Yankowski: Vet, catcher, forgotten man

2019-11-11 GeorgeYankowskiFollowing is guest column by Douglas J. Gladstone, author of A Bitter Cup of Coffee, about one-time Philadelphia Athletics/Chicago White Sox reserve catcher George Yankowski, also a veteran of the Battle of the Bulge. He, too, is one of over 600 short-career former major leaguers frozen out of the 1980 pension realignment that made 43 days the minimum major league service time for players to qualify for full pension benefits after their playing days ended.

—JK.

Major League Baseball (MLB) takes justifiable pride in supporting programs for active personnel and veterans.

For instance, in 2016, there was a regular season game played at the Fort Bragg military base. And there’s a refurbished single family home for student veterans on the campus of Baldwin Wallace University that MLB and the Cleveland Indians financially supported. Those are just two examples of the game’s support of military personnel, to say nothing of all the on-field recognition ceremonies that are always held at each stadium.

That’s why what is happening to my friend George Yankowski is such a head scratcher.

On November 19, George turns 97-years-old. George, who plays a round or two of golf every week, still maintains an active lifestyle. Oscar-nominated actor Gary Sinise, whose Sinise Foundation does passionate work on behalf of active duty personnel and retired veterans like George, will even be meeting him at the Villages in Sumter County, Florida.

Born in Massachusetts, George was a hard-hitting catcher for both the Watertown High School Red Raiders as well as the Huskies of Northeastern University, One of the original six alums inducted into the Northeastern University Hall of Fame in 1974, it was while attending Northeastern that Yankowski enlisted in the U.S. Army in October 1942, and left for Fort Devens in April 1943.

George wanted to become an aviation cadet, but ended up in the infantry and trained as a sniper. He sailed for Europe in 1944 with the 346th Infantry Regiment in the 87th Infantry Division. In 2014, Miami’s French Consul General awarded him the French Legion of Honor Medal.

He fought in Metz, France—and then moved to Luxembourg, Germany, where he took part in the Battle of the Bulge. He earned the Bronze Star and the Combat Infantry Badge for his frontline encounters during that famous 44 day campaign. George came home from the war in June 1945, and after a three month battle with hepatitis in October of that year, got officially discharged in January 1946.

Sadly, the contributions of a man who defended our freedoms and liberties fighting overseas doesn’t mean much to MLB or the union representing today’s players, the Major League Baseball Players’ Association (MLBPA).

Originally signed by Philadelphia Athletics Hall of Fame manager Connie Mack, George appeared in six games for the Athletics during the 1942 season and 12 games for the Chicago White Sox during the 1946 season. But he is among the 626 retired players who aren’t receiving a pension for their time in “The Show.”

George is without an MLB pension because the rules for receiving MLB pensions changed in 1980. George and the other men do not get pensions because they didn’t accrue four years of service credit. That was what ballplayers who played before 1980 needed to be eligible for the pension plan.

Instead, they all receive nonqualified retirement payments based on a complicated formula that had to have been calculated by an actuary. In brief, for every 43 game days of service on an active MLB roster George accrued, he’d get $625, up to the maximum amount of $10,000 By contrast, the maximum allowable pension a retired MLB player who is vested can make is $225,000.

What’s more, the payment cannot be passed on to a surviving spouse or designated beneficiary. So none of Yankowski’s loved ones, such as his wife, Mary, will receive that payment when he dies.

These men are being penalized for playing the game they loved at the wrong time.

Though the current players’ welfare and benefits fund is valued at more than $3.5 billion, the MLBPA has been loath to divvy up more of the collective pie. Many of the impacted retirees are filing for bankruptcies at advanced ages, having their homes foreclosed on and are so poor and sickly they cannot afford adequate health insurance coverage.

George Yankowski was willing to take a bullet for us. To die for us. And how do we repay him? With a gross check of approximately $2,500. And that’s before taxes are taken out.

When he got his first check eight years ago, you know how he spent it? He used the money to pay for sorely needed dental work. Meanwhile, a member of the Boston Red Sox voted a full postseason share for winning the World Series received $418,000 last year.

Baseball has the money to pay the men like George. If the union goes to bat for them. MLB also cut a $10 million check two years ago to support the programs at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York. That’s right—museum relics received financial support instead of flesh and blood retirees.

This is no way for the national pastime to be treating our war heroes. Or anyone else, for that matter.

 

The 1919 Reds, grand theft victims

This essay was first published 18 December 2018; a different version appeared in the Society for American Baseball Research’s Black Sox Scandal Research Committee Newsletter later that month, and I still thank editor Jacob Pomrenke—perhaps the most passionate reviewer of the scandal the nation has—for his kindness in accepting it. It also formed the basis of a lecture I gave to SABR’s Las Vegas chapter in January—with a replica 1919 Reds hat resting proudly on my head.

On today’s centenary of the ill-fated 1919 World Series’s final game, I republish the original, with one or two time-appropriate alterations, in the continuing if feeble hope that the 1919 Reds will receive their due at last as legitimate World Series champions despite the Black Sox shenanigans.

1919Reds

They wuz robbed: the 1919 Reds. (Hall of Famer Edd Roush stands second from left, top row.)

It’s difficult to feel sorry for a franchise whose history includes fifteen trips to the postseason, ten pennants and five World Series championships, even if they’ve spent the past six seasons in the pits of the National League Central. Difficult, but not impossible.

This season was the centenary of the Cincinnati Reds’ first National League pennant and World Series triumph, and it’s not unfair to say few outside Cincinnati might have cared. But you should. Too much commentary focused on the guys they beat in the 1919 World Series. Understandable, but patently unfair. To the Reds. The thrill of victory never smelled so much or so without warrant like the agony of defeat.

You know too much, not enough, or both about the Black Sox. You may know the mythology saying the White Sox untainted by the Eight Men Out would have just annihilated the poor little Redsies who just weren’t enough to withstand a feeding attack from the South Side sharks. That’s a lie equal to one president not having had sex with that woman and a thrice-removed successor having the largest inaugural crowd of all time.

The Reds’ golden age was the 1970s of the Big Red Machine. Five division titles, four pennants, back-to-back World Series conquests, over that decade’s first seven years. Franchises would kill for a piece of that. But the Machinists had no single season winning percentage better than the 1919 Reds. The 1919 edition’s .686 winning percentage was better than those White Sox (.629) and any team in their decade except the 1912 Boston Red Sox. (.691.)

Before anyone suspected foul play, the 1919 White Sox were 8-5 favourites to win the Series overall but 2-1 underdogs for the first two games in Redland Field. (The park would be re-named Crosley Field in 1934.) White Sox manager Kid Gleason trumpeted what he considered the greatest hitting team that yet played a World Series. Reds manager Pat Moran made a prediction that proved too chilling in due course: “If we beat [White Sox pitcher Eddie] Cicotte in the first game, we ought to win the Series.”

Cicotte, of course, hit the Reds’ second baseman Morrie Rath with the second pitch of the bottom of the first, the signal to the gamblers that the fix was on. But Cicotte would have entered that game suspect even without joining the fix. He suffered shoulder and arm miseries at the end a 306.6 inning, 29-win season. (If you’ve seen the dubious film version of Eight Men Out, you remember the scene in which Cicotte’s suspect shoulder and arm received a linament rubdown from his wife.)

The White Sox entered the Series with two great starting pitchers (Cicotte, fellow Black Sox Lefty Williams), a third (Hall of Famer Red Faber) missing in action thanks to injuries, and a rookie (Dickey Kerr, one of the Clean Sox) who looked like a comer both starting and out of the bullpen but whom observers in the moment considered a kind of wild card. The Reds entered with five solid, healthy starters: Hod Eller, Ray Fisher, Jimmy Ring, Dutch Reuther, and Slim Sallee. Gleason went into the Series on the shorter end of the pitching stick, even without Cicotte and Williams corrupted. Moran had the luxury of being able to rotate his arms—none of which was particularly overworked compared to Cicotte and Williams (297 innings)—reasonably.

Is one way to measure a team their second-half season’s performance? If so, and if  you’ll pardon the expression, you should have put your money on the Reds based on that. They went 47-19 in their second half. The White Sox went 41-26. The Reds finished nine games ahead of the second-place New York Giants; the White Sox finished three and a half ahead of the second-place Cleveland Indians.

Another measure is how they did against fellow contenders in their league. The Reds went 38-22 on the season against three other contenders (the Giants, the Chicago Cubs, the Pittsburgh Pirates); the White Sox went 35-25 against three others (the Indians, the New York Yankees, the Detroit Tigers). In September alone, the Reds faced other contenders ten times and went 8-2; the White Sox, twelve times, going 6-6.

On the regular season the White Sox out-hit the Reds but weren’t that much better at scoring. The White Sox averaged 4.8 runs per game but the Reds averaged 4.1. And the opposition averaged 2.9 runs against the Reds but 3.8 runs against the White Sox. It’s easy to figure out: The Reds out-pitched the White Sox. Entering the Series, the White Sox pitching staff had a 3.04 earned run average and a 2.88 fielding-independent pitching rate. (FIP: your ERA when defense is removed from the equation.) The Reds staff had a 2.23 ERA and a 2.81 FIP. The Reds were a little bit better at crafting their own pitching luck.

The 1919 White Sox shut the other guys out fourteen times and got shut out seven times. The bad news for the 1919 Reds: they were shut out fourteen times—but the good news is, they shut the other guys out 23 times. The closer you look, the less the White Sox look like predators and the Reds like prey.

It wasn’t just the tainted White Sox who came up short at the Series plate, Shoeless Joe Jackson to one side. Leadoff hitter Nemo Liebold hit .056 with two walks and one hit in the set. Hall of Famer Eddie Collins, another of the Clean Sox, undermined his own reputation as a money player when he hit .226 with a single run batted in. Collins’ Series average was two points above the team’s.

What of Jackson? His cumulative Series hitting line argues against him going into the tank, but his game-by-game performance looks more suspect. In his best single game at the plate all set long, Game Eight, he had two hits, three runs batted in, two runs scored including on a third inning home run, but the White Sox were blown out, 10-5, to lose the Series. The homer was Jackson’s first hit in the game, and he came to the plate with the White Sox already down, 5-0. Uh!-oh.

Even before White Sox first baseman Chick Gandil and shortstop Swede Risberg instigated the World Series fix, and found both the gamblers and the teammates to execute it, the White Sox and the Reds had a critical difference. The White Sox were riddled with dissension not all of which was provoked by frustrations real or imagined with their owner. They were wracked by clashes between more- and lesser-educated players and by spells of discomfort with new manager Gleason.

Collins played on the Philadelphia Athletics teams that ruled the earlier parts of the decade that the Red Sox didn’t, which went a long way toward fostering the presumed American League superiority. He once said those A’s “believed in teamwork and cooperation. I always thought you couldn’t win without those virtues until I joined the White Sox.”

The 1919 Reds believed as he did. Susan Dellinger, Ph.D., granddaughter of the Reds’ Hall of Fame center fielder Edd Roush, revealed in Red Legs & Black Sox: Edd Roush and the Untold Story of the 1919 World Series that those Reds liked their own new manager Moran, liked each other, played hard, and thought of team first. They mentored each other when need be, made a powerful point of making newer players feel at home, and, on the field, as Dellinger wrote, “No one cared who was on third. If he wore the Reds insignia, just get him home.”

Their morale withstood only one threat, Dellinger exhumed, when Roush finally told Moran of whisperings he’d heard that gamblers tried to get to one or two Reds pitchers. Moran called a team meeting prior to Game Eight. The scheduled starting pitcher, Hod Eller spoke up. He’d run off a gambler who tried to buy him off for the game. Then he pitched the distance in the Series-ending blowout.

“Doesn’t everybody say the dream is nonsense? Didn’t everybody say the Reds couldn’t possibly win?” wrote Damon Runyon after the Reds’ Game One win. (The article is collected in the splendid Guys, Dolls, and Curveballs: Damon Runyon on Baseball.) “Experts, ballplayers, and fans—didn’t they all laugh at Cincinnati’s fall pretensions as they have laughed every year for many years? Cincinnati will tell you that they did.”

Didn’t they tell you Pat Moran’s ball club was made up of castoffs of baseball, and that it was just a sort of baseball joke compared to the million dollar club that represents Chicago?

Cincinnati will tell you they did. Cincinnati never tires of the telling, in fact. But all the time they were telling these things about the Reds, Cincinnati was secretly dreaming a great dream that was realized at Redland Field this afternoon, with 30,000 pop-eyed breathless Cincinnati people looking on.

The castoffs of baseball proved better than the sum of their parts and the million dollar club proved worse in more ways than one.

George F. Will had it right when he once described most of the Eight Men Out as “more dumb than dishonest,” a valedictory that doesn’t apply to the ringleaders Gandil and Risberg. Or, to reserve third baseman Fred McMullin, who stumbled upon their plot in its planning and threatened to expose it unless they cut him in on the profit. (Remember, too, that if the gamblers double-crossed the Black Sox, Gandil may have double-crossed his own co-conspirators; he’s said to have kept the bulk of the money the gamblers paid them.)

Will also said of the commissioner baseball selected in the scandal’s immediate wake, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, that he “delivered rough justice, perhaps more rough than just,” when it came to the game-wide malignancy that enabled the Black Sox. Landis was not faultless, including and especially the de facto perpetuation of baseball’s segregation. (He neither ruled formally nor spoke publicly but it was understood he wouldn’t sanction baseball’s integration so long as he held office.) But if he applied an overweight hand to baseball’s original gambling scandal, it was featherweight compared to the cancer the game needed to eradicate.

Jackson made two terrible mistakes, perhaps out of intimidation from the too-rough/too-tumble Risberg. (“Swede,” he told those investigating the World Series fix, “is a hard guy.”) He accepted an envelope Lefty Williams was ordered to deliver to him, containing $5,000, rather than say thanks but no thanks. And, he delayed his oft-discussed attempt to dispose of it and advise team officials what was up.

Third baseman Buck Weaver wanted no part of the fix or its payoffs. He also wanted nothing to do with being a rat against his friends, some of whom were anything but. That seemed more important than aborting the fix, which Weaver could have done by exposing what he knew. If there was a concerted cover-up of the fix, by White Sox officials at minimum, delaying its revelation and resolution by at least a year, Weaver’s silence left room for a cover-up in the first place.

Jackson’s playing record is considered Hall of Fame worthy. But the guileless outfielder (illiterate he was, but guileless doesn’t mean stupid) was never elected on the (oft-forgotten) couple of times he did appear on the Baseball Writers Association of America Hall of Fame ballots. It’s not unreasonable to say his Hall worthiness married to his banishment inspired subsequent movements to convince baseball’s government to reinstate him and enable his Hall election, whatever the details behind his Black Sox status.

Don’t think that just because the White Sox were riddled by factionalism, and that even some of the Clean Sox were rough and tumble, it means the Reds were a roster full of saints. But several Reds including Roush, Eller, and outfielder Greasy Neale believed the Series was played mostly straight at least between Games Three and Six—because, they said in various ways, the gamblers double-crossed the fixers and the fixers didn’t get all the money they were promised. It neither mitigated the Black Sox nor eroded the myth of the Reds’ comparative modesty.

Seventy years after that World Series came Pete Rose, banished from baseball for violating Rule 21(d)—the rule against betting on baseball, the rule instigated by the gambling corruptions that climaxed with the 1919 Series fix and its eventual exposure and affirmation. You can say many things about Rose, but guileless isn’t one of them. And the very real prospect of his election to the Hall of Fame despite his banished status prompted the Hall itself, an entity not actually operated or governed by Major League Baseball, to rule against baseball’s ineligible being eligible for Hall election.

A nation whose citizens empathise with victims real or imagined should hark heartily to the real victims of baseball’s two most notorious gambling scandals. The first compromised the integrity of the Reds’ first World Series winners through no fault of their own. The second cost the Reds a franchise icon and manager through all fault of his own.

(This year’s Reds didn’t get to play this year’s White Sox in interleague play. Kind of a shame, too. Try to imagine today’s baseball administration dealing with that during this particular centenary season.)

It would have been simple enough for baseball to spend 2019 giving the 1919 Reds their long, long overdue. The evidence says they could have beaten those White Sox in a straight, no chaser Series.  Baseball can’t give them a Series do-over but it can give them the championship legitimacy they deserve. Metaphysically and temporally, the 1919 Reds wuz robbed.

 

Don Mossi, RIP: Ugly is as ugly does

2019-07-26 DonMossi

Don Mossi, who proved ugly was only in the eye of the beholder on and off the mound.

“He could run ugly, hit ugly, throw ugly, field ugly, and ugly for power,” wrote Bill James about pitcher Don Mossi in The New Historical Baseball Abstract. “He was ugly to all fields. He could ugly behind the runner as well as anybody, and you talk about pressure . . . man, you never saw a player who was uglier the in clutch.”

Wrote the late Jim Bouton in Ball Four, while musing how players loved to choose up all-ugly lineups to pass time, “he looks like a cab coming down the street with the doors open.”

Hall of Famer Yogi Berra, the all-ugly receiver, once said, “It don’t matter if you’re ugly in this racket. All you have to do is hit the ball. And I never saw anybody hit one with his face.” Mossi, a brainy lefthander who made Berra resemble Cary Grant by comparison, could have said the same thing, with the codicil that he’d never seen anybody pitch one with his face.

Mossi, who died Friday morning at 90 in an Idaho hospital, had nothing on the mound but his brains, an unusual three-finger grip on his fastball, which didn’t travel like a speeding bullet but came to enough forks on the way to the plate and took them to keep hitters off balance, and a deadly enough curve ball. And it gave Indians manager Al Lopez a smart idea when Mossi made the team in 1954.

Lopez used Mossi’s wits and righthander Ray Narleski’s power as an effective bullpen counterweight whenever one of the Indians’ effective starters—Hall of Famers Bob Lemon and Early Wynn, Mike (The Big Bear) Garcia, and aging but still capable Hall of Famer Bob Feller—needed to be spelled, with elder veteran Hall of Famer Hal Newhouser the long man out of that pen.

Used so judiciously, that bullpen helped the 111 game-winning Indians whistle past the 103 game-winning Yankees and into the World Series, with Mossi rolling a 1.94 ERA and a staggering 194 ERA+, then pitching four innings in the World Series without surrendering an earned run or a walk.

If only the Series equaled Mossi’s performance: the Giants swept the Indians in four straight, and it only began with Willie Mays’s stupefying catch in Game One to rob Vic Wertz of a likely extra base hit at the Polo Grounds’s cavernous rear end. In due course, Mossi would admit he was scared to death as a rook until veterans such as Feller and Lemon put him more at ease.

A year later, Mossi was deadlier. He struck out 69 against only eighteen walks, posted a 2.42 ERA and a 2.01 fielding-independent pitching rate, and even drew a few Most Valuable Player votes while he was at it. Who knew that Narleski would begin experiencing elbow trouble and put an end to that skin-tight rear end of the Indians’ bullpen?

Perhaps inexplicably, the Indians moved Mossi and Narleski into the starting rotation for most of 1957. Perhaps also inexplicably, Mossi earned his only All-Star berth. Perhaps even more inexplicably, the Tribe traded both Mossi and Narleski to the Tigers after the 1958 season—for Billy Martin, well along the way to his second career of wearing out his welcome swiftly enough, wherever he landed, after Yankee general manager George Weiss got fed up with him in 1957.

As a Tiger, Mossi became a starter, mostly, and a reasonable back-of-the rotation option. In 1961, Mossi became a curious trivia element when he surrendered only one home run to Roger Maris but none to Mickey Mantle while that pair of Yankees chased ruthsrecord all season long. Mossi also started a 1 September game against the Yankees in which a near-flawless performance was ruined when, with two out, Elston Howard and Berra singled back to back before Moose Skowron drove home Howard with the winning run.

The loss kicked off an eight-game losing streak that knocked the Tigers out of the 1961 pennant race. And that was the last season Mossi pitched before incurring arm trouble that began slowly decreasing his starting assignments and increasing his bullpen options until the Tigers sold him to the White Sox during spring training 1964.

The White Sox put him back into the bullpen permanently, and Mossi responded with a 2.94 ERA over forty innings before the Sox released him after the season. The Kansas City Athletics took a flyer on him in May 1965, but he called it a career after the season.

His comparatively late major league start may have shortened his career a bit; he was 25 when the Indians brought him up in 1954 and one year removed from discovering that odd three-finger fastball grip. He was a good if unspectacular pitcher who married his mind to his arm and did the best he could with both.

Teammates appeared to have loved and respected Mossi. Once upon a time, according to a fan posting on Mossi’s Legacy.com obituary page, Rocky Colavito—dealt to the Tigers controversially in 1960 (Indians fans were ready to arrange the execution of general manager Frank Lane over that and other trades that essentially broke up the Indians’ perennial contenders)—drove a white Cadillac convertible and picked Mossi up in it on the way to Tiger Stadium as long as they were teammates.

But his distinctive (shall we say) appearance stuck in the minds of opponents and fans more than his ways and means on the mound. Beneath eyes similar to those of Edward R. Murrow, Mossi also wore a proboscis that made Danny Thomas’s look like a bob and ears that rivaled the batwing flaps of legendary Hollywood censor Will Hays, earning him the nicknames “The Sphinx” and “Ears.”

Well, now. The Sphinx with Ears ended up having a last laugh. He returned to his native California with his wife, Eunice, and their three children; he’d married his lady on the field at Bakersfield’s Sam Lynn Ballpark while pitching for the Indians’ farm in 1950. Mossi’s baseball afterlife included running several motels in California successfully, not to mention becoming a twelve-time grandfather and a 25-time great-grandfather.

A few years after Mrs. Mossi passed away, her husband retired to Idaho, where much of their family had relocated, and took up an active life indulging his passions for gardening, hunting, and camping. The Mossis were animal lovers to the point that the pitcher’s family declined a funeral service and asked instead that contributions be made to a pet hospital in nearby Oregon.

Clearly enough, ugliness was in the eye of the beholder, and Mossi’s was only skin deep. (Admittedly, you wonder, if Mossi had gone to medical school, he’d have put up with tons of needling about becoming an ear, nose, and throat specialist.) Beneath the ears and the schnozz there rested a competitor on the mound and a gentleman off it.

So laugh, clowns, laugh. This Donald had the last laugh known as a life lived very, very well. Call it winning ugly if you must. But emphasise winning.

 

A changeup is gonna come . . .

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Tim Anderson takes a spin after having his helmet knocked off his head Wednesday.

“Revenge,” Don Vito Corleone advised his in-training son Michael, “is a dish that tastes best when served cold.” Tim Anderson isn’t in training to take over an organised crime family, but he did provide evidence to support the concept Wednesday.

Knock Anderson’s helmet off his head in the bottom of the second? Might not clear both dugouts and bullpens, but he’ll knock what proves the game winning run home for your trouble anyway. And leave you looking like fools without so much as a hint of a bat flip.

For the moment, forget what the pitch actually was that Royals starter Glenn Sparkman threw up and in that hit the bill of Anderson’s batting helmet and blew it clean off the White Sox shortstop’s head. Even a changeup traveling at 86 miles per hour looks frightening when its trajectory takes dead aim at a human face.

Home plate umpire Mark Carlson took all of about two seconds to pounce out in front of the plate as Anderson spun after the helmet took its flying leap and ejected Sparkman no questions asked. If that outraged the Royals’ broadcast crew (Whaaaaaat? one of them asked) and anyone else watching, keep in mind that last month Anderson took one in the rump roast from a Royal arm the next time up after hitting one out and performing one of his signature bat flips.

Royals catcher Martin Maldonado pounced out likewise to protest the ejection, prompting his manager Ned Yost to hustle out there to keep him from an early night off. “As far as we’re concerned,” Yost pleaded to reporters after the game, “coming into this series we had no animosity toward that young man. None. To think that we’re going to hit him is ludicrous . . . We’re not like that.”

Apparently, Yost forgot that his pitcher Brad Keller drilled Anderson to clear the benches 17 April. He may or may not have been aware that Carlson and his fellow umps came into the game well aware of that incident. Hence Carlson taking no chances. And, perhaps, hence why the White Sox, though obviously alarmed over what just happened to their man, didn’t even think about pouring out of their dugout, after Anderson righted himself from his unexpected spinout.

“[T]o think that we’re gonna hit him on purpose is ludicrous, one,” Yost continued. “Two, it was a changeup. It was forgotten. He’d done his part, we’d done our part. It was done. It was over. It was nothing. There was no ill feeling, no ill will, no nothing. It would be totally ignorant on our part to hit him again, for what? We don’t play that game. We’re not like that. It was done, it was forgotten. He got under a changeup and hit him in the helmet. You saw what happened from there.”

It may also be totally ignorant to deny the optics of a pitch sailing up into a batter’s face the first time he hits in the next set during which you face him after he took one in the tail the last time around.

“It could have went either way,” said Anderson himself of the pitch that knocked the helmet off his block. “A ton of things could have happened. Good thing it didn’t do any damage. I was able to stay in the game and keep my composure.”

It ended up damaging the Royals more than anyone else in the yard, and not just because their starting pitcher got himself an early night off for his trouble. After Royals second baseman Nicky Lopez tied the game at seven with a two-run single in the top of the eighth, Anderson stepped in against Royals reliever Ian Kennedy—who’d surrendered Anderson’s first major league double back in the days when Kennedy was still a starting pitcher.

With White Sox catcher James McCann aboard on a one-out double, Anderson looked at a cutter for a strike, then pulled a Kennedy knuckle curve down the third base line, right under a diving Hunter Dozier, for the RBI double that ultimately meant the game when the Royals mustered nothing more than a one-out single against Alex Colome in the top of the ninth.

The two teams hook up again come July. Don’t think for one moment that eyes won’t be upon every trip to the plate Anderson makes against Royals pitching. And this may not quite be the most ridiculous feud in baseball this year. That honour may yet end up going to Pirates broadcaster John Wehner, who thinks about as highly of Reds bombardier Derek Dietrich as a cobra thinks of a mongoose.

Dietrich has come from the Marlins’ scrap heap to become a prize Cincinnati find and a particular Pittsburgh headache, hitting seven home runs in nine games between the two teams, including three on Tuesday night alone. Wehner is not amused, not just because Dietrich has made the Pirates a particularly favourite victim but because Dietrich, like Anderson is not shy about savouring every blast he delivers.

Wehner obviously doesn’t want the kid to have fun. Especially not after Tuesday, especially not after Dietrich hit three two-run bombs in Great American Ballpark, helping his Reds to an 11-6 win. And Wehner takes it even more personally than Pirate pitchers who surrender the launches do.

Wehner can’t start a bench clearing brawl as did Chris Archer on 7 April, after Dietrich hit the first of a pair that sailed into the Allegheny River, Archer greeted the outfielder his next time up with a ball behind his bottom, and five players were ejected before order was restored. But Wehner can and does lament that Dietrich’s grandfather, one-time Pirates coach Steve Demeter, is “rolling in his grave every time this guy hits a home run. He’s embarrassed of his grandson.

“It’s just being arrogant,” Wehner continued, on a radio program. “I don’t get it. I don’t get why you do that. It doesn’t make any sense to me.” He didn’t get the memo, either, that throwing at a batter for no reason better than that your ego was turned into a splash hit makes even less sense than a batter feeling it when he can and does hit one for that kind of distance.

“I think everyone should play the way they play,” Dietrich says. “I’ve got no problems with it . . . I’m just coming to play ball and hit the ball hard. We’re having fun and trying to win. This is baseball.” Having fun and trying to win. The horror.

Do you remember what Dietrich did in that 7 April game the next time he batted after his can felt the breeze from Archer? He hit another home run. Into the Allegheny River. Again. The only thing more foolish than awakening any sleeping giant is thinking you have to awaken him when he’s already wide awake.

Allen’s Alley should lead to Cooperstown

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Dick Allen (15), presumed launching a baseball toward LaGuardia Airport’s flight line (he’s hitting against the Mets here) . . .

Some time around Opening Day, I spotted an online baseball forum participant huff that he didn’t want to see a particular player in the Hall of Fame because, well, the man fell far short of 3,000 major league hits. I have no idea whether it crossed his radar that drawing and enforcing lines like that would send some of baseball’s genuine greats out of Cooperstown.

Some who concurred I’d known to defend the Hall election of a 22-season man, himself short of the Magic 3,000, whose sole apparent credential for the Hall was being a 22-season man. That’s the Gold Watch Principle at work. Longevity in baseball is as admirable as it is non-universal, but merely having a very long career isn’t the same thing as having Hall of Fame-worthy career value.

More Hall of Famers than you often recall earn their plaques despite somewhat short careers and/or by their peak values above their career values. They only begin with Dizzy Dean, Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, and Sandy Koufax. And the player the aforementioned forum denizen doesn’t think should be in the Hall of Fame has a bona-fide, peak-value Hall case.

This player was a middle-of-the-order hitter who hit frequently, and often with power described politely as breathtaking and puckishly (by Hall of Famer Willie Stargell) as the kind that causes boos because they don’t stay to become fan souvenirs. He was run productive to extremes at his absolute peak, but I’m not going to truck with the runs he scored and those he drove in too much for a very good reason: Those are impressive, and valuable, and entirely team-dependent.

Unless you think he could score when those behind him couldn’t drive him home (unless he reached third and could steal home at will), or drive in runs if those ahead of him in the lineup couldn’t reach base (never mind his power, even he couldn’t hit home runs far enough to allow time for two to four trips around the bases before the ball landed), answering “yes” to either means you shouldn’t hang up your shingle as a baseball professor just yet.

What we should want to know, really, is what he brought to the table by himself, when he checked in at the plate or hit the bases when healthy and not buffeted by too many controversies not entirely of his own making.

We should look at his plate appearances (PA), not his official at-bats, because the latter don’t offer the complete, accurate story of what he did at the plate to create runs for his teams. We should look at his total bases (TB), which treats his hits unequally, as it should be, because all hits are not equal. (If you think a single is equal to a double, a double equal to a triple, a triple equal to a home run, better keep the shingle in its original packaging for now.)

We should look at how often he hit for extra bases. (XBH.) (We should also look at how often he took the extra base on followup hits: XBT.) And, we should look at his real batting average (RBA)—his total bases, his walks, his intentional walks, his sacrifices, divided by his total plate appearances. The traditional batting average should really be called a hitting average, because it divides hits by official at-bats only and implies (incorrectly) that all hits are equal.

What I wanted to know along the foregoing lines is everything this player did to create runs.

When I first pondered the RBA concept I didn’t include intentional walks. But while I began revisiting this player it hit me. Why not include them? They’re not what you work out with your acute batting eye and plate discipline, but you should damn well get credit for being so formidable a plate presence that a pitcher would rather you take first base than his head off.

With all the foregoing understood, I hope devoutly, here are the absolute peak seasons of the player in question:

Year PA TB BB IBB SAC HBP XBH% XBT% RBA
1964 709 352 67 13 9 0 40 52 .622
1965 707 306 74 6 12 2 35 57 .566
1966 599 331 68 13 4 3 45 70 .699
1967 540 262 75 18 1 1 45 53 .661
1968 605 271 74 15 9 1 43 63 .611
1969 506 251 64 10 4 0 46 55 .650
1970 533 257 71 16 1 2 44 49 .651
1971 649 257 93 13 6 1 30 53 .570
1972 609 305 99 16 3 1 45 48 .696
TOTAL 5457 2592 685 120 49 11 41 56 .636
162G Avg. 688 327 87 16 8 2 42 57 .640

That should resemble a peak value Hall of Famer to you whether or not you marry it to his slash line for those nine seasons: .298 hitting average (sorry, I’m sticking to the program here), .386 on-base percentage, .550 slugging percentage, .936 OPS (on base plus slugging), and 164 OPS+.

He did it while playing in a pitching-dominant era and while being perhaps the single most unfairly controversial player of his time, especially during the first six of those seasons:

Years PA TB BB IBB SAC HBP XBH% XBT% RBA
1964-1969 3666 1773 422 75 39 7 42 58 .632
162G Avg. 693 336 80 15 8 2 43 59 .636

The player is Dick Allen.

When the Golden Era Committee convened in 2014, Allen missed Hall of Fame election by a single vote. So did his contemporary and co-1964 Rookie of the Year Tony Oliva. Allen missed despite that committee having more members with ties to his career than the Today’s Game Committee had to Harold Baines when electing him, very controversially, a few months ago.

Allen and Oliva have things in common other than missing their last known Hall of Fame shots by a single vote each. They both had fifteen-season major league careers. They both missed the Sacred 3,000 Hit club. (Hell, they both missed the 2,000-hit club.) They both hit around .300: Oliva, .304 lifetime; Allen, .292. And they both had careers rudely interrupted then finished by too many injuries.

Past that, let’s look at their lifetime averages per 162 games where they count the most:

162G Avg. PA TB BB IBB SAC HBP XBH% XBT% RBA
Dick Allen 678 327 87 16 8 1 42 53 .647
Tony Oliva 665 290 43 13 7 6 31 47 .540

Now, let’s look at those parts of their slash lines that matter the most. If you wish to argue as many still do that a .304 lifetime hitting average makes Tony Oliva the superior hitter to a Dick Allen with a lifetime .292 hitting average, be my guest—after you ponder:

162 G Avg. OBP SLG OPS OPS+
Dick Allen .378 .534 .912 156
Tony Oliva .353 .476 .830 131

Especially if you consider that their primes came during an era where a) they were up against some of the toughest pitching in the game’s history and b) hitting in conditions that gave far more weight to pitching overall than to hitting overall, both these players have firm peak-value Hall of Fame cases. Tony Oliva deserves the honour, too, but Dick Allen was a better player.

Allen had more power, more speed, was feared more considerably at the plate, and took a lot more extra bases on followup hits helping him be more run creative. And even in his seasons with Connie Mack Stadium as his home ballpark, Allen had slightly tougher home parks in which to hit than Oliva did. Let’s compare their peaks:

162 Game Avg. PA Outs RC RC/G
Dick Allen 688 441 129 7.8
Tony Oliva 694 465 113 6.5

You’re not seeing things. Allen at his peak, per 162 games, used 24 fewer outs to create 16 more runs. By the way, assuming the home run hasn’t turned you off yet, given fifteen completely healthy seasons each and allowing for a normal decline phase if they hit one by ages 35 (Allen) or 37 (Oliva), Oliva might have hit a very respectable 315 . . . but Allen might have hit 525. Maybe more.

Other than each missing enshrinement by a single vote in 2014, the most compelling reason to compare the two is that people married to baseball know Oliva’s injury history kept him from making his case more obvious (as would those of Dale Murphy and Don Mattingly, and neither of them were as good as Allen and Oliva) but often forget how Allen’s injury history kept the seven-time All-Star from making his case more obvious.

Because, you know, there was, ahem, that other stuff. The stuff that earned Allen a reputation as a powder keg who earned Bill James’s dismissal (in The Politics of Glory, later republished as Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?) of the wherefores:

Dick Allen was a victim of the racism of his time; that part is absolutely true. The Phillies were callous to send him to Little Rock in 1963 with no support network, and the press often treated Allen differently than they would have treated a white player who did the same things. That’s all true.

It doesn’t have anything to do with the issue . . . Allen directed his anger at the targets nearest him, and by doing so used racism as an explosive to blow his own teams apart.

Dick Allen was at war with the world. It is painful to be at war with the world, and I feel for him. It is not his fault, entirely, that he was at war with the world . . .

He 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.

If names such as Hal Chase, Rogers Hornsby, Albert Belle, and Barry Bonds sound familiar, it’s an extremely ferocious stretch to put Dick Allen at the top of that heap. It’s also a ferocious stretch if you know the complete story of the 1964-69 Phillies. Which you can get from one splendid book, William C. Kashatus’s September Swoon: Richie Allen, the ’64 Phillies, and Racial Integration, from 2004.

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Left to right: infielder Cookie Rojas, outfielder Johnny Callison, third baseman Dick Allen, manager Gene Mauch, 1964. The Phillie Phlop wasn’t anywhere near Allen’s fault . . .

Allen wasn’t even close to the reason for the infamous Phillie Phlop. During September/ October 1964 he posted a 1.052 OPS. Kashatus exhumed the real reason the Phillies didn’t stay truly pennant-competitive again for the rest of the 1960s: a slightly mad habit of trading live young major leaguers and prospects (including Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins) for veterans well established but on the downslopes of once-fine careers.

The Phillies had winning records from 1965-67, but that habit began catching up to them in earnest starting in 1968—coincidentally, the season during which Allen really began trying to force the Phillies to send him the hell out of town. But Kashatus and other chroniclers—particularly Craig Wright, a Society for American Baseball Research writer debunking James—have also affirmed that Allen went out of his way to keep his teammates away from any of his desperation antics.

Just ask Bob Skinner, the former Pirate outfielder who succeeded Gene Mauch as the Phillies’ manager in 1968, and who tangled with Allen only over Allen’s bid to dress away from the clubhouse to keep himself from affecting his mates:

We certainly weren’t a bad team because of him. I didn’t appreciate some of his antics or his approach to his profession, and I told him so, but I understood some of it. I do believe he was trying to get [the Phillies] to move him. He was very unhappy. He wanted out. There were people in Philadelphia treating him very badly . . . He obviously did some things that weren’t team oriented, but his teammates did not have a sense of animosity toward him. Not that I saw. They had some understanding of what was going on.

Allen grew up in a strong family, raised by a strong but loving mother (he bought her a new home with his $70,000 signing bonus from the Phillies), in a small, integrated area in Pennsylvania farm and mine country, integrated well enough that black and white children thought nothing of having sleepovers in each other’s homes, even if they might not have dated each other.

Little Rock, Arkansas, was Allen’s first explicit taste of Southern-style racism and his 1963 experience seared him, as well it might have, when sent there for his AAA finishing with no warning of what he was likely to face as the first black player on the Travelers. There were those who wondered why Allen couldn’t take his cue from his hero Jackie Robinson’s experience of a decade and a half earlier.

But Robinson was a 27-year-old Army veteran and Negro Leagues veteran when the Dodgers brought him first to their Montreal farm and then to Brooklyn, and Branch Rickey and company prepared him as thoroughly as possible for facing and surviving the league’s bigots. Allen was 20 when promoted to Little Rock and entirely on his own. As he said himself in his eventual memoir (Crash):

Maybe if the Phillies had called me in, man to man, like the Dodgers had done with Jackie Robinson, and said, “Dick, this is what we have in mind. It’s going to be very difficult but we’re with you”—at least I would have been prepared.

The notorious Philadelphia race riot of 1964, occurring while the Phillies were on a road trip, left white Philadelphia very much on edge and presented the Phillies’ black players as a potential target. But the real first shot of what became Allen’s war was fired 3 July 1965, around the batting cage before a game. The culprit was veteran first baseman/ outfielder Frank (The Big Donkey) Thomas.

Needled by All-Star outfielder Johnny Callison after a swing, Thomas retaliated against Allen–hammering Allen with racial taunts, including “Richie X” and “Muhammad Clay.” Thomas had already infuriated no few teammates, black and white, with a pattern of race baiting, against Allen and other black Phillies, but now Allen finally had enough.

All things considered Thomas should have considered himself fortunate that all he got was Allen punching him in the mouth. But Thomas retaliated by swinging his bat right into Allen’s left shoulder. Those who were there have since said it took six to get Allen off Thomas. And when the brawl settled, manager Mauch made a fatal mistake. Not only did he force Thomas onto release waivers but he ordered Allen, Callison, and all other Phillie players to keep their mouths shut about the brawl or be fined.

Which gave the departing Thomas all the room he needed to bray about it, which he did in a radio interview, accusing Allen of dishing it out without being able to take it and saying the Phillies unfairly punished one (himself) without punishing the other. That’s gratitude for you: Allen actually tried to talk the Phillies out of getting rid of Thomas, out of concern for Thomas’s large family.

Under Mauch’s threat, Allen and his remaining teammates couldn’t deliver the fuller story. That allowed Philadelphia’s sports press of the time to make room enough for the extreme among racist fans to hammer Allen with racial taunts, racial mail, death threats, litter on his lawn (if and when they discovered where he lived), and objects thrown at him on the field, enough to prompt his once-familiar habit of wearing a batting helmet even on defense. (Hence his nickname Crash.)

Already unable to accept Allen as an individual, from rejecting his preferred name (Dick) in favour of one he considered a child’s name (Richie) to out-of-context quoting of him when he did speak out, those sportswriters roasted him at every excuse, even abetting or refusing to investigate the most scurrilous and unfounded rumours about him. The nastiest probably involved the 1967 injury Allen suffered trying to push his stalled car back up his driveway, with speculation that he’d either been stabbed in a bar fight or gotten hurt trying to escape when caught inflagrante with another woman.

Allen didn’t hit as well the rest of 1965 as he had before Thomas smashed into his shoulder with the bat. He overcame a partial shoulder separation in 1966, but the driveway injury severed right wrist tendons enough to require a five-hour surgery to repair them, costing Allen some feeling in two fingers and making it difficult to throw a ball across the infield (which finally made him a near full-time first baseman) or in from the outfield (where he’d also play periodically).

And despite those injuries and those pressures, Allen led the National League with a .632 slugging percentage, a 1.027 OPS, and a 181 OPS+ in 1966; and, on-base percentage (.404), OPS (.970), and OPS+ (174) in 1967. Wright exhumed that Mauch believed to his soul Allen really began wanting out of Philadelphia after the wrist injury rumours.

Introverted by nature, Allen still made friends among black and white teammates alike. He enjoyed talking to younger fans who weren’t possessed of their parents’ bigotries. He smarted over the hypocrisy of fans taunting him and throwing things at him one minute exploding into raucous cheers over yet another monstrous home run the next. He also tried playing through his injuries career-long until their pain became too much to bear.

“Dick’s teammates always liked him,” Mauch himself once said. “He didn’t involve his teammates in his problems. When he was personally rebellious he didn’t try to bring other players into it.” Like perhaps too many overly pressured young men, Allen took refuge in drink, often stopping at watering holes to or from the ballpark. Most of them didn’t have to deal with his so often unwarranted public pressures.

Allen’s possible closest white friend on the Phillies was catcher Clay Dalrymple, who eventually told Kashatus he wondered why Allen—who was known even in Philadelphia for mentoring players without being asked—wouldn’t take the explicit, overt team leadership role Mauch tried to convince him to accept:

It was right there for him to take if he wanted it. “All you have to do is learn how to talk with the press,” I told him. “I’d rather let my bat do my talking and be a team player,” he told me. Well, that was typical [Dick]. He never wanted to tell others what to do, probably because he didn’t like being told what to do.

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Allen as a Cardinal (right) holding Hall of Famer Willie Stargell on first. Stargell once kidded that Allen got booed because “When he hits a home run, there’s no souvenir.”

Finally the Phillies promised to trade him after the 1969 season. And they did. They traded him to the Cardinals for Curt Flood. Oh, the irony. To Flood, the deal meant he was still a slave at the mercy of his owners; to Allen, who rooted for Flood’s coming reserve clause challenge, the deal was tantamount to the Emancipation Proclamation.

He had a solid 1970 in St. Louis despite Busch Stadium being a far tougher hitter’s park than Connie Mack Stadium and despite a bothersome Achilles tendon and, later in the season, a torn hamstring. He had a solid 1971 with the Dodgers despite Dodger Stadium making Busch Stadium resemble a hitter’s paradise.

Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst, edgy about acquiring Allen originally, was anything but by the time Allen was traded:

He did a real fine job for me. He had a great year, led our team in RBIs, and he never gave me any trouble . . . He was great in our clubhouse. He got along with everybody. He wasn’t a rah-rah guy, but he came to play. They respected him, and they liked him.

The Cardinals traded Allen to the Dodgers not because of any divisiveness issues but because they needed the young second baseman (Bill Sudakis) they didn’t have yet in their own system behind Julian Javier, the veteran coming toward the end of a solid career. The Dodgers traded Allen to the White Sox (for Tommy John) because his reticence about scripted public appearances didn’t jibe with owner Walter O’Malley.

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Allen with the White Sox: “He played every game as if it was his last day on earth,” said his manager there, Chuck Tanner.

He exploded with the White Sox in 1972, yanking them into pennant contention and winning the American League’s Most Valuable Player Award, then suffered injuries yet again in 1973 and 1974. In spite of which he led the league in home runs (1972, 1974), on-base percentage (1972, also leading the Show), slugging (1972, 1974, the latter also leading the Show), and OPS. (1972, which also led the Show; and, 1974.)

He retired before the 1974 season ended, ground down by the injuries, but he let a very different group of Phillies (Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt led a group to Allen’s Pennsylvania farm) talk him into returning for a final go-round in 1975-76. But the injuries finally extracted their penalties in earnest. After one brief spell with the 1977 Athletics, Allen retired.

White Sox manager Chuck Tanner, who’d known Allen’s family for years as neighbours and had the respect and affection of Allen’s beloved mother, and who was the key in Allen accepting the deal that sent him there:

He was the greatest player I ever managed, and what he did for us in Chicago was amazing . . .  Dick was the leader of our team, the captain, the manager on the field. He took care of the young kids, took them under his wing. And he played every game as if it was his last day on earth . . . He played hurt for us so many times that they thought he was Superman.  But he wasn’t; he was human.  If anything, he was hurting himself trying to come back too soon.

Bill Melton, third baseman and Allen’s best friend on the White Sox and still a White Sox broadcast commentator:

 [M]ost of all he led by example, and had a calming effect on the younger players. He just made us better as a team . . . It meant a lot to him that his teammates befriended him pretty quickly after he was traded here. The young kids loved him, especially the pitchers, because he took the time to mentor them. And the fans cared about him, too. There’s no doubt in my mind that Dick was one of the most beloved players in the history of the White Sox organisation.

Hall of Fame relief pitcher Goose Gossage, a rookie on the 1972 White Sox:

Dick’s the smartest baseball man I’ve ever been around in my life. He taught me how to pitch from a hitter’s perspective and taught me how to play the game and how to play the game right. There’s no telling the numbers this guy could have put up if all he worried about was his stats.

As in Philadelphia, injuries got directly in the way of Allen’s total raw numbers. Enough that White Sox GM Hemond had to defend Allen against accusations by Chicago Sun-Times writer Jerome Holtzman that he was really malingering rather than fighting what proved a leg fracture:

Once we fell out of the pennant race we had to begin thinking about [1974]. We decided that rather than push him and risk further injury to his leg it would be better if Dick sat out and fully recuperated so he’d be ready to go for the next season. Why jeopardise his future for a few extra times at bat?

Allen eventually admitted how immature he’d been in a lot of the ways he’d handled his first Philadelphia tour of duty. Some still believe such immaturity shortened his career. Writing in The Big Book of Baseball Lineups, Rob Neyer rebuked his one-time employer Bill James: “I don’t think his immaturity had much to do with the length of his career. He just got hurt, and so he didn’t enjoy the sort of late career that most great hitters do. It’s that, as much as all the other stuff, that has kept him out of the Hall of Fame”

Calling everything else that buffeted Allen just “all the other stuff” does him a disservice no matter his eventual admission of foolishness trying to beat it back. If anything, it’s to wonder that Allen could have played as well as he played through both the injuries and “all the other stuff.”

Allen might have been given another Hall of Fame shot last year but for his re-classification for the Golden Days Era Committee, which addresses players whose biggest impacts were between 1950-1969, and doesn’t convene again until 2020. Which means that if they elect Allen, he’ll be inducted in 2021.

A man who has endured heartache above and beyond what he was put through in Arkansas and his first Philadelphia tour—a painful divorce, the unexpected death of his daughter, the destruction (electrical fire) of the farm on which he’d hoped to breed thoroughbred horses (asked once about Astroturf, he deadpanned memorably, “If my horse can’t eat it, I don’t want to play on it”)—Allen, who has since remarried happily and keeps his family and friends close, can take or leave the Hall of Fame by himself.

“What I’ve done, I’m pretty happy with it,” he told Kashatus once. “So whatever happens with the Hall of Fame, I’m fine with. Besides, I’m just a name. God gave me the talent to hit a baseball, and I used it the best I could. I just thank Him for blessing me with that ability and allowing me to play the game when I did.”

Jay Jaffe, in The Cooperstown Casebook, gave Allen the first half of his introduction to the chapter on third basemen::

[C]hoosing to vote for him means focusing on that considerable peak while giving him the benefit of the doubt on the factors that shortened his career. From here, the litany is sizable enough to justify that. Allen did nothing to deserve the racism and hatred he battled in Little Rock and Philadelphia, or the condescension of the lily-white media that refused to even call him by his correct name. To underplay the extent to which those forces shaped his conduct and his public persona thereafter is to hold him to an impossibly high standard; not everyone can be Jackie Robinson or Ernie Banks. The distortions that influenced the negative views of him . . . were damaging. To give them the upper hand is to reject honest inquiry into his career.

During Allen’s first Philadelphia tour some fans who rooted for him no matter what hung a banner in the left field upper deck emblazoned with a target framed by two words: “Allen’s Alley.” An honest inquiry into his career should tell you his peak value means Allen’s Alley should lead to Cooperstown at last.