Gary Allenson walked away from baseball because baseball walked away from him. Not unlike so many other former major league players who spent a lifetime in the game as players, coaches and managers.
Allenson played seven years in the majors, six a catcher with the Red Sox and 14 games with the Blue Jays in 1985, his final season. He also managed or coached at every pro level, managing nearly 3,000 games in the minor leagues over 23 seasons, 11 of those seasons coming in AAA.
Originally a pitcher/shortstop, Allenson became a third baseman, played some second and outfield, and worked himself into becoming an excellent catcher. He had a successful college career at Arizona State University. He began there as a second baseman, moved to third and evolved into a catcher his senior year, which opened the door to the majors for him as he became a ninth-round round pick of the Red Sox in 1976. Twice he played in the College World Series, hitting .444 his junior year and .389 his senior year.
His two most recent jobs as a minor league manager came at AAA Buffalo in 2016 and AA New Hampshire in 2017 in the Blue Jays system, but he also managed in the Orioles, Yankees, Red Sox, Astros, Rangers, Marlins and Brewers systems. He was a major league coach with the Red Sox, Brewers and Orioles.
Because he is no longer in the game, Allenson is not afraid to call out the game for what it has become under commissioner Rob Manfred, a shell of its former glory.
“Choke up a little bit. Get better bat control. What kills me is the guy who hit 762 home runs choked up his whole career,’’ he said of Barry Bonds.
This is a game overrun by analytics with common sense chased away from the dugout, as well as former major leaguers because they are a threat to this new breed of GM, who rely on numbers and not what their eyes tell them or what former players in their employ tell them.
This is why there are so many terrible teams in baseball at this juncture – teams that spend over $200 million, like the Yankees, who are barely over .500 despite playing so many sub-par ball clubs. This is why fundamentals are lost and the Launch Angle has helped destroy hitting, as strikeouts rise to new heights and batting averages plummet.
Give Gary Allenson, 66, credit for standing up and speaking his mind where so many players, coaches, and managers cannot talk on the record, for fear of losing their jobs. Allenson has moved on and he’s enjoying his life in the Tampa area with his wife Dorothy, their children and a grandchild.
Allenson is concerned with what he is seeing with his old position, the catching position.
“The catching on one knee is not good and low and behold no one ever called a game for me,’’ Allenson told BallNine. “I’m sorry, but you cannot see from the dugout what you can see catching. I don’t get it. I’m seeing high school games where someone from the dugout is yelling out 4-6-1-3.’’
He said pitchers are relying too much on breaking balls and not enough on fastballs from college on up to the majors.
“How about starting a guy out with a fastball, throwing strike one and then expanding the zone,’’ Allenson said.
He is stunned that more baserunners are not stealing bases with the catcher essentially sitting on the ground – but realizes the analytics don’t encourage base stealing. “First of all, the analytics geeks never played,’’ Allenson said. “So they have never been on a base to steal a base with a catcher on one knee.
“I see a lot of Tampa Bay games and Michael Zunino does a really good job catching on one knee. He blocks balls and can shift on one knee but a lot of these guys on one knee, they can’t move, and unless the breaking ball in the dirt is right in front of them, they ain’t blocking it. They might knock it down somewhere, but they aren’t blocking it.’’
A heady baserunner should be able to move up a base on those dirt balls but so many baserunners have lost their aggressiveness.
Where does it go from here with catching?
“It all depends when they get rid of these knuckleheads,’’ Allenson said of the analytic-based front offices. “The problem is they are all infiltrated with it.’’
That is the problem.
In 1987 Allenson managed in the Yankees organization in Oneonta and managed a young outfielder named Bernie Williams. In 1997 he was AA Jackson, in 2007 he was managing in AAA Norfolk and in 2017 AA New Hampshire.
Gary Allenson with the Boston Red Sox.
That is a lifetime in the game.
Explained someone who often came up against the 5-‘10” Allenson in the minor leagues: “He was a hard-ass little dude, he reminded me of the actor Robert Conrad, ‘I dare you to knock this battery off my shoulder.’ ’’
Conrad played that role in the famous Eveready battery commercial.
In every way, Allenson was a team player and understands a good system is built on the backs of many hard workers. He has seen so many players develop through the years and one of those players was the Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez who has had so many issues the past few years.
“I saw Sanchez in AAA and I was managing in Buffalo – and he was in Scranton and he was really impressive,’’ Allenson said. “He had a short swing and the ball jumped off his bat. He did a very good job catching. He could block balls, he could catch and throw, he’s got a cannon for an arm, it was accurate – and I’ve seen him the last couple of years and at times it looks like he has forgotten what he has called as a pitch and he clanks the ball, it gets away. He got lost and confused. And I don’t know if it’s because, ‘Hey I’m in the big leagues, I’m a star now, I can relax’ or maybe the signs now are so difficult, catchers are just getting crossed up more. It looks like they get crossed up and they don’t even go out to the mound to straighten it out.’’
Catching is a tough job and Allenson remembers catching Oil Can Boyd’s first game in the big leagues. “It was in Texas it was getaway night and if he crossed me up one time he crossed me up 30 times,’’ Allenson said. “He couldn’t see. He needed glasses but he didn’t want to wear glasses.
“Every time he crossed me up, I went out there and said, ‘What are you doing, man, that was supposed to be a fastball, why you throwing a breaking ball?’ He was in his own world.
“It used to be that if a catcher was on one knee, you would steal the base right away. Which gets me to the new rules they are instituting: the worst one is moving the mound back a foot but the one in A Ball where the pitcher has to disengage, step off the rubber to pick to a base,’’ Allenson said. “Even the left-handers. I’m thinking who is going to throw anybody out if you have to do that. The guys who actually can steal, will steal all the time and (Rickey) Henderson’s 130 stolen bases will get crushed. It confuses me that these guys (in charge) say they want to speed the game up but they want more offense, well I’m sorry but those don’t relate together.’’
Allenson when baseball was still fun. Better days, indeed.
The rules make no sense.
“They are ruining the game,’’ Allenson said, pointing back to the rule changes like the Chase Utley Rule, the Buster Posey Rule and unintended consequences of new rules.
Asked if he missed the game, Allenson answered, “I thought I would really miss it. I was in baseball for 40 years. When I was two years old, my parents told me that my older brother and his buddies were playing ball in the front yard and I ran into his backswing twice in the same day, he hit me in the head, so apparently I was knocked goo-goo and I have loved the game ever since.
“I played baseball any chance I got,’’ Allenson said. “Got up to high school, pitcher/shortstop, one of the best players that I grew up in in L.A. and I was told that I wasn’t good enough, I was playing out of position as a pitcher and a slow-footed shortstop and you know what, I never believed them because I had a dream about playing in the big leagues.’’
That baseball dream became a reality and for more than four decades he was in the game.
“In 2016,’’ Allenson explained, “I was in AAA. The new farm director, who was 35 years old, wanted to move me to AA and I was like, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘Okay, I’ll do it.’ I did for a year and then the guy came down and fired me and he said, ‘We didn’t think you were in on what we are trying to do now.’ And I said, ‘What didn’t I do that you wanted me to do?’ He just like stared at me with a blank look on his face.’’
He could not answer Allenson’s direct question.
Allenson sent out emails to all the other clubs. “I got eight responses,’’ he said, “the others didn’t even respond. It was probably a blessing in disguise. I was 62 at the time. I threw BP for 30 years, guys liked my stuff. The next year I sent out to eight organizations, people I knew, nothing. You know what, I said, ‘so what.’ ’’
It was over. The game was being taught a new way that resulted in what we see today.
“I thought I would really miss it because I love the camaraderie, being at the ballpark, talking to the players, teaching them, the camaraderie of the coaching staff but I don’t miss it like I thought I was going to miss it,’’ Allenson told me.
Not every catcher can be Tony Pena on one knee. And most shouldn't even try.
What advice does he have for baseball in general to get the game back on strong footing?
“Well, they don’t need to move the mound back a foot, what they need to do is to teach hitters how they used to hit,’’ Allenson said.
Interesting to note here that the Cubs Kris Bryant went back to his father as hitting coach this winter and got rid of the severe Launch Angle and is having a great season.
“First off,’’ Allenson said of the launch angle, “if you swing up at the ball and get it on the barrel you get topspin on the ball, if you can swing level through the strike zone and hit the bottom half of the ball, you create backspin and the ball carries more.’’
He added, “It doesn’t matter nowadays because the ball is so juiced up. They can say ‘Oh we de-juiced the ball, but I’d like to know how many balls have been hit this year over 440 feet because I read about two or three every night. Jim Rice would hit a ball 640 feet now. Nobody is as strong as Jim Rice was. I saw Rice check-swing twice and hold the bat up, and the bat broke off in his hand. He had the handle in his hand and the rest of the bat is rolling onto the grass in front of home plate.
“Teach guys how to shorten their swing,’’ he said. “Choke up a little bit. Get better bat control. What kills me is the guy who hit 762 home runs choked up his whole career,’’ he said of Barry Bonds. “With two strikes, protect the plate, not back leg stuff. That would get rid of a lot of the strikeouts. I’m sorry but everybody is not a home run hitter.’’
Allenson also said this which will upset the nerds – but this 2021 radar gun is not the same as the old radar gun.
I have heard that from many former players.
“The gun is a four to five miles difference,’’ he explained. “I got that from a reliable source. So the guy throwing 98 is really throwing 93-94. (Jacob) deGrom is throwing 94-96. He is not throwing 100. Nolan Ryan would be throwing 105 (with this gun). I think they throw a little bit harder now overall, though.’’
But not what these numbers say the way this gun is calibrated.
Allenson also pointed out a big mistake nowadays is the undervaluation of batting averages and the RBI.
Tony Perez. Nothing more needs to be said.
“I played with Tony Perez for four years,’’ he said. “Tony Perez and Bob Watson were the two greatest guys I ever played with because they treated the guys who came up in September just like the guys who were the best players on the team. They were class guys. Johnny Bench said Tony Perez was the guy who stirred their drink because when he came up with guys in scoring position, he was the one who drove them in. I asked Tony one day about RBIs and hitting with a runner on third base with less than two outs.’’
Perez did not say he was focused on just hitting a fly ball.
He told Allenson, “All I thought about was hitting the ball hard,’’ Perez explained. “If I hit the ball hard, it will have enough on it to get through somewhere to drive in a run.’’
That was the secret sauce of RBIs.
Speed needs to come back to the game too, Allenson said.
“The fast guys like Willie Wilson aren’t around anymore because they don’t want to take the chance of a guy getting thrown out trying to steal a base, yet they are okay with them striking out,’’ he said.
More baseball common sense from a guy who lived the game for more than 40 years. This analytics brand of baseball has a lot to learn, and it can start by listening to those who know and love the game.
They have a chance to get it together before it’s too late.