This article was written by Greg Tranter
Gary Allenson is a baseball lifer. He began his baseball career as a Little Leaguer and spent his entire life involved in the game. He played baseball at every level and has managed or coached at every professional level.
Allenson was an excellent player at Arizona State University and competed in two College World Series with his team finishing third both times. A solid defensive back-up catcher for the Boston Red Sox, he was the heir apparent to Carlton Fisk. He handled the pitching staff well and had a good arm, but a mediocre bat ultimately cost him the everyday catcher job to Rich Gedman in 1984, after platooning with him for a couple years. He became an effective minor-league manager and major-league coach for over 30 years.
Gary Martin Allenson was born on February 4, 1955, in Culver City, California, to Barbara and John Allenson, Sr. A brother, John Jr., was seven years his senior. His father had been a Marine at Guadalcanal in World War II and was now a beer/liquor salesman; his mother worked in the local school district. Gary’s dad loved baseball. Gary grew up primarily in Hawthorne, California, with a few years in San Diego.
Gary was a Little League all-star as a youngster. A teammate of future major-leaguer Mike Colbern, he played shortstop and pitched, once defeating future Cy Young Award winner Mike Scott in a Little League All-Star game. He also played Middle League baseball and on Sundays, as a 14- to 16-year-old, he played in a league with players in their early 20s.
As a youngster, Gary was influenced by his dad, who loved baseball, and his sixth-grade teacher, Joe Collins, who had played 10 seasons with the New York Yankees and was the first baseman in Don Larsen’s World Series perfect game on October 8, 1956.
Allenson attended Lawndale (California) High School where he starred as a shortstop and pitcher. Lawndale High head coach Paul Pettit, a onetime pitcher for Pittsburgh, said about Allenson, “In 10 years of coaching, I’ve never coached a better hitter than Allenson. He can do it all.”1 Pettit also termed him, “a very definite major league prospect.”2 His mentorship meant a great deal to Allenson.
As a high school junior, Allenson was co-MVP in the Pioneer League. He was also named a first-team All CIF-3A All-Star as a utility player. He batted .430 and had an 11-3 record as a pitcher.
In his senior year at Lawndale he batted .341 and made the third team All-CIF-3A All-Star team as a shortstop, one of only four repeat players from the prior season.
Allenson also played Legion ball; in the summer of 1972, he helped lead North Torrance to a tournament final game versus El Cerrito for a chance to qualify for the Western Regional Tournament. He had one of the seven hits for North Torrance in their 1-0 loss.
Gary had his heart set on going to either USC or Arizona State, but was not offered a scholarship. Resigned to attending Loyola (CA) instead, he received a scholarship offer from Arizona State two weeks before his freshman fall semester.
Allenson was recruited by head coach Jim Brock to play third base, but in his freshman year he primarily played second base for the junior varsity, helping to lead the Sun Devils to a 22-4 record. He also received playing time with the varsity, batting .412 in 11 games, including three hits and two RBIs in a 7-3 win over Weber State on March 23. Arizona State (59-8) lost the National Championship game in the College World Series to USC, 4-3, but Allenson did not play.
The Basin League was an independent collegiate minor league from 1953 to 1973. They played a 48-game schedule throughout the summer months. Baseball Hall of Famers Bob Gibson, Jim Palmer, and Don Sutton played in the Basin League early in their careers. In the summer of 1973, following his freshman year, Allenson played for the Sturgis, South Dakota, Titans along with some of his Arizona State teammates. As the team’s starting second baseman, he helped lead Sturgis to the Basin League title with a 29-19 record.
Allenson was switched to right field as a sophomore to begin the season. However, he was not a good outfielder defensively and was quickly moved to catcher, where he split time with R. J. Harrison. Playing primarily sophomores, Arizona State had a disappointing season, finishing with a 39-24 record and a second-place finish in the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) Southern Division. Allenson led the team in doubles with 17 while hitting .269 and playing in 61 of the team’s 63 games.
Expecting to be the starting catcher for the Sun Devils in 1975, he spent the summer of ’74 as a catcher for the Boulder, Colorado, Collegians in the Rocky Mountain Collegiate Baseball League.
In 1975 at Arizona State he significantly improved at the plate and the team improved on the field. He batted .315 in 241 at-bats while pounding out 19 doubles and 8 homers in helping lead the Sun Devils to the WAC championship and the College World Series.
Only two weeks into the season he was moved to third base to get him into the lineup every day and fill a position of need for the team. He consistently batted ninth against right-handers and seventh or eighth vs lefties.
The Sun Devils won their opening game in the College World Series over Cal State Fullerton, 5-3, and played the #2 ranked Texas Longhorns in the winner’s bracket in their second game.
Allenson was the hero against the Longhorns, pounding a 345-foot solo home run in the third inning to open the scoring. He plated the go-ahead run with a clutch eighth-inning single, leading the Sun Devils to the 5-2 win. He also had several excellent fielding plays, starting two key double plays. Coach Jim Brock said, “Gary Allenson may have played his best game at Arizona State.”3
The Sun Devils split their next two games with Allenson contributing two hits in each game. Arizona State was eliminated from the College World Series by South Carolina in the semifinal game, losing, 4-1, despite two more hits from Allenson. After the loss to South Carolina, Coach Brock said that Allenson “had as fine a tournament as anyone could have.”4
Allenson batted .444 and was named to the All-Tournament Team at third base. The Sun Devils finished with an overall 61-13 season record and a #3 national ranking.
In the fall of 1975, Allenson competed with the United States team in the Pan American Games. The club finished with a 6-2 record, winning the silver medal. Cuba won the gold, defeating the Americans, 4-3, and finishing with an 8-0 record.
Allenson had another solid season at Arizona State in his senior year. He batted .320 with 9 homers and 18 doubles, helping Arizona State return to the College World Series.The Sun Devils won their first two games, defeating Arizona, 7-6, in 10 innings, and Washington State, 9-3, with Allenson contributing two hits in each game while driving in three runs. In the Sun Devils’ 2-1 loss in Game Three to Eastern Michigan, Allenson threw out three would-be base stealers, keeping the Sun Devils in the game.
ASU defeated Maine in Game Four with Allenson garnering two hits and two RBIs, setting up a rematch with the Arizona Wildcats in the semifinals. For the second year in a row, the Sun Devils came up short, losing, 5-1, and ending the season short of their goal.
Allenson had another excellent World Series, hitting .389 while driving in five runs. Arizona went on to win the National Championship, while the Sun Devils finished ranked #3 with a 65-10 record. The 65 victories were an Arizona State record for wins in a single season. That Sun Devils team ultimately sent 13 players to the major leagues including Chris Bando, Floyd Bannister, and Bob Horner.
Allenson had an outstanding career at Arizona State, finishing with a career .306 batting average. He was part of three WAC title teams and competed in two College World Series while batting .416.
On June 8, 1976 Allenson’s dream came true when he was drafted by the Boston Red Sox with the 22nd selection in the ninth round of the amateur draft. Arizona State teammate Floyd Bannister was the #1 overall selection that year. Allenson was signed to a professional contract by Red Sox San Diego area scout Ray Boone on June 28, 1976. During the negotiations, Allenson was trying to increase the offer Boone made from $8,000 to $10,000. Boone’s response to Gary’s request: “Do you want to play ball or carry a lunch pail?”5 Allenson signed the $8,000 contract.
Upon joining the Red Sox, he was assigned to the Bristol Red Sox in the AA Eastern League. In his first season of pro ball he played in 50 games and batted .238. He came to the team with the nickname “Mugsy.” He got it in his freshman year at Arizona State. As he recalled, “I came off the field and had some infield dirt on my face that had turned to mud. Someone said, ‘Hey look at that mug.’ That turned into Mugsy, and it’s stuck ever since.”6 (Whereas most sources show Allenson’s nickname spelled with two g’s, correspondence with him shows it with just one.)
In 1977 he played a full season for Winter Haven in the Class-A Florida State League and was brought up to Pawtucket at the end of the season, playing in three games for the Pawsox.
His breakout year came in 1978 with Pawtucket of the Triple-A International League. He won league MVP honors, playing in 133 games while hitting 20 home runs and driving in 76 with a .299 batting average. The Pawsox finished second with an 81-59 record, four games behind league champion Charleston, then lost in the League Championship series to Charleston, four games to none.
“At Pawtucket in 1978, Allenson threw out 43 runners attempting to steal, picked 26 off first and three off third. He has an extremely quick release, which helps him get rid of the ball in a hurry.”7
Allenson was called up by the Red Sox for two weeks at the end of the 1978 season but did not play as the Sox were in a heated pennant race with the Yankees. He was in the dugout during the Red Sox one-game tiebreaker playoff loss to the Yankees on October 2.
During the 1978 season at Pawtucket, Gary met his future wife, Dorothy Ann Keller. Dorothy was an usherette at the Tidewater Tides games. During a rain delay, a few Pawtucket players started talking with some of the Tides usherettes. After the game the players, including Gary, invited the four or five usherettes out for dinner at the local Bennigan’s. Gary sat next to Dorothy at dinner and they started chatting; that led to them dating and they were married on November 8, 1980. Dorothy grew up in Norfolk, Virginia, and attended Lake Taylor High School. The couple has three boys, Kelvin (born in 1986), Kody (1990), and Kyler (1994).
Allenson came to the Red Sox training camp in 1979 with a lot of intrigue. “Of all the hitters in camp, the one whom most people are eager to see is Allenson, a 24-year old, 5-foot-11 rookie catcher who tore up the International League last year and was named its most valuable player.”8
Allenson played well enough in spring training to make the Red Sox as the backup catcher to Carlton Fisk. Fisk had an injury-riddled season and Allenson was the team’s regular catcher for much of the year, playing in 108 games.
He started the season wearing jersey #28 but switched to #39 and wore that number throughout the remainder of his Red Sox career.
His first major league game appearance was on April 8, 1979. He came in as a defensive replacement in the 11th inning of Boston’s 7-6, 12-inning victory over the Cleveland Indians in Cleveland.
He made his first major league start on April 12 in a 12-10 win at County Stadium in Milwaukee. Allenson was 0-for-4 in the game and was replaced by a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning while the Red Sox rallied for the victory. Regular starting catcher Carlton Fisk had a sore arm and could not play.
Allenson tallied his first big league hit and RBI in the Red Sox home opener on April 15 versus the Indians. He laced a double to left field in the seventh inning, driving in Dwight Evans with the ninth Red Sox run of the game. Earlier in the day, When Fisk was put on the disabled list with a sore arm, Allenson became Boston’s starting catcher. The following day, he hit his first major league home run, a booming shot over the Green Monster off Rick Wise. He also drilled an RBI single in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and the Sox trailing, 4-2, but they Sox failed to score another run and lost the game.
He had another two-hit game the next day against Milwaukee, garnering his first triple in the 6-5 win. He had gotten off to a great start with a .333 batting average in his first 18 major league at-bats.
When Allenson took over as the full-time catcher, many were worried about his defense, since he had only been playing the position for his three years of professional baseball He played well defensively in Fisk’s absence. He threw out 28 runners attempting to steal and handled the pitching staff extremely well for a young catcher.
However, he began to struggle at the plate after his hot start and before the end of April his batting average was hovering around .200. It remained there the rest of the season.
He hit his second career home run, a three-run blast, off Kansas City Royals reliever Steve Mingori in the ninth inning of an 11-3 Boston victory on June 13. He had a season-high four RBIs in the game.
Allenson played in a career-high 108 games with 271 plate appearances. He ended the season batting .203 with three home runs and 22 RBIs. The Red Sox finished in third place with a solid 91-69 record, but were behind the high-flying American League champion Baltimore Orioles and the Milwaukee Brewers.
Fisk returned in 1980 and Allenson’s playing time was significantly reduced. With the team all season, he played in only 36 games; though he was used inconsistently, he found his hitting stroke, batting a career-high .357 in 70 at-bats.
Allenson played a key role in a 4-3, 10-inning win over the New York Yankees on June 25. He drilled a single to center field off Tommy John in the top of the fifth inning, driving in two runs to put Boston ahead, 3-2. He had a two-out double in the seventh inning off John but was left stranded. In the pivotal 10th inning of a 3-3 game, he reached base on an error and came around to score the game-winning run on a double by Dave Stapleton.
Another highlight of his limited playing time in 1980 was the first three-hit game of his career. In a Tuesday night game in Royals Stadium on July 29, Allenson collected two singles and a double while driving in one run in a 9-8 loss. His third hit of the game, in the seventh inning, drove in the go-ahead run putting Boston up, 7-6, but the bullpen could not hold the lead.
The Red Sox committed a major snafu in the spring of 1981 when they inadvertently missed the deadline in offering Carlton Fisk a contract for the 1981 season and Fisk became a free agent. In March, Fisk signed a contract to play for the Chicago White Sox and Allenson became the heir apparent at catcher for the Red Sox.
Allenson won the full-time catcher’s job out of spring training in 1981, but it proved not to be a good year for him. After the club’s first 20 games he was hitting .209 in early May when he tore a ligament in his groin area. He tried to continue playing, appearing in four more games before going on the disabled list after the May 11 game. He missed almost a month of the season, coming back on June 7, and going 0-for-5 against the Oakland Athletics in a 4-3, 11-inning loss.
He played in three more games for Boston and then the players went on strike on June 12. The strike lasted until July 31 with the season restarting on August 10. Still bothered by the groin, he played only 19 games during the second half of the season. Rich Gedman was called up in mid-May and got most of the work behind the plate for the remainder of the season. Allenson finished the year appearing in only 47 games with five home runs, 25 RBIs, and a .223 batting average. His season was under-rated, “The most under-appreciated player on the club was Gary Allenson, .223 average or no .223 average. His Run Production Average placed him just behind Evans (.379).”9 He was also among the club leaders with runners in scoring position.
Despite his injury and perceived subpar season, one of his favorite memories from the big leagues came on September 23 when his grand slam off Reggie Cleveland in the bottom of the seventh of a 4-4 game propelled the Red Sox to an 11-5 victory.
Allenson and Gedman shared the catching duties throughout the 1982 season. However, Allenson started 50 of the final 61 games of the season. He had career highs in HRs (6), 2Bs (11), walks (38), and RBIs (33), but still only carried a .205 batting average. He was the team leader with men in scoring position, hitting a robust .309 in the clutch. In addition, he played a solid backstop, throwing out 32 of 73 potential base stealers. It was his best defensive season as a Red Sox catcher with a robust fielding percentage of .992. He was also fifth in the league in caught stealing percentage at 43.8%
Another of his favorite memories is the August 28, 1982, game at Fenway Park against the California Angels. With the scored knotted at 6-6 in the bottom of the 10th, Allenson came up with the bases loaded and two outs against Bruce Kison. He dropped a perfect bunt down the third base line and beat the throw to first as Carney Lansford scored from third with the winning run. Allenson was 3-for-5 in the game.
Allenson was somewhat of a clubhouse prankster. During a road trip to Seattle, he stopped at a local store and purchased exploding caps. He put the caps into some cigars. After a Red Sox victory while awaiting the bus taking the players back to the hotel, Allenson distributed the cigars to a few players, including Jerry Remy and Carl Yastrzemski. Yaz and Remy lit their cigars and were all proud celebrating the Sox win while puffing on their stogies. All a sudden, the cigars exploded, scaring the players half to death. The rest of the players broke into hilarious laughter as Allenson’s prank worked to perfection and thankfully nobody was hurt, except for their pride.
In 1983 Allenson and Gedman again split time as the starting catcher with Gedman playing primarily against right-handed pitchers and Allenson against lefties. The Red Sox finished with a disappointing 78-84 record in sixth place. Allenson improved his batting average to .230 in the 84 games he played, but most of his other offensive statistics declined.
It was becoming clear the Red Sox needed more offensive production from the catching position. Coach Walt Hriniak, who would officially become hitting coach in 1985, was working with several Red Sox players and took a liking to Gedman and saw his potential.
Gedman took over the starting catching role in 1984, relegating Allenson to backup; he appeared in 35 games with 83 at-bats. Allenson hit his final home run for Boston on August 28 in the top of the seventh against the Twins in Minnesota. The homer tied the game at 1-1, but the Sox eventually lost, 2-1. The Red Sox finished 18 games behind the first-place Tigers and Ralph Houk’s tenure as Sox manager ended at the conclusion of the season.
New Boston manager John McNamara concluded he was going to use Gedman as the full-time catcher, making Allenson expendable. Allenson became a free agent on November 8. He signed with the Toronto Blue Jays on February 25, 1985. He finished his Red Sox career with a .225 career batting average and a solid .984 fielding percentage.
He played only 14 games with the Blue Jays, batting a paltry .118, and was released on August 25 when the Blue Jays activated catcher Jeff Hearron. His last major league game was on August 23 against the Chicago White Sox and he went 0-for-4.
The Blue Jays went on to win the East Division and Allenson would have had a chance to play in the playoffs if he had been able to stick around. In his big league career, he never was on a team that made the playoffs.
Following his playing career, he quickly turned to managing, beginning at Class-A Oneonta of the New York Penn League in the Yankee system in 1987. With future Yankee star Bernie Williams in the lineup, he led Oneonta to a second-place finish in the East Division with a 41-33 record. He managed In his second season with the club he led them to a first-place finish with a 48-28 record.
He returned to the Boston organization in 1989 as manager for the full season Class-A Lynchburg Red Sox in the Carolina League. He led the club to consecutive third-place finishes in the North Division with a 70-66 record and a subpar 58-80 record in 1990. His teams included future Red Sox major leaguers Tim Naehring, Phil Plantier, and John Valentin.
He decided to return as a player for the Winter Haven Super Sox in the newly formed Senior Professional Baseball Association in 1989. If you were a catcher over 32 years old, you could play in the senior league. Allenson appeared in 43 games and batted .340 while battling hamstring issues.10 The club folded after finishing in last place in the Northern Division with a 29-43 record in its inaugural season.
It worked well for Allenson, because he could manage during the baseball season and play in the Senior League that played throughout the winter months, November to February.
For the 1990 Senior Professional Baseball season, Allenson joined the Sun City Rays. The Rays were 13-10 in second place when the league folded in December 1990. He played 10 games that season with a .313 batting average.11 This was the end of his playing career.
With the Red Sox, he was promoted to manage their Bristol team in the Eastern League in 1991, but had a rough go of it, finishing in last place with a 47-93 record.
He was moved up to the big club in 1992 and served as bullpen coach for two years before becoming the third base coach in 1994. Then he left the Boston organization, returning to the minors in 1996 to lead the Texas Rangers’ South Atlantic League club, the Charleston River Dogs, finishing fourth in the Central Division. Among the River Dogs was future major-league pitcher Ryan Dempster.
He moved onto the Houston Astros organization, managing their Class-AA Texas League squad, the Jackson Generals, to a third-place finish in the East Division, then began five years in the Milwaukee Brewers’ organization. After managing Louisville for the first two years, he was promoted to the major-league club where he was the first-base coach in 2000 and the third-base coach for the next two years. He was released by the Brewers when they fired manager Jerry Royster.
He then joined the Baltimore Orioles and managed in their organization for eight of the next ten seasons, including six with their Triple-A affiliates in Ottawa and Norfolk; only once did they finish above .500.
The Toronto Blue Jays provided him an opportunity in 2013 to manage their Eastern League New Hampshire Fisher Cats. After spending one season with the Fisher Cats, he was promoted to lead the Blue Jays’ top farm club in Buffalo. He managed the Bisons for three years with his best season being his first year with the club, finishing in third place in the North Division with a 77-66 record. Allenson returned to New Hampshire and managed the Fisher Cats to a last-place 59-80 finish in 2017 for his final season. He finished his career managing almost 2,900 ballgames with a .474 winning percentage and making a positive impact on many ballplayers.
Gary has retired from baseball and is enjoying retirement in Tampa, Florida, with his wife Dorothy. Their one granddaughter lives nearby.
Last revised: August 18, 2020
This biography was reviewed by Bill Nowlin and Norman Macht and checked for accuracy by SABR’s fact-checking team.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes below, the author also consulted:
Arizona Republic, April 10, 1975, “Swinging Allenson Gets Results, .331 average”
Hartford Courant, June 29, 1976, Bosox Call up Hobson: Changes in Line-up Made.”
Rapid City Journal, Rapid City, South Dakota, June 15, 1973, “Chiefs, Titans Gear for Basin League Opener.”
Napa Valley Register, August 17, 1972, “El Cerrito Wins Legion Tourney”
San Bernardino County Sun, June 22, 1972, “Apple Valley’s Thompson, Ollar on All-CIF 1st Team”
Virginian Pilot, December 2, 2006, “Former Pro Catcher Allenson named 2007 Tides manager.”
Arizona State University Baseball All-Time Individual Statistics through 2020, https://thesundevils.com/sports/2013/4/17/208245301.aspx
Arizona State 2019 Baseball Media Guide, https://thesundevils.com/documents/2019/2/15/19BSBMediaGuide1.pdf
Boston Red Sox 1983 Media Guide, Boston Red Sox
1 Hugh Baker, “Major Leagues in his Future,” Redondo Reflex (Redondo, California), May 3, 1972.
3 Jim Reeves, “Steers Battling for Survival Now,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Fort Worth, Texas), June 9, 1975.
4 United Press International, “ASU Eliminated from Series, Title Duel Tonight,” Ogden Standard Examiner, June 14, 1975.
5 Interview with Gary Allenson, May 21, 2020
6 Interview with Gary Allenson.
7 Bob Drzewiczewski, “Sub for Fisk also Seeking a Golden Arm,” Rutland Daily Herald, April 18, 1979.
8 Larry Whiteside, “Gary Allenson / He’s trying hard to be No. 2 Sox catcher,” Boston Globe, February 27, 1979.
9 Peter Gammons, “STATS, In search of: The Ultimate Average,” Boston Globe, February 20, 1982.