The high mark of Frank Allen’s six-year major-league career surely took place on April 24, 1915, when, in his fifth appearance for the Pittsburgh Rebels of the Federal League, he pitched a no-hitter in defeating the St. Louis Terriers 2-0 at Handlan’s Park in St. Louis. The masterpiece brought the 26-year-old southpaw’s record to 4-0 for the young season and lowered his earned-run average to 1.16, minuscule even by Deadball Era standards. Allen would go on to win 23 games while losing 12 for the Rebels, who finished in third place, just a half-game behind the Chicago Whales and St. Louis. But just two years later Allen had pitched his last major-league game, bowing out just past his 29th birthday.
Allen was born on August 26, 1888, in Newbern, Alabama, the fourth of six sons born to Bryant Leon Allen and Harriett (Hattie) Saunders Allen. His father was a prominent planter, cattleman, and dairyman.1 Probably as a result, Frank was able to attend and pitch for Southwestern College (now Rhodes College) in Memphis, Tennessee. The 5-foot-9 left-hander broke into professional baseball in 1909 with the Mobile Sea Gulls of the fast Southern Association, compiling a 1-4 record in five appearances.2
Although Allen reported to spring training with the Sea Gulls in 1910, he was released before the season because of wildness and did not pitch professionally that year.3 He returned to Mobile in 1911 for another shot and made the club. In fact, he became a mainstay for the Sea Gulls, winning 14 games against 12 losses in 34 appearances.4 By June he was attracting the attention of major-league clubs and at the end of the season was sold to the Brooklyn Dodgers of the National League.
Allen stuck with the Dodgers out of spring training in 1912 and made his major-league debut in a start against the Boston Braves on April 24 in Brooklyn’s Washington Park. He was immediately roughed up for three runs in the top of the first and, although he pitched scoreless second and third innings, was removed by manager Bill Dahlen with one out in the fourth for Elmer Knetzer.5 In 3⅓ innings, Allen gave up five hits and three runs, walking three and with one strikeout in the 3-1 loss.
Given his shaky debut, Allen sat until May 18 when Dahlen sent him in to pitch against the Cubs in Chicago in the bottom of the sixth inning in a game the Dodgers were losing 4-2. He was even wilder this time out, walking five in 2⅔ innings while surrendering three hits and a run in a 5-4 loss. More memorable, however, was Allen’s first trip to the plate. Batting in the top of the eighth against Cubs starter Larry Cheney, Allen stroked a solo home run to close the score to 5-4. It was one of two home runs Allen hit in his career.6
Allen did not see any more action until June 12, when he started a home game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. By now the Dodgers were mired in seventh place with a 14-28 record and Allen didn’t help the cause, losing 7-3. He did pitch eight innings and exhibited better control, walking only three while allowing 11 hits and six earned runs, but fell to 0-2 in his young career.
That performance earned Allen another start six days later in Brooklyn against the St. Louis Cardinals. He was plagued by poor defense and again by wildness and in five innings gave up three hits and five bases on balls. He was removed for pinch-hitter Hub Northen in the bottom of the fifth trailing 5-3. Northern immediately tied the game with a two-run single, letting Allen off the hook in a game the Dodgers won 9-6 behind the strong relief pitching of Nap Rucker.7
The erratic Allen had to wait unit July 12 for another chance on the mound but acquitted himself well, allowing one run in four relief innings in an 8-2 loss to the Pirates. That earned him more regular work and after a couple of solid outings led to his first big-league win, on July 23 against the Cubs in Chicago. He accomplished it in style, throwing a five-hit shutout in a 6-0 victory. Allen recorded his second win four days later in a complete-game 9-4 home win over the Cincinnati Reds. Only one of the runs was earned and the effort lowered his earned-run average to 2.65 as he evened his record at 2-2.
Allen achieved indifferent success for the rest of his rookie season and finished 3-9 with a 3.63 ERA in 109 innings for the Dodgers, who ended the season in seventh place, 46 games behind the pennant-winning Giants.8 He returned to the Dodgers in 1913 and became the team’s third starter behind Rucker and Pat Ragan. Although Brooklyn improved to sixth place, Allen was beguiled by a lack of run support the entire year. After a 2-1 loss on July 8 to the Cincinnati Reds, he fell to 1-10, even though his earned-run average was 2.55, very solid even in the Deadball Era. It didn’t get much better for Allen, who finished the year with an unsightly 4-18 record in 174⅔ innings, although his 2.83 ERA was below both his team’s and the league’s averages. He pitched 11 complete games among his 25 starts and appeared in relief in nine games.
Allen began the 1914 campaign saddled with a 7-27 major-league record and spent the season in and out of the rotation, as the Dodgers, under new manager Wilbert Robinson and buoyed by new pitchers Jeff Pfeffer, Raleigh Aitchison, and Ed Reulbach, improved to fifth place, winning 10 more games than in 1913. Allen won his first four starts, three on the road, before again descending somewhere between mediocrity and hard luck. He finished the season under .500 again, with an 8-14 record and a respectable 3.12 earned-run average in 171⅓ innings, which included 21 starts among his 36 appearances.
Of course, 1914 was the first year of the upstart Federal League, who were raiding the American and National Leagues of players at every opportunity. Allen was clearly listening to the new league’s overtures and in fact signed with the Pittsburgh Rebels within two days of the completion of Brooklyn’s season. Two days after that, on October 10, Allen took the mound for the Rebels in Pittsburgh against Buffalo in the last day of the Federal League season.9 He pitched seven innings and was the winning pitcher when the game was called because of rain with the Rebels on top, 8-4.
The Brooklyn press characterized Allen as “one of the biggest disappointments of the season” and speculated that his negotiations with the Federal League may have accounted “for some of his poor pitching while drawing salary from Ebbets.”10
Although Allen’s losing record prior to 1915 was somewhat deceiving, it is unlikely that the Rebels expected him to become their ace. He did just that, beginning with an 8-0 Opening Day shutout of the Kansas City Packers in Kansas City. After a no-decision, Allen ripped off five more wins in a row to start the season 6-0 and propel the Rebels into a first-place tie with the Chicago Whales.11
The fourth of those wins was his no-hitter on April 24 on the road against the St. Louis Terriers. Ironically, he almost didn’t survive the first inning due to wildness. He walked Al Bridwell with one out and then, after Bridwell stole second, walked center fielder Delos Drake to put two runners on. Allen then retired Babe Borton on a groundout but walked left fielder Ward Miller to load the bases. He had, in effect, walked the bases loaded, but escaped the self-made jam when he induced catcher Grover Hartley to hit a grounder that forced Drake at third and ended the inning. After that narrow escape, Allen settled down and retired 21 of the next 22 batters over the final eight innings.
He did have some help, especially from his outfielders. In the sixth inning Terriers outfielder Jack Tobin blasted a ball to deep right field, sending Jim Kelly racing back to the fence, where he stretched out his left hand and squeezed the ball in his glove.
The game remained scoreless for six innings as veteran St. Louis hurler Bob Groom was on his game as well. In the top of the seventh, however, Rebels first baseman Ed Konetchy led off by smashing a long clout over center fielder Drake’s head for a triple. Terriers catcher Hartley then attempted to pick Konetchy off third but the ball hit “the Big Bohemian,” as Konetchy was called, in the back and bounced away far enough for him to score.
The Rebels scratched out another run in the top of the ninth and the game entered the bottom of the ninth with Allen, now ahead 2-0, still not having allowed a hit. But drama yet remained. Tobin led off by tapping the ball in front of the plate and was just thrown out by Allen, or so umpire Spike Shannon ruled. Tobin and Terriers manager Fielder Jones vigorously argued the call, with Tobin “put out of the game for kicking.”12
Jones then sent Doc Crandall to pinch-hit for the light-hitting Bridwell, but Allen was having none of it and issued a largely intentional walk to Crandall with four wide pitches. That brought a serious of jeers from what remained of the 500 or so fans who originally passed through the turnstiles. After Harry Chapman entered as a pinch-runner, Drake, the next batter, lined a pitch over shortstop and for a split second it looked like the no-hitter was kaput. But center fielder Rebel Oakes raced in and made what looked like an impossible catch to preserve the gem.13
The final out was easier as Babe Borton grounded to shortstop Marty Berghammer, who stepped on second base for the force out to secure the no-hitter. But it seems that the only people who took notice of Allen’s feat were his teammates and those in the press box; the few fans in attendance failed to applaud or acknowledge what they had just witnessed.14 The win, which took an hour and 40 minutes to complete, not only brought Allen’s record to 4-0 for the year but dropped his earned run average to 1.16.
Allen won his next two starts before finally losing a game on May 14 to the Whales by a deceptive 6-0 score. He and Chicago starter George McConnell matched zeros until the top of the ninth, when an error and several misplays let the barn door open for all six runs.15 Allen continued as the ace of the Rebels staff as the team stayed in the thick of the Federal League pennant race. He won his 20th game against the Terriers on September 3 in a 3-1 complete-game victory, again besting Groom. The win extended first-place Pittsburgh’s lead to a game and a half over the Newark Peppers.
Allen won his 23rd game of the season on September 21, a 2-1 victory over the Buffalo Blues that kept the Rebels 2½ games in front. However, he faltered after that, losing his last two starts, 4-2 and 6-3, as the Rebels lost seven of their final 13 games to finish in third place, a half-game behind Chicago, which finished .001 ahead of St. Louis to win the Federal League pennant.16 Still Allen finished the season 23-12 with a 2.51 earned-run average in 283⅓ innings. He was second in the league in victories,17 tied for second with six shutouts, and fourth in complete games with 24.
The Federal League folded after the 1915 season, prompting a peace accord in which the American and National Leagues agreed to pay some compensation to Federal League owners and re-sign desired players who, like Allen, had jumped their contracts to play for the Feds.18 Allen was signed with the Rebels through 1916 for $5,500 but his contract was without the typical 10-day clause, which allowed a team to cut a player on only 10 days’ notice.19
Under the terms of the peace agreement, American and National League clubs had to bid for the service of Federal League players who had jumped their contracts and had to absorb any Federal League contractual obligations.20 On January 21, 1916, Rebels owner Ed Gwinner wrote Cincinnati Reds President Garry Herrmann to ask if he was interested in purchasing any of the players the Pittsburgh Feds had under contract, including Allen. About Allen, Gwinner wrote, “[T]his fellow was the best pitcher in the Federal League as his record will show … not only is he a fine pitcher but an easy man to handle which is a big asset. …” Herrmann, however, was not interested in any player who did not have the 10-day clause in his contract.21
Lacking any buyers, Gwinner eventually turned the remainder of his players under contract over to the defunct league for disposal. Allen was still in demand even with his contract, and on February 10 at the annual National League meeting at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York was purchased by the Boston Braves, along with Rebels teammate Knetzer.22
It may be that Allen battled injuries at the start of the 1916 season, because he did not make his first start until May 27 in what turned out to be a no-decision against the New York Giants. He was on the mound again on June 3 against the Chicago Cubs and threw a complete-game 3-2 win. Although he pitched sporadically for the Braves, he finished the year with an 8-2 record and an earned-run average of only 2.07 in 113 innings. Allen appeared in 19 games, 14 of which were starts, and tossed two shutouts among his seven complete games for the third-place Braves.
He was back with the Braves in 1917 but struggled to a 3-10 record for a team that fell to sixth place. He appeared in 29 games with 14 starts and two complete games. His 3.94 earned-run average was well above the league average of 2.70. Although he was only 29 years old, his big-league career was over; he finished with a lifetime record of 50 wins against 66 losses and a 2.93 earned-run average in 970⅓ innings. As it turned out, the only year that he won more than nine games was his memorable 1915 Federal League season.
Allen officially announced his retirement from baseball in December, stating his intention to return to the family farm in Newbern, Alabama.23 That November he had married the former Janie Bradshaw Rogers. The couple would not have any children. In 1919 he became the inaugural athletic director and coach at Southern Military Academy in Greensboro, Alabama.24
In the early 1920s, Allen stayed involved in the game, serving as player-manager of the semipro Selma, Alabama club. In 1928 the 39-year-old Allen was persuaded to pitch for the Gadsden, Alabama, Eagles in the Class-D Georgia-Alabama League. He demonstrated that he still had something left, at least at that level, posting a 12-6 record along with a 2.46 earned-run average.
Allen died on July 30, 1933, of an apparent heart attack in Gainesville, Alabama, at the home of his father-in-law.25 He was only 44 years old. His widow, Jane Rogers Allen, lived to be 91 before passing away in 1985.
2 The Southern Association was a Class-A league, then the highest minor-league classification.
3 “Major Clubs Hot After Frank Allen, Southpaw,” Montgomery (Alabama) Times, June 6, 1911: 8.
4 Allen also batted .239 for the year, with 22 hits in 92 at-bats.
5 Knetzer went on to pitch scoreless baseball the rest of the way, allowing only a hit and a walk in 4⅔ innings. He would again be Allen’s teammate in 1914 and 1915 with the Pittsburgh Rebels of the Federal League.
6 Allen compiled a lifetime .135 batting average.
7 Allen had earlier sacrificed and doubled to drive in a run and bring his batting average to .400. He also made one of Brooklyn’s five errors.
8 Allen’s earned-run average was just about level with the team’s 3.64 and a little more than the league average of 3.39.
9 Robert Peyton Wiggins, The Federal League of Base Ball Clubs, 1914-1915 (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2009), 207; Daniel R. Levitt, The Battle That Forged Modern Baseball — the Federal League Challenge and Its Legacy (Lanham, Maryland: Ivan R. Dee, 2012), 165-66.
10 Column by Thomas S. Rich, The Sporting News, October 15, 1914: 2. Rice was a sportswriter for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and was a correspondent for The Sporting News.
11 Pittsburgh’s record was only 12-8, meaning it had gone 6-8 in games not won by Allen.
12 “Allen Blanks St. Louis Feds Without a Hit or Run,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 25, 1915: 18.
13 “Fed Fans See No Merit in Allen’s No Hit Contest,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 25, 1915: 31; Rich Westcott and Allen Lewis, No-Hitters: The 225 Games, 1893-1999 (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2000), 81-82.
14 Ibid.; Kevin Larkin, “No Offense in Gateway No-No — Frank Allen Pitches a No-Hitter,” SABR Games Project.
15 Chicago Daily Tribune, May 15, 1915: 13; Wiggins, 208.
16 Wiggins, 269-75.
17 George McConnell of the Chicago Whales led the league with a 24-10 record. It was the only year in his six-year major-league career that he won more than eight games.
18 Levitt, 223-46; Marc Okkonen, The Federal League of 1914-1915 — Baseball’s Third Major League (Garrett Park, Maryland, 1989), 24-25; Wiggins, 284-290.
19 Wiggins, 293.
20 Levitt, 249; Wiggins, 288.
21 Levitt, 249; Wiggins, 293.
22 Wiggins, 294.
23 Unidentified clipping dated December 13, 1917, in the Frank Allen clippings file, National Baseball Library.
24 “Frank Allen at Greensboro,” Selma (Alabama) Times-Journal, August 25, 1919: 4.
25 Bill Lee, The Baseball Necrology (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2003), 9.