I will start this article by getting out of my chest something that I need to unload: the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) doesn’t deserve to get the self-serving satisfaction of inducting Mr. Dick Allen posthumously to the Hall of Fame: denying him a plaque in Cooperstown when they should’ve inducted him as soon as possible, is a wart in the association’s history that they should not be able to scrub so easily.
I know here lies a complicated paradox as I have wanted to see Mr. Allen in the HoF for so long because he deserves it as much as anyone already there. It is really a big shame (an infuriating shame, actually), that he was not enshrined while alive. Not nice, BBWAA.
The past can’t be undone, though, but it can be pointed out as a way to try to make wrongs right.
Richard Anthony Allen, AKA Dick Allen, played 15 years in the big leagues, nine of them for the Philadelphia Phillies, including a debut 1963 season when he only had 25 plate appearances.
He would move the following season to a tremendous start of a career, winning the National League Rookie of the Year Award at age 22 with a line of .318/.382/.557, .939 OPS, 29 HR, 125 R, and 91 RBI, all this amounting to a .405 wOBA, 8.2 fWAR, and a stellar 162 wRC+.
To put in perspective, the usual staple of those Phillies, Johnny Callison, was a far second with a 6.1 fWAR, and only Willie Mays and Ron Santo had a higher one in all MLB with 10.5 and 8.7, respectively.
The new kid was good, very good. Just don’t call him kid, or boy, or especially Richie.
What’s in a Name?
Before delving into the stats, which are glorious, I want to establish some of the conditions under which those numbers were achieved.
It’s hard for most of us these days to understand what was like to be a twenty-something young black person in the ’60s, even for me, a Latino man. Segregation was still a terrible aspect of the collective behavior, at least in a de facto way, even in the City of Brotherly Love.
In fact, the Phillies were one of the last teams to be integrated, just seven years before Allen’s debut. And, although there were great black players before him, he was one of the first with star status, and definitely, the team, the city, and especially the sportswriters and journalists were not ready to acknowledge that. Not as a peer, at least.
For those of us that have, at any point in our lives, been on the receiving end of racism, xenophobia, or any other kind of systemic oppression, it’s the apparently small things, those things that are even considered benign from the acting side, that make every day a lot more difficult.
For Dick, it was being called Richie.
Rich D’Ambrosio wrote Allen’s profile for the book “The Year of the Blue Snow“, about the 1964 Philadelphia Phillies. In it, he wrote: “…Allen complained about being called Richie. For whatever reason, the Phillies insisted on referring to him as Richie on all printed rosters, scorecards, and team correspondence.”
“To be truthful with you, I’d like to be called Dick.
…(Calling me Richie) makes me sound like I’m ten years old. I’m 22…”
You might think this is a minor thing and nothing that should’ve worried Allen too much, but this is precisely the kind of behavior used to undermine someone, especially after knowing that it’s something that rubs that person the wrong way.
That’s akin to, actively and in an unusual way, being watched while shopping in a store, or people changing sidewalks to avoid crossing directly with you, or many million other ways of all levels of racial profiling which are some of the most eroding things a person has to deal with.
According to D’Ambrosio, “the moniker stayed with him until 1966, when the Philadelphia sportswriters began referring to him as Rich Allen.” However, what I’ve found through most of the local press in Philadelphia and even on national newspapers of the era is that even as late as 1974, he was still being referenced with the ill-intended name, as you can see for yourself, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
There are plenty more, but I think you get the idea.
So that’s the kind of “small” things that Allen had to deal with since the very first moment and from some of the people (like his own team) that were supposed to have his back. “Richie” was a way to make him feel disenfranchised and let him know that while he could be a star player, he was also still a “boy“, no better than any other “man”, especially of the white kind.
Allen grew bitter and angry, and, according to some accounts, did not handle well these things and that lead to a number of decisions that took their toll on his health, career, and relationships on and off the field. But let’s not forget that what got amplified, was mostly by a media that was an active party against him.
Interestingly, if it is of any kind of indication, most of his ex-teammates spoke about him in high regard, as this piece by Graham Womack shares.
To end on a high tone, I will share a few stats that summarize Dick Allen’s prowess on a baseball field; he didn’t have a long career for thousands of reasons but there was a time that he was baseball’s greatest bat swinger, as we will see here:
- 165: That’s Allen’s OPS+ from 1964 to 1974; one, six, five. To put it in perspective, in that same timeframe, these were some of the players that had no less than 5500 PA: Willie McCovey, Hank Aaron, Carl Yastrzemski, Harmon Killebrew, Frank Robinson, and Willie Stargell. What do they have in common? Well, none of them had a higher OPS+ than Allen during that long stretch and all of them are Hall of Famers. By the way, if I lower the cutoff a little bit to 5000 PA, some guys named Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente join that group.
- 156: Allen’s career OPS+ for his career. At 156, it is higher than those from Aaron, Mays, Joe DiMaggio, and Mel Ott. It’s also the 22nd highest in baseball history. Let that sink in.
- 58.7: His bWAR, which is higher than both Kirby Puckett and Ralph Kiner.
- 1964 N.L. Rookie of the Year, 7-time All-Star, 1972 A.L. MVP.
- Lead the league in HR twice.
I can understand that when he was first eligible, the voters of the time did not use the numbers that best show the true value and the HoF worthiness of Allen; longevity and stat accumulation were more important in those days.
But that’s not the case anymore, and it has not been for a while. Let’s get this right and get one of the greatest sluggers of all time in the Hall in Cooperstown where he belongs.
Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire | Design by Michael Packard (@designsbypack on Twitter @ IG)