SABR

Dick Allen

This article was written by Rich D'Ambrosio.

The rumors are that [rookie] Allen is not returning with the Phillies to Connie Mack Stadium on Wednesday. He’s going directly to the Hall of Fame.”1

The Philadelphia Phillies’ first black superstar, Dick Allen was one of the most feared hitters in baseball in the 1960s. In an era dominated by pitching, he slugged some of the most prodigious home runs and quickly become one of the most exciting players in the game, though he was soon shrouded in controversy.

The Phillies had high hopes as they gathered in Clearwater, Florida, for spring training in 1964. They had acquired a bona-fide ace pitcher in Jim Bunning, were coming off an impressive close to the year before, in which they had the best record in all of baseball in September, and were stocked with bright young stars. All eyes, however, were fixed on a young slugger from a tiny hamlet in western Pennsylvania with the broad shoulders and narrow waist of a Greek Olympian. He did not disappoint.

Richard Anthony Allen was born on March 8, 1942, in Wampum, Pennsylvania, a small town 30 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. Though Allen earned the moniker of the Wampum Walloper, the family actually lived in Chewton, a smaller village (pop. 488) just outside of Wampum (pop. 717). One of nine children, Dick was raised by his mother, Era, who supported the family by working as a domestic.

As a child Allen spent hours batting stones and announcing every hitter in the Brooklyn Dodgers’ lineup until he got to his favorite player, Jackie Robinson. “I was always paying for new window panes all over the neighborhood,” said Mrs. Allen. “The neighbors wouldn’t even bother to ask the kids who was responsible. They would just come and tell me it was Dickie again. I knew they were right, too, because there were no baseball fields in all of Chewton or Wampum that could hold a stone if Dickie hit it good.”2 Allen summed up his childhood succinctly: “My mom did a swell job of raising us.”3

An outstanding athlete at Wampum High School, Allen was a starting guard on the basketball team, which had achieved national prominence in the 1950s under coach L. Butler Hennon. In 1958 Dick and his older brothers, Hank and Ronnie, played on the team together. Amazingly, all three earned All-State honors in basketball, and all were later signed by the Phillies and played baseball in the major leagues. In 1960 the basketball team, captained by Dick, won the Division B state championship. Allen earned All-American honors although he was only 5-feet-11-inches tall and weighed 187 pounds.

Dick put baseball ahead of basketball because baseball paid better then and the Allen children wanted to buy a new home for their mother. Dick’s prowess on the diamond caught the attention of Phillies scout John Ogden, who said that he took one look at the young Allen and knew he was special. Ogden endeared himself to the family and did not allow Allen out of his sight. Allen was signed upon graduation from high school for an estimated $70,000. The first thing Dick did was buy his mother that new house.

Allen, along with his brother Hank, began his professional career at Elmira in the New York-Pennsylvania League in 1960. Signed as a shortstop, he was soon switched to the outfield and told he needed to wear glasses. After hitting .281 in his first year, he wore glasses from then on. In 1961 he was promoted to Magic Valley (Twin Falls, Idaho) in the Pioneer League, where he played second base, and spent the 1962 season at Williamsport in the Double-A Eastern League. In his first three minor-league seasons, Allen hit 49 homers and drove in 245 runs. He was clearly one of the crown jewels of the Phillies’ farm system.

At the major-league level, the Phillies were a wretched ballclub. The team had finished last from 1958 through 1961 and had endured a 23-game losing streak in 1961. By 1962 they had improved slightly, and enjoyed their first winning season since 1953. Allen expected to reach the major leagues in 1963, but the Phillies had other plans.

To say that the Phillies had a poor history with race relations would be an understatement. They were notorious for their disgraceful treatment of Jackie Robinson in 1947, and the 1950 Whiz Kids were the last National League champion without a player of color. The Phillies did not integrate until 1957, by which time every other team in the National League already had established black stars. Many of the early players of color on the Phillies were Cuban, Mexican, or Panamanian. Their first African-American player of significance was Wes Covington, acquired from the Kansas City Athletics in 1961.4

In 1963 the Phillies’ Triple-A farm club relocated from Buffalo to Little Rock, Arkansas. Without telling anyone, the Phillies decided to integrate the team. Little Rock had found itself in the middle of the civil-rights movement in 1957 after Governor Orval Faubus refused to integrate Central High School in Little Rock.

For Allen, who grew up in racially tolerant Wampum, Little Rock was a startling experience. As the first black to play there, he experienced racial segregation and pressure on a daily basis. “I didn’t know anything about the racial issue in Arkansas, and didn’t really care. Maybe if the Phillies had called me in, man to man, like the Dodgers had done with Jackie Robinson, at least I would have been prepared. Instead, I was on my own.”5

Governor Faubus attended the season opener, and the opening night crowd waved placards that read, “Let’s not NEGRO-ize our baseball.” The very first pitch of the game resulted in a routine fly ball to Allen, who promptly dropped it. The racially charged atmosphere frightened young Allen. He came from a small town where blacks and whites got along and socialized to some degree. He heard racial taunts from the crowd and found threatening notes on his car after games. Allen told a writer in 1964, “I didn’t want to be a crusader. I kept thinking, ‘Why me?’ It’s tough to play ball when you’re frightened.”6 Allen was harassed at a local store and by a policeman, and was afraid to walk around town. Things got so bad that he considered quitting the team. His older brother, Coy, went down to Little Rock and told Allen that if he quit, he would have to get a job in one of the mills in Wampum. Allen stuck it out.

By the end of the season Allen was voted Most Valuable Player by the Travelers’ fans, and wound up hitting .289 and leading the International League with 33 home runs and 97 RBIs. He was called up to the Phillies and made his major-league debut on September 3, 1963, in Milwaukee. Facing Denny Lemaster, Allen wore uniform number 32 instead of what would become his familiar number 15, and went 1-for-3 with a double. He played in ten games, but showed his power only once, in Los Angeles on September 28, going 3-for-4 with a triple and two RBIs to pace a 12-3 Phillies’ win.

During spring training of 1964, manager Gene Mauch decided that Allen, whom the team insisted on calling Richie, would play third base, a position he had never played regularly at any level. The reason was simple: The Phillies were a predominantly left-handed-hitting team. They needed Dick’s right-handed bat and power in the lineup. The Phillies had traded their only right-handed power hitter, Don Demeter, to Detroit over the winter to get Jim Bunning. Mauch preferred to play the veteran Don Hoak, whom he had acquired a year earlier to play third base. But Hoak struggled terrifically, and with Allen tearing up the league in spring training, Mauch had to play him somewhere. Mauch reasoned that Allen had good hands and could play third well enough to get by: “I know his bat has to help,” the manager said.7

Early in the 1964 season, Allen was the talk of baseball. On April 19 in Wrigley Field, he hit two home runs against the Cubs and raised his average to .429. Mauch said that “he hardly strides at all in the batters’ box. His hands are so fast it’s unbelievable. And he can hit them to any field.”8

In what would be the first of many controversies surrounding him, Allen complained about being called Richie, For whatever reason, the Phillies insisted on referring to him as Richie on all printed rosters, scorecards, and team correspondence. “To be truthful with you, I’d like to be called Dick. I don’t know how the Richie started. My name is Richard and they called me Dick in the minor leagues.”9 He added, “It makes me sound like I’m ten years old. I’m 22. … Anyone who knows me well calls me Dick. I don’t know why as soon as I put on a uniform it’s Richie.”10 The moniker stayed with him until 1966, when the Philadelphia sportswriters began referring to him as Rich Allen.

By August 1964 Philadelphia was in the grip of pennant fever, and Allen, hitting .313, was being touted for National League Rookie of the Year honors. Allen brushed off the talk of the award: “So what? No money goes along with that award, does it? If they put ten or eleven thousand dollars in a pot and gave it to the Rookie of the Year, I might be interested.”11 Allen later said that individual honors did not mean as much as winning the pennant.

While Allen was adept with the bat, his fielding was a sore spot with fans. He made 41 errors at third base in 1964. Phillies fans at Connie Mack Stadium booed him unmercifully, to the dismay of both his teammates and opponents. Manager Mauch commented, “I just don’t understand it. I guess when people have exceptional talent, they are expected to be exceptional every minute of the day, and the perfect player hasn’t been born yet.”12

By September 20 the Phillies had built a comfortable 6½-game lead with 12 to play in the National League, and looked forward to winning their first pennant in 14 years. But fate intervened. While World Series tickets were being printed, the Phillies lost ten painful games in a row. Cincinnati and St. Louis played their best baseball of the season and caught the Phils down the stretch. During the season’s final two weeks, Allen hit .429 and fashioned an 11-game hitting streak. On the season’s final day, with the Phillies needing a win and a Cardinals loss to force a playoff, Allen went 3-for-5 with two home runs in a 10-0 win over the Reds in Crosley Field. However, the Cardinals beat the New York Mets and clinched the pennant. Allen had done his part. It simply wasn’t enough.

Allen finished the 1964 season with a .318 average, 29 homers, and 91 RBIs. He led the league with 125 runs scored, but also set a NL strikeout mark with 138. He was the only Phillie to start all 162 games and earned himself the National League Rookie of the Year Award. It was little consolation for the disappointment he and his teammates felt. That 1964 season was the closest Allen ever came to playing for a pennant winner.

Allen began the 1965 season by holding out for a raise and refusing to report to spring training. He said he was asking for less than $25,000 and thought he was worth it. Phillies general manager John Quinn, known for being parsimonious, said that Allen was “asking for too much after one year.”13 Alen reluctantly came to terms for a reported $20,000.14

The Phillies went into spring training trying to forget the disappointment of 1964. Many writers picked the Phils to contend for the pennant once again. “Richie” picked up right where he left off in 1964. On April 12 he hit the first regular-season home run in the new Astrodome in Houston. The Phillies got off to a slow start, but Allen was sizzling with the bat. On May 16 he went 4-for-5 against the Milwaukee Braves to raise his average to .368. His most dramatic moment came on May 29 at Connie Mack Stadium against the Chicago Cubs. Facing Larry Jackson in the first inning, Allen blasted a 510-foot homer that sailed high over a 15-foot billboard on the roof in left-center field and landed in a tree 50 feet up on Woodstock Street, a block away from the ballpark. It was believed to be one of the longest home runs ever hit in Connie Mack Stadium. Gene Mauch commented, “I’ve seen Allen hit balls harder and look better doing it, but that has to be his most impressive homer.”15 A blasé Allen said, “I don’t measure them. It was a low and away let-up pitch. It felt good. But I didn’t look to see where it was going.”16

On July 3 Allen was leading the National League in hitting with a .335 average, and was selected as the starting third baseman on the All-Star team. However, an incident during batting practice at Connie Mack Stadium that evening altered Allen’s relationship with Philadelphia fans. As teammate Frank Thomas took his swings in the cage, Johnny Callison taunted Thomas about a botched bunt the night before. Thomas yelled out to Allen, “Who are you trying to be, another Muhammad Clay?”17 The racially tinged remark struck a nerve with Allen.

When Allen came in the cage to hit, he confronted Thomas. Words were exchanged, and Allen punched Thomas squarely in the jaw. Thomas, a big man, grabbed a bat and hit Allen on the right shoulder with it. The two were then separated by teammates. After the game, the Phillies announced that Thomas had been placed on irrevocable waivers. Mauch threatened to fine any player who spoke about the incident to the press $1,000, while Allen was told he would be fined $2,000. When asked about Thomas’s release, Allen replied, “Why should I have any comment? I don’t work in the office.”18

From the next day on, some Philadelphia fans booed Allen incessantly. He was unfairly labeled the villain in the fight with Thomas and blamed for the veteran’s release. Some fans even hung large “WE WANT THOMAS” banners from the upper deck at Connie Mack Stadium. Although Thomas was a popular player, he was 36 and had been replaced as the starting first baseman when the Phillies traded for Dick Stuart the previous winter. The incident further divided a city recovering from racial rioting near the ballpark the previous summer. On July 8, five days after the incident, more than 37,000 fans jammed Connie Mack Stadium for a doubleheader with the San Francisco Giants. In the nightcap, Allen hit his first major-league grand slam, off Jack Sanford, a majestic shot off the top of the 75-foot-high Ballantine Beer scoreboard. The same fans who had been abusing Allen all week suddenly gave him a huge ovation “which almost lifted the roof off the ancient playpen.”19 Allen commented, “The people in this town like to boo, but I just play it has hard as I can and don’t listen.”20

The rest of the 1965 season was uneventful for the Phillies; they finished sixth. Allen played in all 161 games, slumped in July and August, and wound up hitting .302 with 20 homers and 85 RBIs. His power numbers declined a bit, and he struck out a league-leading 150 times, breaking his own league record. Allen also cut down on his errors at tird base from 41 to 26, and led all NL third basemen with 29 double plays.

The 1966 season solidified Allen’s status as a true baseball superstar. He hit .317 (fourth in the National League), with 40 home runs (second to Hank Aaron’s 44), and 110 RBIs (third in the league), while playing in 141 games. He led the league in slugging, played in his second consecutive All-Star Game, and finished fourth in National League MVP voting. It was Allen’s best season statistically and his least controversial as well.

Allen began wearing a batting helmet for protection from the projectiles being thrown at him. Teammate Bob Uecker nicknamed him “Crash,” as in crash helmet. Allen wore a batting helmet at all times for the remainder of his career. The Phillies finished the 1966 season a strong fourth with an 87-75 record, 8½ games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers. Allen was rewarded with an $85,000 contract for 1967, the highest ever for a fourth-year player.

Like many of his teammates, Allen lived year-round in Philadelphia, residing in the Mount Airy section of the city. He loved horses and spent hours riding his horse Old Blaze in nearby Fairmount Park. Despite his powerful physique, Allen dreamed of being a jockey: “I’m one of those guys who would like to weigh about 115 pounds for a couple of hours in the afternoon and then go back to my own size about 5 o’clock.”21 Another passion of Allen’s was music, especially singing. In 1968 he formed the Ebonistics, a doo-wop group, and recorded the song “Echoes of November,” which became an R&B hit in the Philadelphia area. In January 1969 Allen and the Ebonistics performed the song during halftime of a Philadelphia 76ers game at the Spectrum in Philadelphia.

By 1967 the Phillies were in the beginning stages of a downward spiral, but Allen was at the top of his game. He maintained a .300 batting average throughout the season and led the league in on-base percentage. Allen was once again the starting third baseman on the All-Star team. In the game, in Anaheim, he blasted a home run that gave the NL a 1-0 lead. It was the first home run hit by a Phillies player in All-Star history.

But controversy swirled around Allen all season. On July 8 he arrived late for a night game with the Cardinals, and in no condition to play. Mauch benched him and said, “I think some rest will help him. If there’s any disciplinary problem between Richie and me it’s going to remain between Richie and me.”22 The next afternoon Allen was back in the lineup and hit a tremendous game-tying home run. The ball traveled well over 500 feet and cleared the center-field fence about halfway between the flagpole and the light tower on the center-field side of the scoreboard. It was the first home run to clear the 32-foot-high wall at Connie Mack Stadium

Despite leading the Phillies in practically every offensive category, Allen continued to be booed. He made it known that he was disturbed by the booing and wanted to be traded: “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.”23

On August 24, 1967, the Phillies were rained out. With no game that night, Allen spent the evening at home tinkering with his 1950 Ford. As he tried to push the car up the driveway in the rain, his right hand slipped and went through the headlight. Two tendons were cut and a nerve was severed. After a five-hour operation at Temple University Hospital, doctors gave Allen a 50-50 chance of ever playing again.

But Allen’s hand healed well enough to enable him to report to spring training in 1968. With a lingering sore shoulder and a right hand that would never fully heal, Allen opened the season as the Phillies’ regular left fielder and handled the position well, committing only six errors all year. But controversy found him on June 1, when he was sent home after arriving late to Connie Mack Stadium. He was fined after that and did not play during the following week’s West Coast road trip, except for a pinch-hitting appearance against the Dodgers. Allen did not take part in pregame practice during much of the trip, and was dressed in street clothes before the games were over.

Clearly agitated by the whole Allen situation, Mauch gave the Phillies a “me or him” ultimatum.

The Phillies made their decision. On June 15 Mauch was fired after 8½ seasons and replaced by Bob Skinner. General manager Quinn acknowledged that Allen was a factor in Mauch’s firing, but not the only reason. When asked about Allen, Skinner told the press, “There are a lot of managers in the National League who would like to have him, and Bob Skinner is one of them. I anticipate no problems with any of the players.”24

The change in managers rejuvenated Allen for a while. He hit .356, scored 24 runs, hit 12 homers, and drove in 27 runs in Skinner’s first 30 days at the helm. By July 16 Allen was second in the National League in batting average and homers.

After a hot streak, the Phils faded and finished the year tied for seventh place with a 76-86 record. Allen saved his best for last, hitting three home runs and driving in seven runs on the season’s final day against the Mets at Shea Stadium. Although 1968 was considered “the year of the pitcher,” Allen finished second in the league with 33 home runs, drove in 90 runs, and hit .263. The Phillies tried but did not trade Allen that winter.

The Phillies struggled in the early part of the 1969 season as the rebuilding process continued. Despite getting off to a torrid start with the bat, Allen found himself embroiled in yet another controversy. On May 1 he missed the early-morning team flight to St. Louis, claiming he was caught in traffic. He was then scheduled to take a 4 P.M. flight to St. Louis, but missed that one too.

He finally arrived at Busch Stadium the following afternoon, 25 minutes late for that day’s game, and was fined $1,000. Skinner commented, “I can’t speak for Allen, but I think he has a full understanding of the wrong he was involved in. It was one of the worst things you can do in baseball.”25 Allen later informed the press that he had told Phillies management “to get rid of me last winter. They had their chance. I don’t feel sorry for them.”26

After that escapade, Allen played solid, consistent baseball. In late May he homered in five straight games, and on June 1 he was hitting a sizzling .341, but was growing increasingly unhappy with the situation in Philadelphia.

On Tuesday, June 24, Allen went to Monmouth Park in New Jersey to watch his horse, Trick Fire. He left the racetrack late and failed to realize that the starting time of the first game of that evening’s doubleheader with the Mets at Shea Stadium had been moved up an hour. Switching on the car radio, he heard that he had been suspended by Skinner. Instead of reporting to the ballpark, Allen headed home to Philadelphia. A visibly angry Skinner did not say how long the suspension would last: “That’s up to Mr. Allen. I’ll have to talk to him.”27 General manager John Quinn supported Skinner’s decision, saying, “The manager has the jurisdiction to do anything he deems necessary on the field.”28

At the time of his suspension, Allen was hitting .318 with 19 home runs and 45 RBIs. He was far and away the best player on an otherwise mediocre team. Without Allen the team struggled mightily. Allen’s suspension was indefinite, meaning that he would have been reinstated if he would have just met with Phillies’ management. Instead he stayed away 26 days. At times no one could locate him, and he gave no indication that he would return to the Phillies. He was being fined $1,000 a day, a steep price to pay for his stubborn streak.

Finally, on July 19, Allen met with Phillies owner Bob Carpenter at a suburban Philadelphia restaurant. Allen agreed to end his self-imposed exile, and Carpenter promised to trade the slugger at the end of the season. The next morning Allen was scheduled to meet with Skinner at 9 A.M. Allen kept Skinner waiting for two hours, finally arriving at 11. Despite the obvious disregard for his manager, Skinner told the press there had been a misunderstanding concerning the time of the meeting. That afternoon, as the Apollo 11 astronauts landed on the moon, Phillies infielder Cookie Rojas remarked, “This must be the greatest day in history. The astronauts come down on the moon and Richie Allen comes down to earth.”29

In late July Allen began scrawling large words in the dirt with his foot around first base at Connie Mack Stadium. “The people were getting on me and I wanted to hit a home run over the Coca-Cola sign to shut them up,”30 so he wrote “COKE” in the dirt to amuse the fans. Over the course of the next few games he wrote “BOO,” “OCT 2,” and “PETE.” When ordered to cease his “dirt doodling,” Allen responded with “NO,” and “WHY.” Allen remarked, “I kept it up ’cause everyone made such a fuss over it.”31

On August 7 Allen refused to accompany the Phillies to Reading for an exhibition game. Skinner, furious and fed up, resigned. Skinner blamed the Phillies front office for not backing him in handling Allen. Once again, Allen was made to be the scapegoat. The Phillies replaced Skinner with coach George Myatt. When Myatt was asked how he would handle Allen, he replied, “Good God hisself couldn’t handle Richie Allen.”32

Allen played out the remainder of the 1969 season and the Phillies finished with an abysmal 63-99 record. Only the expansion Montreal Expos kept them out of last place. Despite appearing in only 118 games, Allen hit .288 with 32 homers and 89 RBIs. On October 7 the Phillies released Allen from his prison, trading him, along with Rojas and pitcher Jerry Johnson to the St. Louis Cardinals in return for outfielder Curt Flood, catcher Tim McCarver, outfielder Byron Browne and pitcher Joe Hoerner. The trade had a lasting impact on baseball history, although Allen had nothing to do with it. Flood refused to report to the Phillies, challenging baseball’s reserve clause, an action that foreshadowed free agency.

After a contract dispute with Cardinals owner August A. Busch was settled, Allen arrived to St. Petersburg for spring training in March 1970 and told the press, “I’m no angel, but I haven’t done anything more than others have done. I don’t think I’m as bad as I’m made out to be. I did things in Philadelphia but I don’t have any intention of doing those things in St. Louis. I came here with the intention of playing ball.”33

Despite missing almost three weeks of spring training, Allen was more than ready once the season began. On opening day at Jarry Park in Montreal, he homered and hit two doubles in five at-bats, knocking in three runs as the Cardinals defeated the Expos, 7-2.

The fans in St. Louis could not contain their excitement over their new slugger. On April 10 a throng of 47, 568 at the Cards’ home opener gave Allen a pregame standing ovation. After the game, he called the reception “heartwarming,”34 and added, “I just hope I prove to be worth it.”35

After years of enduring boos and taunts in Philadelphia, Allen was happy to be in St. Louis: “No wonder they win over here. I feel just like I made the big leagues. This is the best ballclub I ever played with, and I’m not kidding. This team has a lot of talent and a lot of speed.”36

Allen was voted the starting National League first baseman by the fans for the 1970 All-Star Game. This was a surprising development considering that only a year earlier, some considered him the most disliked player in baseball.

In mid-August Allen led the Cardinals in home runs and RBIs, and seemed well on his way to yet another impressive offensive season. However, during a game with the Giants on August 14,
he tore a hamstring sliding into second base. The injury was slow to heal, and Allen played in just five more games that season. Rumors surfaced that the Cardinals were unhappy with Allen’s slow recovery from the injury and wanted to trade him.

When they circulated, the rumors were denied by manager Red Schoendienst, but on October 5, four days after the season ended, the Cardinals traded Allen to the Dodgers for second baseman Ted Sizemore and catcher Bob Stinson. Cardinals GM Bing Devine said the reason for the trade was to replace the aging Julian Javier at second base. Devine added, “He (Allen) and I talked … and I told him that he did everything we expected of him. It was just that the club wasn’t balanced enough … the vital aspect being defense.”37 Schoendienst said that “Allen did a fine job for us, and we never had any problems with him.”38

As a result of the trade, the Dodgers were seen as a possible pennant contender, with Allen supplying the long-ball threat they had lacked for several years. Allen said his love for the Dodgers began in his childhood: “Putting on a Dodger uniform is something special for me. My family, we used to go to Forbes Field in Pittsburgh every time the Dodgers would come there. And we lived 30 miles away.”39

Allen was a huge part of the Dodgers’ on-field success in 1971. Coach Danny Ozark recalled, “Allen did a great job for us in L.A. He was a great baserunner, the best I ever coached. I’d take the extra base with him, and I don’t think he was ever thrown out the entire year.”40 Off the field, however, Allen wanted no part of the public-relations commitments that owner Walter O’Malley expected of the players. Allen felt this distracted from the team’s mission of winning ballgames.

Los Angeles and San Francisco engaged in a spirited battle for the National League West title, and the Dodgers finished second, a game behind the Giants. Allen had another fine year at the plate, hitting .295 with 23 home runs and 90 RBIs in 155 games. On December 2, 1971, Allen was traded for the third time in three years, to the Chicago White Sox for pitcher Tommy John and infielder Steve Huntz.

A mediocre club, the White Sox were managed by Chuck Tanner, a native of New Castle, Pennsylvania, not far from Wampum, and a longtime friend of the Allen family. At this point Allen was weary of trades and the baseball life. In a 1972 interview, he said, “After last year at Los Angeles, I decided I had had it. But I talked with my mother and she told me, ‘Listen son, go help Chuck out.’ I got in touch with the White Sox and signed.”41 When he arrived in spring training, Allen made it known to the press that he disliked being called Richie. Almost overnight, he was referred to as Dick Allen by the national media. He recalled that Chicago was the first city to refer to him by the name his mother gave him at birth. “I made up my mind right then and there that Dick Allen was going to pay back Chicago for the respect they were giving me.”42

Allen carried the White Sox on his broad shoulders into pennant contention in 1972. He was far and away the most talented player on the team. He was also credited for revitalizing baseball on Chicago’s South Side. According to Roland Hemond, then the team’s general manager, “He gave us great years; he made it fun. Attendance had been down for years. You know we had experimented with playing a few games up in Milwaukee (1968-69). Dick got them out to the ballpark again. He had a tremendous impact on our attendance.”43 The White Sox drew only 833,891 fans to Comiskey Park in 1971, but in 1972 attendance spiked to 1,177, 318. During Allen’s three-year tenure in Chicago, the Sox drew a million fans each season.

Allen was the most dominant player in the American League – if not in all of baseball – in 1972. He led the league with 37 home runs and 113 RBIs, and was the starting first baseman on the National League All-Star team. The season was full of memorable moments, but none as dramatic as Sunday, June 4. The White Sox hosted the New York Yankees in a doubleheader at Comiskey Park before a crowd of 51, 904. In game two, Allen came off the bench to pinch-hit in the bottom of the ninth inning with two runners on and the White Sox trailing 4-2. He blasted a long three-run homer off Sparky Lyle to give Chicago a dramatic 5-4 win and a sweep of the twin bill. On July 31 Allen hit two inside-the-park home runs in a game against the Minnesota Twins.

The White Sox battled the more talented Oakland A’s for the division lead all summer, and climbed to within 2½ games of the lead as late as September 24. But they eventually faded and finished the season in second place with a record of 87-67. For Allen, though, it was a year to remember; he was overwhelmingly voted MVP of the American League.

In February 1973 the White Sox rewarded Allen with a three-year contract estimated at $700,000, believed to be the biggest contract ever given to a major-league baseball player at the time. He picked up right where he left off in 1973. He was among the AL leaders in home runs and RBIs, and was hitting a robust .342 as late as June 13. In late June, Allen suffered a hairline fracture of a bone in his right leg in a collision with the Angels’ Mike Epstein, and was out of action for a month. Controversy erupted over the length of Allen’s absence. Some accused him of being a malingerer, claiming that the injury was not as serious as he claimed. Critics noted that he walked without his crutches while attending the All-Star Game in Kansas City. But Allen did attempt to play again in 1973, returning to the lineup on July 31. He went 3-for-4, limped noticeably, and was shut down for the remainder of the season on August 2.

With his leg fully healed, Allen was well on his way to another outstanding season in 1974. He was once again voted the starting first baseman on the American League All-Star team, and led the league in home runs for most of the summer. However, it was not a good season in Chicago. The White Sox spent most of the year mired in fourth place in the AL West, and dissension was tearing the clubhouse apart. Furthermore, Allen was playing in pain. His shoulder had been bothering him and the pain had spread to his back. On September 14, before a game with the California Angels, Allen called a team meeting and tearfully announced his retirement to his teammates. He later told a Chicago reporter, “I just can’t hack it anymore.”44 At the time Allen was hitting .301 with 32 homers (which would ultimately lead the league) and 88 RBIs. Only Mike Schmidt of the Phillies hit more home runs than Allen in 1974.

But like most Allen situations, the issue of retirement was not cut and dried. It was soon discovered that he never filed the required paperwork with the American League, which would have made the retirement official. Therefore, Chicago placed him on the disqualified list, meaning the team could trade its rights to Allen, but he would be ineligible to play again until May of 1975.

In December 1974 the White Sox traded Allen to the Atlanta Braves for cash and a player to be named later. However, Allen wanted no parts of the South, the Braves, or their manager, Clyde King. He immediately informed the Braves in a telegram that he would not play for them. At the same time, he surprised everyone by announcing that he would be interested in returning to Philadelphia. However, Allen missed all of spring training and sat by idly as the 1975 season opened.

On May 7, 1975, after trading away popular first baseman Willie Montanez a few days earlier, the Phillies sent minor leaguers Jim Essian, Barry Bonnell, and an unspecified amount of cash to the Braves in return for Allen and catcher Johnny Oates. After six years and five trades, the prodigal son had returned home.

It was a different team and city that Allen returned to. The Phillies had long since abandoned Connie Mack Stadium and now played in Veterans Stadium, nicknamed The Vet. Only two of his 1969 teammates, Tony Taylor and Terry Harmon, were still on the ballclub. The Phillies were a young team on the rise in the National League, and needed an experienced player like Allen to guide them. On May 14, 1975, he played in his first game with the Phillies since 1969. A huge crowd welcomed him back with numerous standing ovations. Allen singled off the Reds’ Pat Darcy in the first of his three at-bats, and inspired his teammates to a 4-0 win over Cincinnati.

The long layoff and lack of spring training caught up with Allen. He struggled mightily; his average hovered at or below .220 most of the summer. Dick finished the 1975 season with career lows in batting average (.233) and home runs (12). Yet he managed to drive in 62 runs despite hitting behind RBI leader Greg Luzinski. He vowed to come back stronger in 1976, saying, “I owe them something.”45

Allen started the 1976 season slowly, hitting .250 with no home runs when he was placed on the disabled list in late April. He was out of action for a few weeks, but returned rejuvenated in May and played well as the Phillies blitzed through the National League. By Memorial Day the Phillies were solidly in first place and never relinquished their lead. By early June Allen was hitting .333 and his popularity with the fans soared. But the good feelings would soon fade.

On July 25 Allen injured his shoulder in a collision at first base. A few days later he left a game in the third inning and was not seen or heard from for two days. The Phillies reported him AWOL and announced he would be fined. When Allen finally showed up at Shea Stadium on July 30, he explained that he left the team to consult his own doctor about the injury. He was placed on the disabled list once again and the fines were rescinded. However, manager Danny Ozark, his authority compromised, contemplated resigning over the incident. Despite Allen’s month-long absence from the lineup, the Phillies increased their lead in the NL East to 15½ games by August 26.

By the time Allen was activated, on September 4, the Phillies were in the midst of a monumental collapse that brought back memories of 1964. The Phils saw their lead dwindle to four games over the suddenly-hot Pittsburgh Pirates. Allen played poorly and erratically through much of September, and his average dropped from .290 to .257 in just three weeks. He was benched by Ozark during a weekend series in Chicago for supposedly refusing to pinch-hit during one of the games. Off the field, dissension brewed in the Phillies clubhouse as Allen openly criticized the lack of playing time given to black players such as Bobby Tolan and Ollie Brown.

The Phillies rebounded and clinched the National League East title in Montreal on September 26. As the team celebrated on the field, Allen remained in the dugout. His explanation was that he was too overcome with emotion to go onto the field, but many of the players saw it as a snub. As the Phillies sprayed champagne in the clubhouse, Allen, Garry Maddox, Dave Cash, and Mike Schmidt celebrated in a supply room. This only added to the racial climate surrounding the team. While Allen was popular with some teammates, others considered him a phony.

Before the Phillies opened the League Championship Series, Allen announced that he would not play unless his longtime friend and teammate Tony Taylor was placed on the active roster. Taylor, who played sparingly in 1976, was at the end of a long career and never had the opportunity to play in the postseason for the Phillies. This put Ozark in a precarious spot, since the Phillies did not have room on the roster for the aging Taylor, and wanted to avoid yet another Allen controversy. Finally, owner Ruly Carpenter intervened and a solution was arrived at; the Phillies put Taylor in uniform as a coach.

The Phillies were swept in three games by the powerful Big Red Machine Cincinnati Reds. Allen went 2-for-9 and made a crucial error in Game Two that cost the Phillies two runs. It was a foregone conclusion before the playoffs began that because of his age, injuries, and disruptive behavior, he would not return to the Phillies in 1977. On November 5, 1976, Allen was officially and unceremoniously released. His return to the Phillies had proved to be a disappointment.

There was little interest in Allen’s services that offseason, save for the Oakland A’s, who were in dire need of players after most of their established stars opted for free agency. On March 10, 1977, Allen signed with Charlie Finley’s ballclub. Allen said, “I thank God I’m here today and have a job in baseball.”46 That season, he wore the number 60 and the name “WAMPUM” on the back of his uniform as a tribute to his high-school graduation.

Allen played well in the early part of the 1977 season. He went 4-for-8 in a three-game sweep of the Minnesota Twins, and on April 25 was hitting .353 with four home runs. But things soon soured. Unknown to manager Jack McKeon, Allen had a contract condition that excused him from being a designated hitter. When McKeon penciled in Allen as the DH in the last game of the opening series, Allen refused to play. He slumped in early May and was having shoulder problems.

Allen hit what turned out to be his final major-league home run on May 17, a game-tying blast in the ninth inning off the Yankees’ Ron Guidry. Still, his production continued to decline. On June 19 Allen struck out as a pinch hitter in the second game of a doubleheader in Chicago. It was his last at-bat in the major leagues. The next night he left the bench during a game without permission. Finley walked into the clubhouse, found Allen showering, and suspended him for a week. Allen decided that he had had enough and was through playing for the season. He returned to the A’s in 1978 spring training, but was released on March 28 without ever appearing in a game.

Allen finished his career at the age of 35 with a .292 average, 351 home runs, and 1,119 RBIs. After baseball, he endured many personal tragedies and was estranged from the game for several years. But in the 1980s he began to rebuild his life. Allen worked briefly with the Texas Rangers as a coach in spring training in 1982. He also appeared at baseball card shows in the Philadelphia area, and played in several Cracker Jack Old-Timer’s games throughout the major leagues. In 1989 his autobiography, Crash, co-written with Tim Whitaker, was published and received a number of favorable reviews.

In 1994 Allen was hired by the Phillies as a spring-training batting instructor and a community fan representative. That same year he was inducted into the Phillies’ Wall of Fame.

In 2001 Allen made a cameo appearance in Mike Tollin’s film Summer Catch. He also had a brief role as a gambler in the 2005 film Dreamer. In 2003 he was one of many Phillies’ alumni who participated in the closing ceremonies at Veterans Stadium. In 2009 he was invited by the Phillies to throw out the first ball at the opening game of the 2009 NLDS at Citizens Bank Park.

In July 2010 Allen was selected as an inductee into the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame. That day, he reflected on the reaction he received from the fans: “I get stopped all the time by these fellows whose dads had taken them to the ballpark. I appreciate them. And they appreciate me because I didn’t cheat them.”47 Allen had mellowed, and professed that his love for Philadelphia was sincere: “You see how things turn around? You see how rewarding it is? I’m proud of this city. It’s in my heart.”48

As of early 2013, Allen, 71, and his wife, Willa, resided in Wampum, Pennsylvania, and Los Angeles.

 

This biography is included in the book "The Year of the Blue Snow: The 1964 Philadelphia Phillies" (SABR, 2013), edited by Mel Marmer and Bill Nowlin. For more information or to purchase the book in e-book or paperback form, click here.

 

Sources

Books

Allen, Dick and Tim Whitaker, Crash: The Life and Times of Dick Allen (New York: Ticknor and Fields, 1989).

Kashatus, William C., Almost a Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the 1980 Phillies (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008).

Kashatus, William C.: September Swoon: Richie Allen. The ’64 Phillies, and Racial Integration (University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2004).

Nathanson, Mitchell: The Fall of the 1977 Phillies: How a Baseball Team’s Collapse Sank a City’s Spirit (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc. 2008).

Articles

Giordano, Paul, “Not All Allen’s Fault,” Bucks County Courier Times, August 8, 1969.

Giordano, Paul, “Dick Allen: The Prodigal Son Returns,” Bucks County Courier Times, October 3, 1976.

Kelly, Ray, “Allen Admits Being Late Saturday; Homers Over Centerfield Fence,” Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, July 10, 1967.

Lewis, Allen, “Allen Rift Called Factor in Mauch Firing,” The Sporting News, June 29, 1968.

Rathet, Mike, “Richie Allen: Some Love Him, Some Hate Him,” Stars and Stripes, May 28, 1969.

Russo, Neal: “When Richie the Stone Heart Almost Wept,” The Sporting News, May 25, 1970.

“ ‘I’ve Found a Home,’ Says MVP Dick Allen,” Albuquerque Journal, November 16, 1972.

“Richie Allen Is Signed, But He’s Not Happy,” Lebanon (Pennsylvania) Daily News, March 16, 1965.

“Allen Listed at Third: Wampum Rookie Key to Philly Hopes,” New Castle (Pennsylvania) News, March 18, 1964.

“Phillies’ Allen Prefers ‘Dick’ As First Name,” Philadelphia Tribune, August 8, 1964.

Websites

baseball-reference.com

retrosheet.org

 

Notes

1Larry Merchant, Too Many Raves for Richie?” Philadelphia Daily News, May 4, 1964, 43.

2 Dick Allen and Tim Whitaker, Crash: The Life and Times of Dick Allen (New York: Ticknor & Fields. 1989), 51.

3 Ray Robinson, Baseball Stars of 1965 (New York: Pyramid Books, 1965), 17.

4 Christopher Threston, The Integration of Baseball in Philadelphia (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co, 2003), 96.

5 Allen and Whitaker, 15.

6 “Phillies’ Richie Allen Says He’s Here to Stay,” Delaware County (Pennsylvania) Daily Times, April 9, 1964.

7 Joe Reichler, “Allen May Solve Phil Problem At 3rd Base,” Evening Standard (Uniontown, Pensylvania), January 29, 1964.

8 “Phenomenal Allen Leads Phillies,” Delaware County (Pennsylvania) Daily Times, April 20, 1964, 18.

9 George Kiseda, “Candidates Run A Hard Campaign,” Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, September 14, 1964, 39.

10 Ibid.

11 Allen Lewis, “Richie Sniffs at Laurels – Phil Flag All That Counts,” The Sporting News, September 5, 1964, 6.

12 Allen Lewis, “Del Ennis’ Old Boo Buddies Find New Target – Allen,” The Sporting News, September 19, 1964, 5.

13 Peter Salsburg, “Rookie of Year Holding Out For Bigger Contract,” Daily Mail (Hagerstown, Maryland), March 11, 1965, 30.

14 “Richie Allen is Signed, But He’s Not Happy,” Lebanon (Pennsylvania) Daily News, March 16, 1965.

15 Ray Kelly, “Allen ‘s 510-Ft. Homer Wins For Phils, 4-2,” Philadelphia Sunday Bulletin, May 30, 1965, 1.

16 Ibid.

17 Allen and Whitaker, 6.

18 John Brogan, “Thomas Put On Waivers After Fight With Allen,” Philadelphia Sunday Bulletin, July 4, 1965, 1.

19 Ray Kelly, “37,110 Watch Allen Slam Phils to Split With Giants,” Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, July 9, 1965, 25.

20 Sandy Grady, “Allen Asked Mauch To Give Him Release,” Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, July 9, 1965, 25.

21 Ray Kelly, “Hard-Riding Rich Eludes Pitcher Posse,” The Sporting News, December 31, 1966, 27.

22 Frank Dolson, “Richie Arrives Late, Stays Early,” Philadelphia Inquirer, July 10, 1967, 23.

23 “Phils’ Allen Wants Out of Philly,” Delaware County (Pennsylvania) Daily Times, August 18, 1967, 12.

24 “Skinner Sees No Problems,” Delaware County (Pennsylvania) Daily Times, June 17, 1968, 16.

25 “Richie Allen Is Fined $1,000,” Morning Herald (Uniontown, Pennsylvania), May 5, 1969, 13.

26 Ibid.

27 Ray Kelly, “Rich Allen Disappears Again,” Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, June 25, 1969, 63.

28 Ibid.

29 Frank Dolson, The Philadelphia Story: A City of Winners (South Bend, Indiana: Icarus Press, 1981), 137.

30 David Wolf, “Let’s Everybody Boo Rich Allen,” Life, August 22, 1969, 52.

31 Ibid.

32 William Kashatus, September Swoon: Richie Allen, the ’64 Phillies, and Racial Segregation (University Park, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2004), 197.

33 “’I’m No Angel … I’m Here to Play Baseball’ – Richie Allen,” Colorado Springs (Colorado) Gazette-Telegraph, March 13, 1970, Sec D, 3.

34 “Allen May Have Found a Home in St. Louis,” Alton (Illinois) Evening Standard, April 11, 1970, 1.

35 Ibid.

36 Ibid.

37 “Cardinals Sacrifice Richie Allen’s Homerun Power to Shore up Team’s No. 1 Headache in ’70-Defense,” Jefferson City (Missouri) Post Tribune, October 6, 1970, 9.

38 Ibid.

39 Ed Levitt, “The New Dodgers,” Oakland Tribune, May 16, 1971, 53.

40 Craig Wright, “Dick Allen: Another View,” SABR Baseball Research Journal vol. 24, 1995, republished with permission at http://www.whitesoxinteractive.com, 12.

41 Edgar Munzel, “Allen’s Mom Prime Mover in Chisox Surge,” The Sporting News, August 26, 1972, 3.

42 Allen and Whitaker, 145.

43 Wright, 13.

44 Richard Dozer, “Allen Bids Adieu to Chisox Fame, Fortune,” The Sporting News, September 28, 1974, 29.

45 Ray Kelly, “ ‘I Owe Phillies,’ Says Allen After Dismal Season,” The Sporting News, October 11, 1975, 10.

46 “Allen United With Finley,” Lebanon (Pennsylvania) Daily News, March 11, 1977, 9.

47 Frank Fitzpatrick, “Enshrined or Not, Allen Has Clout,” Philadelphia Inquirer, July 18, 2010, www.philly.com

48 Ibid.

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