Thursday, July 11, 2013

Why isn't Richie "Dick" Allen in Cooperstown (the Hall of Fame)?


Richie “Dick” Allen was one of the finest yet most controversial players ever to wear a Philadelphia uniform. When you have antagonistic scribes and contentious, ignorant fanatics that root, root, root for the home team, could it be any other way?

According to an article dated 4/29/09, by Cody Swartz, Allen had a world of talent but didn’t produce as he could have. Much of the blame goes to Allen and not enough to his teammates, managers, fans and the media.
Allen was left alone to struggle with racism while in Little Rock, Arkansas playing in the minor leagues without being assigned a father-figure, mentor type who could provide him personal support (segregation was in full bloom during this time in the United States. It would have been good if he had a support system, not only for his peace of mind and well-being but also to have someone else witness that such behavior was alive and well and in need of attention in the United States of America.)

It had become fashionable to say that Richie “Dick” Allen was a victim of the racism of his time. Nicholas Zettle, whose article “Revisiting Dick Allen” says that the Phillies were callous to send Allen to Little Rock, in 1963, with no support network and that the press often treated Allen differently than had it been a white player who did similar things.

Allen was a second generation of integration. There was a struggle with understanding a person’s culture when you have writers who harbored a bias and prejudice that didn’t allow their readers the option of freedom of choice to interpret things as they may have been versus how they were instructed to understand the situation as explained by an opinionated writer.
The writer brings up an excellent point when he writes: We tend to uphold the glory of the careers of the best black major league baseball players of this era, while placing less of an emphasis on the daily struggles they faced while doing their jobs…That by doing so it may have suggested to Americans, in general, major league baseball’s integration processes were completed.

Yielding headlines to sell papers? Inaccuracies are what the writers wanted the fans to believe because that is what they believed. They chose to stereotype rather than investigate and discover the truth. Blacks were not given a platform to express themselves. Due to an unmitigated gall that must have given the writers some sort of entitlement to speak for others (through the dense fog of prejudice) about a race yet to be explained and most assuredly misunderstood.

The short-sightedness and confabulation of the facts distorts the possibility of most people’s comprehension when reading this drivel and having the cognitive ability of piecing together something not before surmised therefore encouraging a new way of seeing how poorly a race had been treated. In other words, this was a clear case of not letting the facts get in the way of a good story.

Philadelphia was the last National League team to integrate blacks onto their roster (1957). During Allen’s time there (1963-69) the trades made by the Phillies usually involved sending blacks to teams for aging veterans whose best days were almost entirely behind them. Many of the young players who had been mentored by Allen so by trading them for players past their prime was yet another way of making Allen feel like his time with the organization was not as important as other players on the roster.
Here he had a chance to share his experiences with those in hopes they would not have to endure what he himself did and the organization interrupted that bond by dealing those players away. There was a reason why Philadelphia was one of the last teams to integrate and it was unfortunate for those players to have to live through the growing pains of uneducated, ignorant, narrow-minded, short-sighted individuals in positions of authority within the front office of this National League baseball team.

Tim Whitaker notes that throughout almost this entire ordeal, Allen’s race was kept quiet in the newspapers, and Allen played beneath a bizarre cover in which his struggles could not be openly admitted. (This is very accurate. I recall when I first tuned my transistor radio to KSFO 560AM, to follow the San Francisco Giants, whenever a player was called up from their AAA farm club there was never any mention where the player was from or his ethnicity when that player was African-American.)

Richie Allen didn’t always know how to handle the structure of major league baseball; he didn’t always know who his real friends or enemies were; he did pull a number of staggering stunts to force his way out of Philadelphia in an era in which baseball players had no choice as to their employers.

Clay Dalrymple, a catcher for the Phillies during Richie Allen’s first few years in the big leagues said the Philadelphia Daily News was the biggest instigator. Kashatus wrote: Whether or not they consciously stirred controversy, the Philadelphia Daily News was personally responsible for the negative attitude and behavior of the fans after 1964. The writers’ emphasis on racial division within the Phillies clubhouse became a self-fulfilling prophecy by 1968, as Allen’s rebellious behavior to force a trade fragmented the team.
Couldn’t anyone within the organization understand why Allen resorted to such behavior? When confronted with the various racial encounters didn’t someone come to the realization that the racial segregation was very much in existence and was a significant factor in Richie/Dick Allen’s retaliatory actions? Imagine the outcome had someone or more than one person stepped up on behalf of Mr. Allen?

In 1967, he severed the ulna nerve in his right wrist pushing his car up a hill during a storm. Allen’s wrist would require 5 hours of surgery and the doctors game him a 50-50 chance of ever playing ball again. He courageously returned even though false rumors leaked out that his hand was hurt during a bar fight. He received hate mail and his children were harassed in school. Why? Because a black man couldn’t possibly get hurt doing something as civilized or urbane as pushing a non-functioning car in foul weather. How did the Phillies support their superstar ballplayer?
Is it any wonder that Allen came up with the quote, “I can play third, outfield, first-base, anywhere but in Philadelphia!” Or when the time came that he was traded for Curt Flood, to St. Louis, that the trade exemplified slavery to Flood and liberation to Allen?

Glen Macnow (whose book “The Great Philadelphia Sports Debate,” says that Allen had a way of overshadowing his play on the field with his off-filed issues. Is that because this is what the media thought that particular fan base craved? What off-field issues are Macnow speaking of? Does he mean the incident with Frank Thomas, a racist who referred to Richie Allen as Mohammed Clay? He came at Allen with his bat and hit Allen’s shoulders only after Allen stung Thomas with his fist. Or do we speak of Allen’s wrist injury that the media allowed to be blown out of proportion?

It has been said by those close to Richie “Dick” Allen that he had issues with arriving to the park in time to get his work in before the game. I’ve read several books about the Negro ballplayer and how many of them- including Hank Aaron, don’t put a whole lot of emphasis on time because of the manner in which their fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles,and grandparents were remunerated. If you make someone feel like their time was irrelevant to their efforts or that no matter how well they performed they were still made to feel “left out,” wouldn’t you expect some sort of reaction by the person always getting the short-end of the stick?

After being subjected to racial slurs and having no part of the organization protect him from the abuse he had to feel stuck in Philadelphia. (Unlike what was going on in St. Louis, for example. I recall a story by Tim McCarver. McCarver grew up in the south and didn’t have a clue as to how to treat African-Americans until Bob Gibson enlightened him. Now I know Gibson is an imposing individual but I’m sure he was intelligent enough not to bully McCarver but rather compare and contrast. McCarver said the team began to play as one once everyone was on the same page socially and then fundamentally to play the game of baseball. They all had to tune into the game of life outside the foul lines before it all clicked. By saying “it all clicked” I am also speaking of the media throughout St. Louis. Jackie Robinson’s battle with the color line had some unforgettable moments in St. Louis. The fans had to be enlightened as well and when they saw how their team played as one they united and made it a place African-Americans would be comfortable playing. Vince Lombardi did that in Green Bay. He wasn’t interested in skin color only men playing together and believing in God, family and what’s good for the team.

(Having said all of this, I now can see why Richie Allen was glad to leave Philadelphia and Curt Flood had to say, “No!”) Feeling stuck in Philadelphia had Allen scribble messages in the infield dirt. The fans who were misinformed about the man from the “get-go” were perturbed and this got to the office of Bowie Kuhn, a commissioner who wasn’t much of a hands-on guy so he reacted by ordering Allen to stop it. The next game Allen scrawled in his response, “Why?” Next up was the umpire who no doubt got his orders from the Commish to which Allen responded, “Mom.” This was Allen’s way of saying his mother was the only one who could tell him what to do.

The interesting thing to me is that Bowie Kuhn didn’t need to know why Richie Allen was scribbling words in the dirt only that it needed to stop happening. If he really cared about the man he would have stopped taking other people’s words for it and found out for himself. It would have been the best thing he could have done for the game, one of its better players and a place once referred to as the City of Brotherly Love.

“To be a Philadelphia sports fan is to be an eternal pessimist,” says Dave Coskey, President of Marketing for the 76ers and Flyers.”You go through life expecting the worse because, all too often, bad things happen,” from The Great Philadelphia Fan Book,” by Glen Macnow and Anthony L. Gargano.

In “Another View- Dick Allen” by Craig R. Wright, Wright interprets Bill James’ evaluation of Dick Allen as something in which James goes to great liberties to shed the worst possible light on Dick Allen’s career. When Chuck Tanner was managing the Chicago White Sox during Allen’s time in Chicago, Wright asked Tanner if Allen was a disruptive presence on the team and he showed Tanner what James had written. “He’s full of shit,” snapped Tanner as he referred to Bill James’ off-target assessment of Dick Allen.

In “To Every Thing a Season: Shibe Park and Urban Philadelphia,” Bruce Kuklick asserts “As much as he could, Carpenter opposed a black presence in the majors and certainly at Shibe Park,” and charges that the Phillies “were racist on principle” and “willingly hurt the quality of their teams.”

Glen Macnow’s book, The Great Philadelphia Sports Debate, calls (Richie) Allen the “all-time what could’ve been player,” in franchise history. He received unfair criticism for the 1964 Philadelphia Phillies decline because he did his part. When you bat .318, hit 29-HR, 91-RBI. In the last month of the season, when the Phillies were up by 6 ½ games with 12 to go and went on to lose 10 in-a-row, Allen batted .341, with 5-HR, and had 76 total bases.

What cost the ’64 Phillies was the manner in which manager Gene Mauch handled the pitching staff. And the bad karma he received for his mishandling in-house events. Mauch came off a bit ethically dilemma challenged. That is, whenever he is presented with two equally good or bad options and the correct decision isn’t immediately apparent he has a knack for making what turns out to be the wrong choice. Rather than call Frank Thomas into his office to discuss his displeasure with Thomas’ attitude and penchant for using racial slurs as well as his efforts on the baseball he chose to let the Philadelphia media try to wing-it based on what little knowledge they had on the subject and what some players had told them. This is why Mauch threatened to impose a $2000 fine on any ballplayer that had anything to say about the matter. Sadly, their way was to make the incident a white man against a black man thing in a city that was the last in its league to integrate Negro ballplayers onto their roster. Needless to say, all hell broke loose and Richie Allen was the unfortunate recipient of bad press that would begin in Philadelphia and last throughout much of his playing career.

Richie Allen won’t go down in the annals as the first black who played for the Philadelphia Phillies but he may as well have been. The player credited with being the first Negro(John Kennedy)played in only 5 games which is as limited as any Negro was afforded during the integration phase of African-Americans into major league baseball. It was only that Allen was so gifted that he was given such an extended opportunity to play for the Phillies.
In much the same way the New York Yankees would defend their position of not signing African-American ballplayers it was the Phillies’ cop out, as well, their belief that the player had to be of major league caliber. Insert laugh track here, when you consider both organizations had plenty of players who both belonged to and came from the “good ole boy” league. (And as luck would have it, both teams suffered the consequences of taking this route. The Yankee dynasty would hit a lull while the Phillies were perennial cellar dwellers.)

From 1965-1967, after making three straight All-Star teams, Richie Allen’s adjusted OPS (On-base percentage plus slugging average. The abilities of a player both to get on base and to hit for power)was 166.
Comparing that to some of the other stars of the mid-1960s:
Hank Aaron – 156 OPS
Willie Mays 154
Roberto Clemente –150
Orlando Cepeda- 144

Name OPS+
Dick Allen 165
Hank Aaron 161
Willie McCovey 161
Frank Robinson 161
Harmon Killebrew 152
Willie Stargell 152
Roberto Clemente 151
Willie Mays 148
Frank Howard 147
Carl Yastrzemski 145
Al Kaline 140
Boog Powell 140
Billy Williams 139
Tony Oliva 137
Ron Santo 136

Those are adjusted OPS numbers between 1964 and 1973. Seventeen Hall of Famers played 1000 or more games during those ten years. Dick Allen had a better OPS+ than all of them.

Looking only at his record, it is a little surprising that Dick Allen hasn’t been elected to the Hall of Fame. He won the 1964 Rookie of the Year and the 1972 AL MVP. He was a seven-time All-Star, a high .300 hitter with remarkable power. His career numbers suffer slightly because his prime years took place in an era of low offense, but by any reasonable measure Dick Allen was a great hitter.

For that, his career was somewhat unique: the few players who can boast peak ability similar to Allen generally have much better career lines than he did. Only Johnny Mize is a fair comparison to Allen: both players had brief but brilliant careers:
Dick Allen 1749 351 1119 .292 .378 .534 156
Johnny Mize 1884 359 1337 .312 .397 .562 158

And to be clear: Dick Allen’s career was short, but it wasn’t that short. Chuck Klein played fewer games than Allen. So did Joe DiMaggio and Tony Lazzeri and Earle Combs and Lou Boudreau and Hank Greenberg and Ralph Kiner and Kirby Puckett.

Conservatively, Dick Allen was one of the top forty hitters of all-time. And that’s very conservative. He averaged 31.68 Win Shares per 162 games, which is higher than any first baseman except Lou Gehrig. Dick Allen won a few major awards and was the best offensive player in the game for ten years. His career line is a little low, but his peak is remarkable. His statistical record is the record of a Hall of Fame player. (from Dave Flemings article)

I think it is very unfortunate that Richie Allen has not been elected into Cooperstown, New York. The location of baseball’s Hall of Fame. And a big reason is due to the opinions of people like Bill James.
On December 4, 2008, Dave Fleming wrote an article, “Dick Allen and the Hall of Fame,” and it points out how Bill James wrote something in his (James’) Historical Abstract: Bill James once wrote that Dick Allen “did more to keep his teams from winning than anyone else who ever played major league baseball.” In his Historical Abstract, Bill added that Dick Allen was the second most controversial player in baseball history, behind Rogers Hornsby.
Then Fleming goes on to give examples of how extreme this comment by James was. But many people with the power to vote for those to enter the Hall of Fame read this James piece. How many of those readers were swayed to vote one way or the other, enough to make the player fall under the parameters of the 75% needed for entry into Cooperstown? The point is, why do the sports writers have so much say as to who enters the Hall of Fame?
Why don’t umpires have a vote? If you were an umpire and you umpired during a particular player’s career, say a minimum of three (3) years, let the umpires have their say. They are qualified in determining which player did or did not have sportsmanship. Isn’t that what the naysayer writers are saying why this player or that player SHOULD NOT GO INTO THE HALLOWED HALLS?

An umpires vote, like the vote of one’s peers, has a significant impact versus some hack who sustained a bitterness towards a player simply because he felt that player should kiss his ass.

Kevin J. Marquez

WORKS CITED (Revisiting Dick Allen by Nicholas Zettle and co-written by Tim Whitaker)
Bill James (in The Politics of Glory)
(Article by Cody Swartz on 4/9/09)
September Swoon
Richie Allen, the ’64 Phillies, and Racial Integration by William C. Kashatus (Dave Fleming article)