On Sep 2, the Phils made Dick Allen’s #15 the first number of a (so far) non-Hall of Famer to be retired by the club. By all accounts it was a very nice ceremony and clearly moved the retired, now 78-year-old, player. It was also a little sad in that it was not in front of fans. Hats off to the Phils, though…they both chose to honor him as scheduled and also now plan to have another Dick Allen Day next year when hopefully there will be a stadium full of appreciative fans. At the ceremony, Phillies managing partner John Middleton choked up talking about Allen being one of his boyhood heroes.
Changing tack a bit—last week, the HoF announced the Early Days and Golden Days committees would not be meeting this winter as planned but next winter instead. They cited the pandemic as their quite lame excuse, stating the meeting had to be in person…and conveniently ignoring that (a) New York is not a hot spot, (b) therefore the HoF is open to visitors again, and (c) Zoom exists. I was pretty sarcastic in my post about it, and the HoF deserves it. Dick Allen (and Tony Oliva too) came up one vote short of selection when the then-named Golden Era Committee met in 2014. Now he, Oliva, and every other potential candidate must wait at least another year. Each year, I look forward in the offseason to reviewing HoF candidates’ careers, deciding for myself if they should be enshrined. I love baseball history. After the HoF announcement, I’d pretty much decided that I’d review likely candidates anyway. Rather than waiting, I’ll review Allen’s case now.
Dick Allen’s numbers are solid in and of themselves. He was an All Star 7 times. He was the Rookie of the Year in 1964 with the Phillies. He was the AL MVP in 1972 with the White Sox. He led his league at least once in triples, homers, runs, total bases, OPS, RBI, and walks. He hit .292/.378/.534 for his career, all of which was in a pitchers’ era, with 351 homers, a 156 OPS+ and 58.8 bWAR. He played in 15 seasons, and 4 were not full seasons, so he did not rack up some of the cumulative stats some voters look for, However, from 1964-1974, he hit 319 of his homers, and here’s who had more in those 11 years: Hank Aaron, Harmon Killebrew, Willie McCovey, and Willie Stargell…all HoFers. Here’s whose OPS over those years was higher than his .940: Hank Aaron, with .941…and nobody else.
So, besides the cumulative stats, why did he never get over 19% of the BBWAA vote when he was eligible? The short answer is a reputation for being temperamental. But why? Is that rep accurate? First, let’s look at the beginning of his career. He was signed to his first contract in 1960. He became the Arkansas Travellers’ first black player. Little Rock was not a friendly place to break color barriers in the early 1960s to say the least. There were protest marches by white supremecists over his being on the team…and he led his league in total bases anyway. Philadelphia in the 1960s wasn’t much better. Home team fans often yelled racial epithets at him. He wore his batting helmet in the field due objects being thrown from the stands at him. Those things would seem to make being temperamental justified.
In 1965, he and a teammate, Frank Thomas, got into a fight. Multiple sources indicate Thomas was a bully and a racist, and that he attacked Allen with a bat…hit him in the shoulder with it. Thomas was released the next day, so obviously the team leadership/owners realized who was in the wrong. However, they also put a gag order on the club about the incident. Thomas, under no such impediment, got to broadcast his side of the affair, which naturally left out the assault with a bat and racial motivation bits. The local media published Thomas’ side, and fans of course believed it. Of note, Allen…in a 2009 interview with Bob Costas…stated he and Thomas later became friends, so the ability to forgive seems to be one of his virtues.
Another aside—he got fined and suspended by the Phillies in 1969 after failing to arrive in time for a double header with the Mets. He’d gone to a horse track earlier that day and got stuck in traffic. After the season, he demanded and got a trade—to the Cardinals in exchange for Curt Flood, who famously refused to report to the Phillies and sued MLB over the reserve clause.
In Philadelphia, Allen had a reputation with the media and fans as a distraction in the clubhouse. However, there was no such reputation in St Louis, Los Angeles, Chicago, or Oakland when he played on teams there. Two of his longest tenured managers, both much respected—Gene Mauch and Chuck Tanner—have said this view was untrue. Several Hall of Famers, including Mike Schmidt, Goose Gossage, Willie Stargell, and Willie Mays have said Dick Allen should be in the HoF. Schmidt and Gossage were teammates of his. Schmidt, in particular, played a key role in talking him into coming back to Philadelphia in 1975 rather than retiring. He is the person who unveiled the retired number placard and was also one of the key speakers at Allen’s ceremony this week. That doesn’t sound like Allen was an unpopular teammate to me.
Would I vote for Dick Allen to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame? In a heartbeat. Absolutely. I can only hope the HoF finally gives him his due before he is no longer around to enjoy it. Hats off to the Phils’ owner for doing so at the team level.