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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: October 18, 2021 6:27 am PDT
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The 14-by-11 inch cardboard picture that hung on my bedroom wall nearly 50 years ago said all you needed to know about Dick Allen’s ferocious swing. The wide stance, the head perfectly still, the massive 40 3/4-ounce bat ready to buggy whip into action.

The swing resulted in more than Dick Allen’s fair share of 500-foot home runs of the 351 he crushed over his 15-year career. They still talk about the 529-foot home run he blasted at Connie Mack Stadium that cleared the Coke sign.

Remember, this is well before the juiced ball and juiced player era. This was pure strength and Dick Allen was a hitting monster.

Anybody could see that.

I still have that cardboard keepsake. Of course I don’t have any of the dozens of Mickey Mantle cards I collected growing up in Kenilworth, NJ, those are long gone thanks to a cleanup call by my father when I was away at college. So much for my baseball card empire.

Cardboard Dick Allen, though, survived the purge.

This is all relevant this week because of Allen’s passing Monday at the age of 78. Somehow he never made the Baseball Hall of Fame.

First, the writers couldn’t figure it out during his many years on the ballot and then a Veterans Committee couldn’t figure it out.

I can’t figure either one out.

It’s amazing to me that Allen was never inducted into the Hall of Fame. His swing alone should have made him Hall worthy.

Cardboard Dick Allen

The Cardboard Dick Allen from Kevin Kernan's wall: Photo courtesy of Kevin Kernan

Listen to this description from a deeply respected MLB talent evaluator who grew up watching Allen slug. Even though Allen finished with a .292 average over 15 seasons, he didn’t just hit, he slugged. The seven-time All-Star was the hitter you did not want to face.

“Dick Allen had that buggy whip where he would cock it down, 40 ounces, and crush the ball. Without a doubt he should be in the Hall of Fame,’’ the scout told BallNine. “With Harold Baines going in, Dick Allen should be in.’’

Dick Allen’s brother Hank, 80, a scout for many years, who also played seven years in the majors, once told the evaluator the secret to that hitting strength. The story was relayed to me, “Their father gave them a 36-ounce bat like when they were 12 and 13 years old that they all used to swing – that’s why his hands and wrists were so strong. He had a big old heavy bag in the basement and the dad used to tell them to work your hands through the bag.’’

Work your hands through the heavy bag. Work your hands through the baseball. That’s what Dick Allen did.

His first year on the BBWAA ballot in 1983, Brooks Robinson and Juan Marichal were inducted. Robinson was a defensive whiz at third base and received 92 percent of the vote that year. He totaled 268 home runs and batted .267. Allen finished with 351 home runs and a .292 average but somehow he got only 3.7 percent of the BBWAA vote that year, about 88 percent fewer votes than Brooks Robinson.

Dick Allen 1967

Dick ``Richie`` Allen - June 28th, 1967

Six years into balloting, Allen still was scraping the bottom of the barrel with only 7.8 percent in 1989. Johnny Bench, who won the NL MVP in 1972, the year Allen won the AL MVP, received 96.4 percent and Carl Yastrzemski garnered 94.6 percent to make the Hall.

Ken Boyer received twice the percentage of Allen that year. Kind of crazy.

The highest Dick Allen ever made it was 18.9 percent of the vote in 1996, his next to last year on the ballot. His last year he was at 16.7, far under the 75 percent needed to get elected. Sadly, Allen came up one vote short the last time the Golden Era Committee voted on him in 2014. That was a tragedy in itself because this year’s vote by the Golden Days committee, which was supposed to be Allen’s year, was eliminated because of Covid.

What should have happened with the writer’s ballot never happened.

What should have happened with the Veterans Committee ballot never happened.

A Zoom call never happened this year, -the Hall of Fame wants the Veterans Committee vote and discussion to be in person – but what’s done is done and baseball needs to move along. Allen won that MVP with the White Sox. Compiler Harold Baines of White Sox fame is in the Hall of Fame, having been elected by a Veterans Committee.

If you watched Harold Baines play and Dick Allen play and were asked, “Who is the Hall of Famer?” the answer would be easy: Dick Allen.

Again, so it goes. Elections are far from perfect.

“Sportswriters expect you to cooperate with them just because they have the final say. They can write what they want, true or not, and you have no say in how the story reads in the paper the next day.’’

I never had the pleasure of voting for Dick Allen because he was off the ballot by the time I started voting for the Hall of Fame. I’m sure Allen will be elected when the Golden Era ballot voters meet again live and in person next year and that will be nice. A little late, but nice.

Interestingly enough, Luis Tiant was featured on many of the same ballots as Dick Allen.

Luis Tiant should have gotten a Hall of Fame call, too, but has not and considering how sad it is that Dick Allen never got the call when he was alive you can understand why Luis told me earlier this year that he only wants to make the Hall of Fame when he is still breathing.

Otherwise, forget about it.

Tiant wants to make the Hall of Fame while he can enjoy it and appreciate it. You can be sure that Dick Allen had similar thoughts. It never happened.

“You want to be alive to appreciate it, to celebrate,’’ Tiant said of making the Hall of Fame. “My Hall of Fame is my family, that is my Hall of Fame.’’

View of Philadelphia Phillies Dick Allen (15) warming up before game vs San Diego Padres at Connie Mack Stadium. Philadelphia, PA 6/3/1969 CREDIT: Walter Iooss Jr. (Photo by Walter Iooss Jr. /Sports Illustrated via Getty Images/Getty Images)

In his obituary, the Philadelphia Enquirer wrote that Allen was the most misunderstood athlete in Philadelphia’s sports history. A shy, private individual by nature, he unwittingly became a symbol of the growing Black consciousness in the 1960s and paid for it dearly. Yet, for many youngsters — Black and white — who grew up in the city during that racially turbulent time, ‘Richie,’ as he was known then, was our very own Jackie Robinson.’’

In 1972 with the Chicago White Sox he made sure that people called him Dick, not Richie Allen. His reasoning was that Richie made him sound like a 10-year-old. Dick Allen is a man. Richie was a name he detested that was put on him in Philadelphia.

The White Sox made sure to announce him as Dick Allen. He won the AL MVP that season.

Dick Allen did not suffer fools and once said: “Sportswriters expect you to cooperate with them just because they have the final say. They can write what they want, true or not, and you have no say in how the story reads in the paper the next day.’’

The sportswriters of his day did not want to put him in the Hall of Fame.

In 1969 he had enough trouble with the team and enough of Philadelphia and demanded a trade. He was 28, in the prime of his career. He was dealt to St. Louis.

“St. Louis is baseball All-American style,’’ Allen said. “Not like Philly. Not like New York. Not like anywhere else. In St. Louis, the fans care about the game. Here they talked strategy – the hit and run, the squeeze play, the defensive alignment. The fans didn’t care about off-field controversies.’’

Allen understood the game, certainly much better than many front office executives of today understand the game and the nuances that make baseball, well, baseball.

Of baserunning Allen once offered: “Baserunning is an art and a skill … if I’m on second, one ball on the batter I’m going to try and get a big lead to distract the pitcher. My job is to help get ball two. Now the pitcher’s got to throw a strike. Batter knows that. I know that. He’s in a position to get good wood on the ball. He gets a single, I score. That’s good baserunning.’’

That’s baseball. That’s knowledge.

Allen ROY

Philadelphia Phillies' Dick ``Richie`` Allen with National League Rookie of the Year Award. October 22, 1964

Over the course of his career Allen raced to 79 triples. When he won NL Rookie of the Year honors in 1964 he hit 13 triples in addition to his 29 home runs. That year he scored 125 runs as he hit .318 and led the NL in total bases with 352.

If you are going to tell me his career numbers are short for the Hall of Fame, save it. I saw him play. I saw the impact he had on the game. I saw how the opposing pitcher pitched carefully to Dick Allen. They treated him like he was going to the Hall of Fame.

Here is my Triple Crown of MLB stars who should be in the Hall of Fame and have been overlooked: Dick Allen, Luis Tiant and Thurman Munson. Those players stood out in their era for their abilities and their impact on the game and their ability to help teammates. They were all creative in their own ways.

Hall of Famer Goose Gossage loved Dick Allen. I remember standing in the ornate lobby of the Otesaga Hotel in Cooperstown with fellow writers Bob Nightengale and Scott Miller and listening to to how much Gossage praised Dick Allen, saying that Allen taught him so much about the game from a pitching standpoint. Allen’s brilliance as a hitter made Gossage a better pitcher. He was able to understand the hitter’s mindset through Dick Allen.

Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt said Allen taught him how to relax and just let his talents flow. That’s two Hall of Famers basically saying they would not have made the Hall of Fame without Dick Allen’s advice. That should count for something as well as the big numbers and tape measure home runs Allen produced.

The Phillies eventually got Allen back at the tail end of his career, but it was such a shame that the city and Allen could not find baseball peace earlier.  When Allen returned at that point, Philadelphia opened its arms to Allen and he appreciated all the love coming his way.

Allen SI Cover

The iconic June 12, 1972 Sports Illustrated Dick Allen cover photo - CREDIT: John Iacono/SI

At least the Phillies retired his number 15 this past September. In 2010 he was inducted into the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame and in 2018 he was elected to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum “Hall of Game.’’

At the time, a jubilant Allen said, “This is my Hall of Fame.’’

In his insightful autobiography Crash: The Life and Times of Dick Allen, which came out in 1989, Allen put it perfectly of his first Philadelphia run, saying, “I was labeled an outlaw, and after a while that’s what I became.’’

Dick Allen could hit and he could talk.

In 1970 he famously said, “I’ll play first, third, left. I’ll play anywhere – except Philadelphia.’’

And so it goes. Once again this year the Phillies are a mess. They have no real GM, having demoted Over His Head Matt Klentak. They also have no bullpen, which is kind of essential these days. Andy MacPhail and Ned Rice are evidently running the show and owner John Middleton can’t seem to get out of his own way, saying this past week the team would not trade Zack Wheeler for Babe Ruth, following a report from Buster Olney that Wheeler offers would be entertained.

Yeah, it’s a mess. MacPhail has not had a particularly high level of success other than his time in Minnesota with Bob Gephard and manager Tom Kelly helping to run the show.

Here at Baseball Or Bust we have answers and we certainly have an answer for how the Phillies can begin to correct the mess they are in now. This is simple.

Go hire Dan O’Dowd.

He’s the one who makes sense over at MLB Network whenever the talk shifts to front office decisions. He clearly has learned so much about the job through the years and has learned from his mistakes. Enough with hiring newbies like Klentak and so many other “have no feel’’ clones running around baseball acting like they know it all. Philly is a tough town that needs a blue collar GM. It’s that simple. O’Dowd is a Jersey guy, granted North Jersey, but he understands that Northeast mindset. He can come in and clean up the mess. His comments on MLB Network are often quite brilliant on what’s wrong with the game and what’s right with the game. He is 61. The former Rockies GM has an incredible feel for what’s going on in the game today.

“He makes more sense on rosters, free agency, front office moves on how to use analytics, on how to use scouting how to use player development,’’ one talent evaluator told me.

How to run a baseball team, essentially, a lost art.

Right now Middleton owes money to all the fake bosses now “in charge’’ of the failing Phillies who are losing ground daily to the Cash Money Mets and Braves. It’s only going to get worse unless the Phillies figure it out with an adult in the room, an adult like Dan O’Dowd.

Remember, the Phillies have two World Championships to their name, 1980 and 2008 since their inception in 1883. Not exactly getting it done.

“It’s not good at all,’’ the talent evaluator said of Phillies Land.

And so it goes in the City of Brotherly Love.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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