2020: Once more for the others safe at home

Dick Allen’s Hall of Fame election by this year’s Modern Era Committee would make eight Hall of Famers dying in 2020.

Last year—doesn’t that sound like sweet relief already—the passages of seven Hall of Famers added particular extra grief to an already pandemically miserable year. The further bad news is that the Magnificent Seven (Al Kaline, Tom Seaver, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Whitey Ford, Joe Morgan, Phil Niekro) were not the only ones Grantland Rice’s Great Umpire called safe at home, unfortunately.

Assuming Dick Allen will be elected to the Hall by the Modern Era Committee later this year, that election will turn the Magnificent Seven into another kind of Eight Men Out. Allen played surrealistically through battling unconscionable racism in Philadelphia before he was dealt out of town at long enough last—for Curt Flood, who refused to report and elected to make his groundbreaking reserve clause challenge.

How sadly ironic. To Flood, the trade meant he was still a piece of property, even earning $90,000 in a year. (What he began, Andy Messersmith eventually finished.) To Allen, the trade was surely his Emancipation Proclamation. He posted a few more seasons of surrealistic hitting (and the 1972 American League Most Valuable Player Award) before injuries finally ground him away, and overcame a few more personal tragedies (especially the murder of his daughter) to become a respected and loved Phillies elder statesman and community outreacher. Life and baseball couldn’t beat him but cancer finally did at 78.

“The imperfect man pitched the perfect game,” is what sportswriting legend Dick Young offered when his New York Daily News colleague Joe Trimble was stuck for an opening to write up Don Larsen’s perfecto in the 1956 World Series. “The million to one shot came in,” wrote Washington Post legend Shirley Povich of Larsen’s perfecto. When 2020 was the new year, it wasn’t a day old before Larsen expired of esophegeal cancer at 90.

Lucky him. Larsen lived a life that went from randy to responsible and his reward, above and beyond the pleasure (and excuse for friendly needling) he took when fans and writers asked him to revisit his million-to-one game (“You want to talk about my year with the Browns,” he loved to tease), was to miss the pandemic ruination the year to come would yet wreak.

Tony Fernandez was a smart shortstop in the field and at the plate for the 1980s/1990s Blue Jays and a few others. Complications of kidney disease claimed him at 57 with far less style than he played the left half of the keystone. Yet he held a strange distinction during his brief spell in New York: in 1995, he was the first Yankee to hit for the cycle since Bobby Murcer . . . two and a half decades previous.

Before Johnny Antonelli became a 1954 World Series hero pitching for the New York Giants, he inadvertently provoked Boston Braves pitcher Johnny Sain into a contract demand. Antonelli’s $65,000 signing bonus in 1948 was more than the combined salaries of the Braves’ two best pitchers, Johnny Sain and Hall of Famer Warren Spahn. Sain leveraged Antonelli’s bonus into a $30,000 salary of his own.

Antonelli proved himself as a pitcher after leaving the Braves and the Army and being dealt to the Giants, but when the Giants moved out of New York Antonelli found San Francisco less to his liking. A couple of trades and an expansion draft later, Antonelli retired to his tire business and his family. With his second wife, he also took up extensive travel, reveling in what he couldn’t see while he traveled as a pitcher, until his death at 89.

Jimmy Wynn—compact man, cannon bat.

Jimmy Wynn (78) was nicknamed the Toy Cannon for the compact body that hit screaming, prodigious home runs, even in the indoor death chamber known as the Astrodome. A few too many Astro coaches and managers monkeying around with his hitting style probably did him few favours. Same thing elsewhere, at least until he became a Dodger. Ultimately, Wynn proved you could live and learn tenfold; he became a valuable Astro asset after his playing years especially among impressionable youth who thrived at his Astro-created youth training center.

Glenn Beckert (79) shared the keystone with Don Kessinger for several Cubs teams that looked pennant competitive until their insouciantly ancient manager burned them down the stretch. “Beckert was the Billy Herman of the 1960s,” Bill James once wrote, “a pretty good second baseman, and the best hit-and-run man in baseball.” Matt Keough (64) was one of the Five Aces burned almost as swiftly as he rose when Billy Martin got hold of the early 1980s Athletics. Mike McCormick (81) pitched himself into the National League’s Comeback Player of the Year Award and the Cy Young Award in 1967, but he was also Mr. 500—for hitting the 500th home run to be hit by any major league pitcher.

Claudell Washington (65) was a likeable, long-serving journeyman whose 1980 free agency deal (five years, $3.5 million) jolted the game enough to provoke Phillies owner Bob Carpenter—who’d extended Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt big rather than lose him to free agency and chased down Pete Rose to sign big—selling out, because he feared fellow owners’ brains had gone to bed. John McNamara (88) barely lived down Game Six of the 1986 World Series (he left ankle-dissipated Bill Buckner in to play first for the bottom of the tenth), but his wife remembered a good, kind, loving man whose life shouldn’t be judged by one egregious mistake. Appropriately.

The Yankees’ 1965-75 term in purgatory was once nicknamed the Horace Clarke Era, but it wasn’t the fault of the smooth-fielding second baseman from the Virgin Islands who wasn’t much of a hitter but handled the right side of the keystone with sure hands and feet. Clarke (81) was proud to be a Yankee to the end of his life. He was also the poor soul who didn’t get to hit against Washington Senators pitcher Joe Grzenda with two out in the top of the ninth—when heartsick Senators fans rioted on the field and forced a forfeit in the Senators’ last game before leaving for Texas.

Bob Watson (74) was a sharp hitting first baseman and, in due course, the first black man in baseball to be the general manager of a World Series winner. Lindy McDaniel (84) was a long-serving relief pitcher of above-average excellence for lots of below-average teams and a devout Christian who became a minister after throwing his final pitch. (He’s also the last American League pitcher to homer before the league introduced the designated hitter.) Fellow reliever Ron Perranoski (84) held down the back end of the Dodger fort in the early-to-mid 60s and for two World Series championships before becoming a long-serving pitching coach.

Jay Johnstone (74) was a solid outfielder with a flair for periodic big hits (especially Game Four of the 1981 World Series) and a bigger flair for mayhem—one of the greatest flakes in the game. Over three engaging books, the fun-loving Johnstone wrote his own eulogy:

Tommy Lasorda once fixed up Ernie Broglio on a date with a female impersonator.

Mark Fidrych talked to baseballs.

Don Stanhouse shared his post-game beer with monkeys and frogs.

Mickey Hatcher left a pig in Lasorda’s office.

Bert Blyleven gave his Little League team chewing tobacco.

John Lowenstein likes to attack cakes with a baseball bat.

Richie Zisk filled Rene Lachemann’s hotel bed with Jell-O.

Ross Grimsley once snapped a losing streak by consulting a witch.

Billy Loes once refused to pitch unless Buzzie Bavasi bought him a new dog.

Joaquin Andujar was known to shower wearing his uniform.

Rick Reichardt stole razor blades, forgot he had them, and sliced his own hand when he reached into his pocket.

Dizzy Dean placed a cake of ice over home plate to “cool off my fastball.”

And I’m over the edge?

Steve Dalkowski—what might have been, if he could have controlled his thunderbolt fastball and his off-field life.

Steve Dalkowski (80) once joined Bo Belinsky in the minors in a plot to help their teammates get good looks at a comely South American Miss World contestant when he mother proved bent on keeping her away from those rapacious ballplayers: drilling holes in the wall separating his and Belinsky’s room from hers. The plot succeeded until one bozo brought a flashlight so his viewing wouldn’t stop after dark. Oops.

Unfortunately, Dalkowski fought demons from his own surrealistic but uncontrollable fastball (Hearing him warm up was like hearing a gun go off, Red Sox infielder Dalton Jones once said of him) to alcohol and all the way to COVID-19 when he died last April. After decades in the post-baseball wilderness, his sister brought him home to Connecticut where he lived with some dignity and a lot of his memory from the almost three decades between baseball and his homecoming wiped out.

“Dave McNally, Cal Ripken Sr., Bo Belinsky and others from his generation in Orioles history have died,” wrote the Baltimore Sun‘s John Eisenberg in 2003, “but Dalkowski, the one everyone thought would go first, is safe at home.” That’s all his loving sister wanted for him, and it proved enough for himself, as well. When invited to throw out a ceremonial first pitch in Camden Yards, Dalkowski tossed the ball, then threw his arms up in triumph from his wheelchair. Only his body and face showed the net result of a lost life. The arms up showed the spirit resurrected.

Now Dalko and all who played the game and passed last year—including such other once-familiar souls as Frank Bolling, Ted Cox, Ray Daviault, Ed Farmer, Damaso Garcia, Lou Johnson, Eddie Kasko, Phil Linz (baseball’s unquestioned master of the harmonica), Denis Menke (he was once Hall of Famer Joe Morgan’s slick double play partner with the Astros), Bob Oliver, Les Rohr, Tony Taylor—truly are safe at home, in the Elysian Fields, suffering no more, and may they bask in the light, love, and game of the eternal sunshine.

Dick Allen, RIP: Big stick, bigger man

Dick Allen’s big stick hit home runs that should have had astronauts aboard.

Around noontime Monday (PST), his family announced it on his own Twitter account. I came home from a morning errand to see the news, and I could only open his Twitter and write, without clicking on the heart symbol for a like, “How can you like the passing of a great ballplayer and a good man?”

Dick Allen is dead at 78 after a battle with cancer. There’d been a swell of support for his election to the Hall of Fame in recent years. He might have made it via the Golden Era Committee this year. Except the committee decided that, well, if they couldn’t meet in person to discuss and vote, by God they weren’t going to meet until next year.

When they made that announcement in late August, I zapped the Hall of Fame and the Committee for suddenly discovering their inner Luddism: “Hall of Fame chairman Jane Forbes Clark seems to think, erroneously, that technology mustn’t overcome the coronavirus’s travel confusions and constrictions to compromise Era Committee nominations and elections.”

They never heard of setting up a Zoom remote conference? Trust me, since I just took part in my own first one. They can be set up simply, such a conference is restricted to invited guests via meeting codes and passwords, and none would have compromised the integrity of the discussions and votes.

The Committee pushed the meeting back to winter 2021. They just might elect Allen this time around. (He missed by one vote the last time around, in 2014.) Only he’ll be well serene and happy in the company of the angels and not on earth to accept the plaque I’m sure his family will accept proudly when it’s awarded.

It’s not that my opinion means two figs, but I’ve championed Allen’s Hall of Fame election for long enough now, and I’ve seen nothing to change my mind about it. I was on the fence about it for a good long while before that, alas, but once and for all I took as deep a look into the record as it was as I could and became convinced. Allen has a no-questions-should-be-asked case as a peak value Hall of Famer.

If you consider his peak to be 1964-1972, Allen’s .936 OPS and 164 OPS+ should say most of it, especially considering most of that peak came in one of the toughest hitting eras ever. If you consider the absolutely unfair and out-of-line racism he was forced to face and fight, especially as a Phillie, it’s to wonder and marvel that he could even check in at the plate, never mind play as he did when he was healthy.

Let’s look at Allen and his big stick by way of my Real Batting Average (RBA) metric. When I first examined Allen that way two years ago, I discovered a flaw: I shouldn’t have included sacrifice bunts or excluded times he was hit by pitches. The former’s flaw: you shouldn’t be credited when you’re surrendering outs willingly; outs are precious. The latter’s flaw: if the pitcher’s fool enough to drill you, let it be on his head and to your credit.

The RBA metric otherwise is a bid to atone for the incompleteness of the traditional batting average, one of the single most flawed statistics ever devised. Hits divided by official at-bats treats all hits equally and misses too much of what batters do to create and produce runs on the scoreboard. (You still think all hits are equal? Tell me why a single’s as good as a double, triple, or home run and vice versa. Didn’t think so.)

My RBA adds total bases (which treats hits the unequal way they deserve), walks, intentional walks (one more time: you should damn well get credit when the other guys prefer you take your base than their heads off), sacrifice flies (you didn’t intend to fly out but it scored a run so credit to you!), and times you were hit by pitches, and divides the sum by your total plate appearances.

And, this is Dick Allen’s peak according to RBA:

Years PA TB BB IBB HBP SF RBA
1964-72 5,457 2,592 685 120 11 33 .631
Career 7,315 3,379 894 138 16 53 .612

Rest assured that these numbers helped rank Allen among the top twenty third basemen who ever played major league baseball. They would also show him with the third-highest RBA of all post-World War II/post-integration/night-ball era Hall of Fame third basemen except two: in ascending order, Chipper Jones and Mike Schmidt.

This is before revisiting his breathtaking power or mentioning that Allen was one of the smartest and most effective baserunners of his time. (Did you know Allen took extra bases on followup hits 53 percent of the time he reached base?) And, before lamenting that early enough injuries impacted his defense either at third base or the position to which his injury-weakened throwing arm finally sent him full time, first base.

Allen didn’t just hit home runs. Phrased politely, they didn’t need the proverbial meals and stewardesses aboard. What he hit typically should have had astronauts. When first analysing his performance two years ago, I concluded based on the evidence that, if he’d been far more healthy and uninjured, Allen might have finished his career with 525 home runs or thereabout.

Dick Allen sharing a big laugh with his old Phillies teammate Jim Bunning at an old-timers’ event in Citizens Bank Park.

Hall of Famer Willie Stargell once tried to take the sting out of the Philadelphia boo birds’ booing Allen by suggesting the reason they booed him was that his home runs didn’t always stay in the park to become souvenirs.

That’s putting things too politely. Allen once told a Phillies historian (and an Allen biographer), William C. Kashatus, “I thought of myself as a victim of racism. I was also something of a jerk. There were others who had to deal with racism, and some of them handled it better than I did. But that’s all in the past. I’m at peace with my career, and grateful that the Lord gave me the opportunity.”

A man who grew up in a racially tolerant and accommodating Pennsylvania hamlet, but whom the Phillies sent to 1963 Little Rock with no support system, who once remembered, “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,” has no reason to apologise.

Whether you believe he was a jerk or just immature, some people persist in believing Allen’s career was shortened by it. Not so, argued Rob Neyer when writing The Big Book of Baseball Lineups: “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.”

Oh, the sad irony. When the Phillies finally traded Allen out of town, to the St. Louis Cardinals, they thought they were getting Curt Flood in return in the package. To Flood, the trade smacked of treating even a $90,000 a year center fielder as a piece of property like a slave. To Allen, who’d been to hell and back almost daily in Philadelphia and rooted for Flood’s reserve clause lawsuit, the trade was his Emancipation Proclamation.

Allen incurred assorted nagging injuries and severe leg injuries after leaving Philadelphia and especially during his otherwise shining time with the Chicago White Sox. (He won the American League’s Most Valuable Player award in his first White Sox season.) “[W]hat he did for us in Chicago was amazing,” said Allen’s White Sox manager, Chuck Tanner.

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.

The best short summary of the hell through which Allen was put so unconscionably in his Philadelphia years—by Little Rock, by a Philadelphia sports press and population uncertain or unthinking about the city’s racial growing pains, by some teammates likewise uncertain or unthinking—belongs to Jay Jaffe, in The Cooperstown Casebook:

[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.

His death before the Hall election he deserves inflicts a final injustice upon a man accompanied by too many injustices too long. It elevates him and reduces his critics further that he eventually found equilibrium in his life and peace with baseball.

Allen knew and survived heartbreak enough outside of the racial buffetings: a painful divorce, the unexpected murder of his daughter, Terri, the electrical-fire destruction of the farm on which he hoped to raise thoroughbred horses. (“If my horse can’t eat it, I don’t want to play on it,” he once cracked about artificial turf.)

He overcame those to re-marry happily, keep friends and family close, become one of the most popular members of the Phillies’ speakers’ bureau under a very different organisation than the one for which he played, and a friendly social media presence who beamed justifiably when the Negro Leagues Hall of Fame inducted him in 2018.

When the Phillies finally retired Allen’s uniform number 15 in September, the Philadelphia Inquirer suggested the timing might have been intended partially to push for Allen’s at-last enshrinement in Cooperstown. Allen himself once told Kashatus, “What I’ve done, I’m pretty happy with it. So whatever happens with the Hall of Fame, I’m fine with it. 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.”

Former Phillies pitcher Larry Christenson, an Allen teammate when the latter returned to Philadelphia in 1975, remembered then a teammate’s teammate who preferred to lead by quiet example and humanness. Allen often invited Christenson to lunch on road trips and once signed a bat for him as a memento: “To L.C., two homers with my bat. How about that? Dick Allen.”

Christenson once borrowed Allen’s once-fabled 40-ounce bat in a game. “Son,” Allen told the pitcher, “if you can swing it, you can use it.” Christenson used it to hit a home run in that day’s game.

Bereft on earth now are Allen’s loving wife, Willa, his family, his friends, and all of those who saw through the cluttering, clattering nonsense and saw the player and the real young man who didn’t deserve his seasons in hell and deserved election to the Hall of Fame. Now that election will have to be posthumous on earth, damn it.

But surely the Lord’s angels escorted Allen kindly and gently to the Elysian Fields, and that was the only other thing we could ask through our own loss.

————————————————————————–

Some portions of this essay have been published by the author previously.

The suddenly Luddite Hall of Fame

Allen’s Hall candidacy waits an extra year since the Hall won’t Zoom.

Dick Allen used to hit home runs that zoomed into earth orbit. Thanks to the Hall of Fame’s unexpected allergy to Zooming, Allen’s and others’ Cooperstown candidacies will have to wait another year.

Among other changes fun and dubious the pandemic has imposed upon baseball, two Era Committees—the Golden Era Committee on which Allen would now be a candidate, and the Early Baseball Era Committee—now won’t meet until winter 2021, with those they elect if any inducted in 2022.

It seems the old fogies who think baseball is headed into an abyss with newfangled analytics aren’t the only ones who think technology and the old ball game are a match made in hell. Hall of Fame chairman Jane Forbes Clark seems to think, erroneously, that technology mustn’t overcome the coronavirus’s travel confusions and constrictions to compromise Era Committee nominations and elections:

With the nation’s safety concerns, the travel restrictions and the limitations on group gatherings in effect for many regions, it is not possible to ensure that we can safely and effectively hold these committee meetings. The Era Committee process, which has been so effective in evaluating Hall of Fame candidates, requires an open, yet confidential conversation and an in-person dialogue involving the members of the 16-person voting committee.

Is Clark telling us that members of the Era Committees or the Baseball Writers Association of America (who determine their candidacies) can’t Zoom what numerous schools and non-retail businesses have arranged, managed, and zoomed since the coronavirus world tour kicked into overdrive in earnest a few months ago?

It really is so simple a child of five can do it. (Sorry, Groucho.) Lots of children of five in kindergartens are doing it.

When the Today’s Game Committee elected Harold Baines to the Hall of Fame so controversially two years ago, the committee members included Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa, a man who is about as allergic to high technology as Donald Trump is to self-congratulation. And, Dave Dombrowski, last seen as the Boston Red Sox’s general manager until late last season.

Surely Clark and the Luddites among Hall governors don’t think a manager who helped introduce the computer to baseball thinking and strategising would have run home to Mommy at the idea of Zooming about Hall candidates? Or, a general manager who last worked for a team 20,000 leagues deep into analytics that require computers as much as other tools?

Technology isn’t always a gift, of course. There probably isn’t a baseball jury on earth that would say artificial turf was a baseball blessing. But if Clark thinks confidentiality would be compromised by a Zoom remote conference call, what does she think when, almost invariably, certain Hall of Fame doings and undoings get leaked to the working press routinely enough?

Fair disclosure: I have a little skin in this game. I’ve championed Dick Allen for the Hall of Fame for quite awhile now, after once being skeptical about it myself. (I’d also like to see elected his great contemporary Tony Oliva plus Minnie Minoso, both of whom deserve the honour.) But a long time reviewing the record as it was and remains convinced me that Allen belongs in Cooperstown.

I’m convinced with no further questions asked that his Hall case was compromised way less by the racism against which he waged war in Philadelphia than by a series of injuries he was sometimes foolish enough to try playing through, and that those injuries kept him (as Rob Neyer and others have observed) from posting better late-career numbers that might have solidified his Hall case.

Jay Jaffe, in The Cooperstown Casebook, says it better in prose than I could (and did) say it:

[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.

 

I can and did say it statistically, too. I determined on my own that if Dick Allen had been allowed fifteen completely healthy seasons and a normal late-career, uncompromised decline phase, he might have finished his career with as many as 525 lifetime home runs instead of the 351 he did hit. (Oliva wasn’t Allen’s kind of power threat but the same healthy fifteen seasons and uncompromised decline phase might have left him with 315 lifetime homers.)

According to my Real Batting Average metric—which I’ve since modified to disallow sacrifice bunts (sorry, but intentional outs don’t and shouldn’t count) but retain sacrifice flies; and, which allows the complete look at a player that traditional batting average (treating all hits equal and factoring only “official” at-bats) denies—this is Dick Allen in his absolute nine-season peak period, and bear in mind that he missed an average twenty games per season in that period because of injuries:

Player PA TB BB IBB SF HBP RBA
Dick Allen, 1964-1972 5,457 2,592 685 120 33 11 .631

Forty-one percent of Allen’s hits went for extra bases, too, and they weren’t all those orbital belts that once inspired Hall of Famer Willie Stargell to suggest one reason Allen was booed by the notorious Philadelphia boo-birds (Those people would boo at a funeral—Bo Belinsky, briefly a Phillie) was that his home runs traveled too far to become souvenirs.

“What I’ve done, I’m pretty happy with it,” Allen told his biographer/Phillies historiographer William C. 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.”

Whatever happens with the Hall of Fame, Allen, Oliva, Minoso, and others covered by the Golden Days and Early Baseball Era Committees, the Hall that includes members who were elected on behalf of being innovators (Branch Rickey, Bill Veeck) or pioneers (Albert Spalding, Barney Dreyfuss) is suddenly allergic to a little pioneering.

Allen’s Alley should lead to Cooperstown

2019-04-29 DickAllen01

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.