The date is May 29th, 1965. The Phillies were in the middle of a 3-game series against the Chicago Cubs at Connie Mack Stadium. Righthander Larry Jackson was on the mound for the Cubs, being faced by the Phillies ace, Senator Jim Bunning (of course, he wasn’t a senator at the time). Jackson gave up three runs in the first inning, but none were as loud as the two that came off the bat of Dick Allen. Allen, swinging his signature 40 oz. bat, hit a 529-ft two-run HR over the Coke sign in left-center field.
While the above is a painting, it gives a good idea of the distance between home plate and the sign on the balcony of the left field bleachers. Allen absolutely tattooed the ball, and the distance he hit it shows us how strong of a man the native of Wampum, PA truly was.
My dad has been telling my brother and I stories of Dick Allen’s feats for my entire life. His fondest memories of my grandfather, who died when my dad was only 18, were sitting in the bleachers at Connie Mack watching the Phillies, particularly Allen. Undoubtedly, Allen was my dad’s favorite.
The 1960s was an era of baseball where pitchers like Sandy Koufax, Juan Marichal, Bob Gibson and Don Drysdale dominated hitters with ease. It became known as the second Deadball Era because of how successful them and other pitchers were. Allen, however, was still able to become the most feared hitter of the decade and it started with, perhaps, the single greatest rookie season in MLB history.
After getting a cup of coffee with the Phils in 1963, Allen burst onto the scene in 1964. Slashing .318/.382/.557 with 29 HRs and 91 RBIs. Allen led the Majors in triples, runs, total bases and strikeouts. He was seventh in MVP voting, and certainly was the most lethal hitter in Phillies’ lineup. This was just the start of the damage that he would do in a Phillies uniform, as over his nine years in Philly he hit .292/.371/.530 with 204 HRs and 655 RBIs across two separate stints with the team.
Unfortunately, his first stint did not end amicably. In 1970, after a few years of wanting a trade out of Philly, Allen got his wish. The Phillies traded Allen to the St. Louis Cardinals for outfielder Curt Flood, who actually never ended up reporting to them. Allen went on to play 6 more years in the Majors for the Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago White Sox and Oakland Athletics, amassing career totals of 1848 hits and 351 HRs while hitting .292.
When the Phillies announced that they were retiring Allen’s number last Friday, it was welcomed news to a lot of baseball fans. Many, including myself, didn’t think it would happen due to the Phillies’ longstanding rule of not retiring non-Hall of Famers’ numbers (this probably opens the doors for Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Charlie Manuel). It also made me think about one other thing.
How is Dick Allen not in the Hall of Fame?
In 2014, when the Golden Era Committee were voting on players who belonged in the Hall, the overwhelming majority of the committee voted to put Allen in. However, Allen fell one vote shy of the necessary vote. No one is exactly sure why he didn’t get in, but what many people considered off-the-field “antics” definitely had something to do with it. Bill James, a famous baseball writer and historian, wrote that Allen “did more to keep his teams from winning than anybody else who ever played major league baseball. And if that’s a Hall of Famer, I’m a lug nut.”
No disrespect to James, but he’s definitely a lug nut then. James takes a very narrow point of view with that point, as he is only looking at it from a baseball perspective. Allen played in an era that was definitely different for a black player than a white player. His first stop in his professional journey was Little Rock, Arkansas for the Phillies affiliate. Residents held protests parades denouncing Allen’s spot on the roster, as he was the first black baseball player outside of the Negro Leagues to play in the state. Even coming to Philadelphia, the last team to roster a black player, was much different than the environment that he grew up in in Wampum.
Famously he is nicknamed ‘Crash’, but very few people know the origins of it. While fans of the Phillies hurled verbal epithets to him beginning his rookie season, they began actually hurling things at him later in the decade. Fruit, ice, refuse and even flashlight batteries were thrown at him while he was running onto the field. It had gotten so bad that Allen had to begin wearing his batting helmet on the field, getting the nickname ‘Crash Helmet’, eventually just shortened to ‘Crash’. The aforementioned so-called ‘antics’ were nothing more than a man trying to deal with waves of racism aimed directly at him. I am curious as to what Mr. James would have done had he been in Allen’s shoes.
Hall of Famer Willie Stargell had this to say about Allen:
“Dick Allen played the game in the most conservative era in baseball history. It was a time of change and protest in the country, and baseball reacted against all that. They saw it as a threat to the game. The sportswriters were reactionary too. They didn’t like seeing a man of such extraordinary skills doing it his way. It made them nervous. Dick Allen was ahead of his time. His views and way of doing things would go unnoticed today. If I had been manager of the Phillies back when he was playing, I would have found a way to make Dick Allen comfortable. I would have told him to blow off the writers. It was my observation that when Dick Allen was comfortable, balls left the park.”
Statistically, Allen’s accolades and career accomplishments are definitely Hall of Fame worthy. When comparing Allen’s career to players that are already enshrined, it becomes all the more evident. Hank Greenberg has nearly identical numbers to Allen, as he hit .313/.412/.605 with 331 HRs and 1,274 RBIs. Allen has better numbers than the likes of Tony Perez, Jim Rice and Ralph Kiner. Perez got in on his ninth ballot, Rice on his 15th and Kiner on his 13th. While Allen was probably not a first ballot guy, it is shocking to me that he has to wait for a special committee to vote him in.
The Golden Era Committee was replaced by the Golden Days Committee in 2016, and they are up to vote again later this year for election in 2021. Dick Allen should be on the list again.
Hopefully, 2021 will be the year he finally gets in. It should be, as he is regarded as one of, if not the best, players not in the Hall.