Fate was never kind to Dick Allen, and being a fickle mistress, it sure as hell wasn’t going to start now, in 2020.
It was never going to be easy being the first Black superstar in Philadelphia. If he had been luckier and signed with the Braves, Giants, or Cardinals, he would have joined great teams with established superstars like Aaron, Mays, or Gibson, and his team would have likely won multiple titles.
Instead he went to the Phillies, a team with perhaps the worst history of success in baseball history, as well as one of the worst track records when it came to integration.
The Phillies and manager Ben Chapman were the most vile opponents of integration and were unrelenting in their abuse of Jackie Robinson in 1947. By 1950, they had almost an entirely new roster, the youngest in baseball, and won the pennant. Despite having so much young talent (Hall of Famers Robin Roberts and Richie Ashburn, as well as Curt Simmons, Del Ennis, Willie Jones, and Granny Hamner), the Phillies never again seriously challenged, as they quickly fell behind the teams that integrated the quickest — the Dodgers, Giants, and Braves. They didn’t field a Black player until 1957, when John Kennedy got his two major league at-bats for them.
Fast-forward to 1964. Allen arrives on the scene in Philly, after enduring a year of “N***** Go Home” signs while playing in the minors at Arkansas. Allen puts up one of the greatest rookie seasons in history – .318, 29 HRs, 125 runs scored — which earned him Rookie of the Year. It could have gotten him the MVP and a berth in the World Series except, well, the Phillies had one of the worst collapses in history, blowing a 6.5-game lead with 12 to play to the Cardinals. (Allen himself hit .429 with 3 HRs and 11 RBIs in that 12-game stretch.)
In 1965, Allen got into a fight with Frank Thomas, a veteran white player, and Thomas was released (only years later was it revealed that Thomas had been hurling racist slurs at Allen and other players). The Philadelphia press vilified Allen, who had the temerity to ask to be called Dick, instead of “Richie,” which he said made him sound like a 12-year-old.
The abuse got so bad that Allen wore a batting helmet in the field to protect himself from objects thrown from the stands. According to his autobiography, Crash, men in a car displaying a Confederate flag chased his wife through the streets of Philly. He was traded to the Cardinals in 1969 for Curt Flood, which led to Flood challenging the Reserve Clause. Allen also played a year for the Dodgers and won an MVP award for the White Sox in 1972 before returning to the Phillies in 1975.
Allen didn’t make the Hall of Fame while he was eligible to be elected by the BBWAA, which is not surprising, given his poor reputation among that group. But when the Golden Era Committee convened in 2014 to vote for players from the 1950-1969 period, Allen tied with Tony Oliva with 11 votes among 16, falling one short of the 12 needed. Instead of having another chance to be elected in 2017, Cooperstown changed its rules and formed a Modern Era committee in 2017.
By quirk of fate, Allen was not included on the Modern Era Committee ballot, which considers players from the 1970-1987 period. Allen straddles both two eras, as he played from 1963 to 1977.
The greatest player in baseball from that “modern era” is Mike Schmidt, who happens to be the loudest voice advocating for Allen’s inclusion in the Hall of Fame. Schmidt has been singing the praises of Allen as a player and teammate since 1975.
“If you go back in time and analyze Dick’s career and look at his career by applying the modern-day analytics, his numbers are far and above a lot of the guys who are in the Hall of Fame,” Schmidt said.
Allen is 19th in career OPS+ and, among eligible candidates, only Mark McGwire is higher. His career was short and in bWAR, he appears much more marginal, with 58.8, which is borderline but still higher than contemporaries like Willie Stargell (57.5), Luis Aparicio (55.9) and Tony Perez (54.0), who have all been elected to the Hall of Fame.
Allen had his number retired by the Phillies this year. It was hoped that this would be the month he would finally get into Cooperstown, as the Golden Era committee was set to vote again, but it was announced that the group would delay their vote until next year due to COVID-19.
From the Philadelphia Inquirer:
Jon Shestakofsky, the Hall of Fame’s vice president of communications and education, said the committee, which normally votes every five years, cannot meet virtually because the process requires a daylong meeting of hyper-focused conversations that take place each year at the site of baseball’s winter meetings.
It seems ridiculous that these committees hold votes only once every 5-7 years, with no apparent mandate to vote for anyone. Allen is 78, Oliva is 82. Other candidates include Maury Wills (88), Jim Kaat (82) and Luis Tiant (80).
“They said they couldn’t use Zoom to meet, that everyone had to be in the room at one time. Yet, I see baseball is moving right along with giving out awards. I don’t understand it,” said Mark Carfagno, who took out a billboard in South Philadelphia supporting Allen’s enshrinement.
In a year when baseball Hall of Famers have seen their ranks diminished by the deaths of Al Kaline, Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Whitey Ford, and Joe Morgan, while a pandemic that disproportionately impacts the elderly, you’d think Cooperstown wouldn’t want to delay honoring deserving players while they are alive to appreciate it.
Dick Allen, who had to put up with so much hate and prejudice from teammates, fans and sportswriters, deserves his day in the sun. It’s a shame he’ll have to wait at least another year for it.