. It was a mess.
Fans booed him unmercifully for any errors or other mistakes, according to a SABR bio article written by Rich D’Ambrosio. Some people around town fired racial insults at him, according to the article. Allen thought about quitting. (It is only fair to note that, despite the problems, Allen still led the league in home runs with 33, and the fans voted him the team MVP at season’s end.) The Phillies called Allen up late in 1963. He got seven hits in 24 at-bats.
Allen hit 29 home runs, batted .318 and put up an impressive 8.8 oWAR (Baseball Reference) in his Rookie of the Year campaign in 1964. He followed that with a 7.2 oWAR in 1965 and an 8.3 in ’66. Allen was hammering the ball in one of the greatest pitching eras in baseball history. He blasted 40 home runs and slugged .632 in 1966. In six full seasons in Philly, Allen never had an OPS+ lower than 145.
The Cardinals traded for Allen in 1970. He responded by hitting 34 home runs and driving in 101 runs (oWar 3.8, OPS+ 146). The following season, Allen hit 23 home runs for the Dodgers (oWar 6.8, OPS+ 151).
Allen’s MVP season came in 1972, after the Dodgers traded him to the White Sox for Tommy John. He batted .308 and hit 37 home runs with 113 RBI. Besides leading the league in those two categories, Allen set the pace in walks (99), on-base percentage (.420), slugging (.603), OPS (1.023) and OPS+ (199).
Allen’s last big year was 1974 in Chicago. He led the league in homers (32), slugging (.563) and OPS (.938). He played three more seasons and called it a career.
He was done at 35. So, some people say, Allen simply did not hang around long enough to merit a Hall of Fame selection. But, maybe it was all that other stuff. And, as I mentioned, there was a lot of that.
Some of the problems come across as a bit petty on both sides. The Phillies wanted to call Allen “Richie.” He wanted to be “Dick.” He said “Richie” was a kid’s name. This went on for years.
Allen also held out for more money in 1965. Management didn’t like a young player making salary demands after just one season, good as it was. That created another sore spot.
Around the batting cage once, Frank Thomas (not the Hall of Famer) made some inflammatory comments to Allen, who socked Thomas in the jaw. Thomas probably deserved it, but the fans blamed Allen. They put up “WE WANT THOMAS” banners at Connnie Mack Stadium after the Phils released Thomas. (Note: Thomas only played 74 games for the Phillies. He was hardly a mainstay.)
Allen began wearing helmets onto the field, something he continued to do for years, as protection from fans throwing batteries and other objects at him. He also scribbled things into the dirt with his cleats, stuff like “Boo.” (Didn’t this just make things worse?)
He missed flights, got benched for being in no condition to play and lost time due to suspensions. He welcomed a trade to the Cardinals, but only lasted one season in St. Louis. He welcomed a trade to the Dodgers but only lasted one season in Los Angeles.
Allen pounded the baseball for the White Sox, got rewarded with the biggest contract in the game and lasted three seasons. Dick Allen wore out his welcome fast.
Dick Allen and Willie Stargell
One of baseball’s most controversial players ever retired after the 1977 season. He finished with 351 home runs, 1,119 RBI, a .292 batting average, .378 on-base percentage, 534 slugging percentage and a 156 OPS+. Plus, a lot of headaches, got and given. He had an oWAR of 69.9 with highs of 8.8, 8.8 again, 8.3 and 7.2. He made seven All-Star teams.
Willie Stargell was a few years older than Allen, a lot happier and much more popular. Stargell was “Pops.” Everyone loved him. He played his entire 21-year career with the Pirates and famously led the 1979 “We Are Fam-i-ly team to a World Series title.
The voters put Stargell into the Hall of Fame right away (82.4 percent on the first ballot). But was Pops better than Allen?
Stargell finished with more home runs (475) and RBI (1,540). He had a lower batting average (.282), on-base percentage (.360), slugging percentage (.529) and OPS+ (147). His career oWAR was (63.8) with highs of 7.4, 6.9, 5.6 and 5.3. (I am only using oWAR. Neither Allen nor Stargell did much on defense. They were in the line-up to hit.) Like Allen, Stargel was selected to seven All-Star teams.
At his best, Allen was a better player than Stargell. With a whole lot more baggage. Is it time to forget about some of that stuff? How much will the committee take into account the problems that Allen faced? How much will it take into account the baseballs he pounded into the bleachers? We will find out Dec. 8 at about 2 p.m. eastern time.