The pioneer Hall case of Tommy John

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Tommy John on the mound; as a Dodger, he asked Frank Jobe not just to think about but to perform,  for the first time, the  groundbreaking surgery that’s borne his name since.

To this day, my favourite Tommy John story involves a 24 August 1987 game in old Anaheim Stadium. John, a New York Yankee starter then, squared off against Hall of Fame starter Don Sutton for the California Angels. The eyes of just about everyone in the ballpark, the broadcast booths, and the press boxes were trained upon the evidence of things barely seen—like evidence itself.

Put it this way: Sutton was once a barely-apologetic ball doctor. “Sutton has set such a fine example of defiance,” Baltimore Orioles pitching coach Ray Miller once told Thomas Boswell, “that some day I expect to see a pitcher walk out to the mound with a utility belt on—you know, file, chisel, screwdriver, glue. He’ll throw a ball to the plate with bolts attached to it.”

In the same article (“Salvation by Salivation”), Boswell described John as “the elegant Rhett Butler of outlaws. In the fine Whitey Ford tradition of mudballers and scuffballers, the gentlemanly John can turn a tiny scratch into a double-play grounder.” John himself told Boswell he had four basic pitches “plus eight illegal ones.”

The Yankees’ mercurial (shall we say) owner, George Steinbrenner, watched that game from his Tampa home aboard the Yankees’ cable superstation. Despite the Yankees holding an early 1-0 lead, The Boss was unamused enough by what he saw from Sutton to call manager Lou Piniella in the Yankee dugout demanding he arrange for Sutton’s immediate frisk, arrest, arraignment, trial, conviction, and execution. Not necessarily in that order

“George,” Piniella replied, “do you know what the score is? If I get the umpires to check Sutton, don’t you know that the Angels are going to check TJ? They’ll both get kicked out. Whatever they’re doing, TJ is doing it better than Sutton. So let’s leave it alone.” Wise counsel. The Yankees went on to win, 3-2, though neither Sutton nor John got a decision in the game.

They did, however, provide the har-har postscript, enunciated by an unnamed scout cited in Bill Madden and Moss Klein’s Damned Yankees: “Tommy John against Don Sutton. If anyone can find one smooth ball from that game, he ought to send it to Cooperstown.”

Which is where a lot of people would like to send John. The Hall of Fame’s Golden Era Committee will consider John’s case again this fall, when they convene again to determine who was left out that shouldn’t have been left out, including the man for whom the White Sox once traded John to the Dodgers, Dick Allen. If the committee elects both, this may be the first time players traded for each other went to Cooperstown together.

On their playing records, Allen has an overwhelming if too often underappreciated case as a peak value Hall of Famer. John’s case isn’t that cut and dried—if you consider him strictly as a pitcher. But if you consider him as a pitcher and a baseball pioneer, John’s case becomes a lot more vivid.

As a pitcher, John was brainy and lived on excellent control and—once then-Dodgers pitching coach Red Adams caught hold of him and convinced him—a deadly sinkerball that didn’t travel fast but moved like a ballroom dancer in a lusty cha-cha-cha.

His pitching record shows a good pitcher who was occasionally terrific with slightly more than a quarter century’s worth of major league pitching on his resume. Old-schoolers love to point to his 288 lifetime pitching wins and remind you that there but for the grace of the surgery that bears his name went his shot at 300 wins and a guaranteed Hall of Fame election.

They also point to that 26-year resume, but the key is that it took John that long to reach 288 credited wins. Those who still hang on the pitching win at face value forget for a moment that, in John’s case, it averages out to eleven wins a season.

What about Nolan Ryan and the 27 years it took him to land 324 wins and his average twelve wins a year? you say? Well, what about all that black ink on Ryan’s resume, his strikeouts and no-hitters, all seven of them, especially? Unless you are Nolan Ryan or close enough, you’re not going to Cooperstown even by way of the traditionalist vote unless you can show—as Jacob deGrom did winning the National League’s last two Cy Young Awards—that those eleven wins don’t really reflect just how well you pitched.

By earned run average, fielding-independent pitching (FIP), walks and hits per inning pitched (WHIP), strikeouts per nine innings, walks per nine, home runs surrendered per nine, and strikeouts versus walks, this is Tommy John’s average season against Jacob deGrom’s pair of Cy Young Award seasons:

Pitcher ERA FIP WHIP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 K/BB
Tommy John 3.34 3.38 1.28 4.3 2.4 0.6 1.78
Jacob deGrom 2.05 2.32 0.94 11.2 1.9 0.6 5.82

Which man averaging eleven pitching wins a season is the better pitcher, then? (The one thing they have in common: both are impossible to hit out of the yard.)

John has been sent to Cooperstown, in a sense. He and Dr. Frank Jobe, the surgeon who performed the first ligament replacement surgery on the elbow whose owner gave the surgery its name, were honoured formally by the Hall of Fame in 2013. But Tommy John strictly as a pitcher isn’t a Hall of Famer no matter how close he got to credit for 300 wins. Tommy John as a pioneer, however, is something else entirely.

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Tommy John before the White Sox traded him to the Dodgers.

Argue all you wish that he was comparable to the man or woman who discovers they were the millionth or ten millionth customer at a tony restaurant or crossing a fabled bridge. There’s still something to be said for being in the right place at the right time.

Until the Dodgers decided they needed pitching help, and were willing to send Allen to the White Sox to get it, John held down a slot in the middle of a starting rotation respectably. He was an All-Star once, and he tied for the American League league in shutouts twice. The Dodgers got what they traded for until John’s left arm went dead in July 1974.

It was, indeed, John’s good fortune that Jobe was the Dodgers’ team physician. Jobe joined the team a few years earlier, under the wing of his boss at the Southwestern Orthopedic Medical Group, Robert Kerlan, and may actually have had ideas about elbow ligament replacements a few years before John offered him a test case at last. When rest and then a little therapy came up empty, John asked Jobe to try surgery.

Jobe’s idea about elbow ligament replacement emerged, according to numerous articles about the man, after he’d seen it succeed in finger movement procedures and thought somewhat logically that there was no reason why it couldn’t do likewise for an elbow. But the opportunity didn’t present itself until John took himself out of that July 1974 game in pain, and Jobe told him “there was a chance to put the elbow back together, but that it was going to take the rest of the season.”

“Let’s do it,” John said. “Those three words,” Jobe eventually said, “made baseball history.”

John spent all of 1975 rehabilitating the repaired elbow and thus walking into virgin territory. There was no map or chart to guide him. He was baseball’s Admiral Byrd, undertaking a polar expedition with no clue as to what awaited him in those frozen outbacks, or whether he’d even survive. Like Byrd, John did far better than he or anyone else expected.

This is Tommy John’s record before and after the surgery that wears his name forever:

Tommy John, career ERA FIP WHIP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 K/BB
Pre-Surgery (1963-74) 2.97 3.16 1.21 5.3 2.6 0.6 2.01
Post Surgery (1976-1989) 3.66 3.56 1.34 3.4 2.2 0.6 1.55

His gaudy-looking 2.97 ERA before the surgery masks that John never had the kind of peak numbers that make a peak-value Hall of Famer. He was 31 with all or parts of twelve seasons on his arm when he underwent the surgery; his return, including three 20+ win seasons out of the first five following the surgery, indicated an unexpected and brief peak.

Pre-surgery, he struck out two batters for every one he walked, and a 5.3 strikeout-per-nine rate isn’t that of a strikeout machine. John depended more on the glove men behind him than he did on his own pitching to get outs. You’d expect that of a brainy sinkerballer. Still, his ERA (considerably), his FIP (slightly), and his WHIP (slightly) were lower before the surgery.

Five times John’s FIP was -3.00, but only once after the surgery would he achieve that again. His ERA was under 2.00 only once in his career—in 1968, the vaunted Year of the Pitcher, when the American League’s ERA was 2.98, the White Sox team ERA was 2.75, and John tied with Gary Peters for the lowest FIP (2.83) on the staff.

When The Cooperstown Casebook author Jay Jaffe examined John last fall, taking a look at the coming Golden Era Committee ballot, he made an observation based on whether John would or could have achieved the 300-win milestone:

One can play “what if” and surmise that John might have gotten to 300 wins, and thus automatic enshrinement, had he not missed a year and a half due to his elbow injury, but it’s entirely possible that his elbow (or another body part) would have instead given way in his late 30s or early 40s, after he’d made a few million dollars in free agency, at an age when rehabbing might have seemed less appealing than when he was 31.

Indeed. Jaffe also reminded his readers that, for all his career longevity, John made only four All-Star teams in 26 seasons, never once led his league in a single pitching Triple Crown category, and never won the Cy Young Award. (He did finish second twice in Cy Young voting, but two second-place finishes in 26 seasons isn’t enough to push a pitcher into the fraternity of underrated Hall of Famers.)

If you can look at wins above a replacement-level player without wanting to throw things at your desk or screen, WAR doesn’t help John’s case. He has practically the same number of WAR (31.1) before the surgery as he earned (31.0) after it.

Baseball Reference defines a 5.0+ WAR season as All-Star caliber or better; John had four such seasons out of 26. Three of them posted before the surgery, and only one of them got him an All-Star selection. He had one after the surgery and wasn’t even a topic in the All-Star pickings that year. Tommy John made four All-Star teams but three weren’t the ones he should have made. Overall, he averaged 2.6 WAR per season before the surgery and 2.8 per season after it.

And what about the scuffballing? I don’t remember umpires accosting John on the mound too often over such accusations. John was suspect but almost never the subject of a warrant. His peers knew. Oriole pitcher Mike Flanagan showed Boswell a fresh ball, then used a broken-open coat hanger to put three identical scratches into the meat. “Tommy John could make this ball sing ‘The Star Spangled Banner’,” Flanagan cracked

But when Boswell wrote that John could take the tiniest scratch and get a double play grounder, it probably acknowledged in reality that John was brainy enough on the mound to grok the most obvious trick: take the ball returned to the mound after being in play, instead of being switched out promptly for a fresh ball, then spot the scuff or scratch and go for the gusto.

He probably didn’t have to do anything to the ball himself. Not like Ford with the rasp in his wedding ring and, later, his catcher Elston Howard scraping balls on his shin guard buckles before returning them to Ford. Not like Gaylord Perry with his actual or alleged K-Y jelly—and who’s to say that, half if not more of the time, Perry’s once-famous mound routine that only looked as though he was lubing up was just that, a look, meant to pay the bogeyman’s rent in the hitter’s head?

If Tommy John’s overall pitching record isn’t a Hall of Fame record by itself, you should know the reason he does belong in Cooperstown as well as I do. A good and sometimes terrific pitcher by himself doesn’t equal a Hall of Famer; a good and sometimes terrific pitcher before and after what was a career-ending injury, until Tommy John and Frank Jobe collaborated on maybe the single most radical orthopedic procedure in baseball history, does.

Nobody in his or her right mind might have expected him to last more than a few seasons after the operation, in that time and place, but John pitched fourteen years worth of major league baseball after returning, including in a few World Series, and for at least half of them he was still a solid middle-of-the-rotation starting pitcher.

It might be a simple quirk of fate or fortune that he got to be the first to undergo that operation, but it was up to him to show whether he could pitch at all after it, never mind fourteen seasons. He did, and he proved that a ruptured elbow ligament didn’t have to be a baseball death sentence. Even if not every pitcher who undergoes it does as even as he did after as before it.

Being “honoured” by the Hall in 2013 isn’t enough, either for John or for Jobe, the surgeon who took the shot when he asked for surgical relief in the first place. Their collaboration should earn both Tommy John and Frank Jobe full plaques in Cooperstown at last.

Al Kaline, RIP: Mr. Tiger was a pussycat

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Hall of Famer Al Kaline (left) with Fred Hutchinson, his first major league manager. Hutch introduced the lad to Hall of Famer Ted Williams, who introduced him to wrist strengthening that enhanced his formidable enough hitting–but Kaline’s glove and arm were equal.

Hall of Fame outfielder Al Kaline, whose career ended before Andy Messersmith shattered the reserve era once and for all, once turned down a salary raise because he believed he didn’t earn it. He still became the first Tiger to sign a six-figure single-season contract in due course.

A year ago, a teammate of Kaline’s on the 1973 Tigers told me during a telephone interview about how Kaline—who died today at 85—became a team leader without big talk or big noise.

“Al Kaline was extremely soft spoken,” said Bill Denehy, the former Mets pitcher whose third of three major league seasons was in Detroit. “Any time we had a team meeting, any time we had anything that, you know, caused the team to get together to give their opinion . . . Al would sit at his locker and vote just like he was—Bill Denehy. He wasn’t someone who would complain, he wasn’t someone who really wanted to put his opinion out there, he was the ultimate team player.”

Kaline signed with the Tigers right out of high school for a $35,000 bonus. Under the once-infamous Bonus Baby rule of that era, such players had to be kept on major league rosters for two seasons before they could be farmed out for real seasoning. Of all the players impacted by that bonus rule, Kaline was one of only three to become Hall of Famers. (The others: Sandy Koufax and Harmon Killebrew, though Killebrew was the only one of the three to see minor league time after his bonus period expired.)

The son of a Baltimore broom maker and a scrubwoman, Kaline used his bonus to pay off his parents’ mortgage and for his mother to undergo eye surgery. “They’d always helped me,” he once told a reporter. “They knew I wanted to be a major-leaguer, and they did everything they could to give me time for baseball. I never had to take a paper route or work in a drugstore or anything. I just played ball.”

Kaline was in a Tiger uniform the week after his high school graduation. By the time he became eligible to be sent to the minors, in 1955, it was the last thing on the Tigers’ mind: he was about to become the American League’s batting champion. He developed a near-picture swing, partially on Hall of Famer Ted Williams’s advice, Williams having suggested he try squeezing rubber balls and moderate small weight lifting to build his wrists.

What Denehy considered the ultimate team player on the Tigers proved it on the final day of his major league career, against the Orioles. Coming in having hit in thirteen of his previous eighteen games, including the one that gave him 3,000 lifetime, Kaline also hadn’t hit one out since that September 18. His next home run would be the 400th of his career.

It never came.

Kaline batted twice against the Orioles’ Mike Cuellar, striking out and flying out, while also playing through a badly ailing shoulder. When his next turn to hit arrived in the fifth, Kaline put baseball ahead of a notch on his resume. He told manager Ralph Houk to take him out, which Houk did, sending Ben Oglivie up to pinch-hit against Baltimore reliever Wayne Garland.

The tiny Tiger Stadium crowd booed lustily. “I was sitting there in the clubhouse,” Kaline remembered, “and I could hear them booing. I really felt sorry for Ben. It wasn’t his fault.” Houk, for his part, empathised with Kaline. “With a hitter as great as he is,” he told reporters, “you don’t send him back out there when he says he’s had enough. I think I owed Al that much.”

When Kaline became the (still) youngest batting champion (at 20), he tied for second with Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle in the American League’s Most Valuable Player voting. That wasn’t the only thing he had in common with the Yankee legend. Kaline dealt with osteomyelitis, too, but in his left foot, requiring removal of some bone and forcing him to learn to run on the side of the foot, something that plagued him along with numerous other injuries in his career.

Writing The Cooperstown Casebook, Jay Jaffe ranked Kaline the number seven right fielder who ever played the game, including that his 155 defensive runs saved lifetime are second only to fellow Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente among right fielders. Yet when Kaline became a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 1980, fans and the Detroit press hammered the Tigers yet again over Kaline’s early exit in that final game.

Kaline also faced questions over it even then. “That was one of my most embarrassing moments,” he said long afterward. “But you have to understand that I didn’t realize at the time the fans came out to see me in my last time at-bat.”

He had nothing for which to apologise. A man who puts baseball ahead of his own potential milestone and knows when it’s time to sit down is entitled to dispensation.

“When you talk about all-around ballplayers, I’d say Kaline is the best I ever played against. And he’s a super nice guy, too,” said the Orioles’ Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson, during Kaline’s final season, Robinson just so happening to be a super nice guy himself. (“Around here,” Brooks Robinson Day MC Gordon Beard said, “people don’t name candy bars after Brooks Robinson—they name their children after him.”)

“There aren’t too many guys who are good ballplayers and nice guys, too,” Robinson continued. “Your attitude determines how good you’re going to be — in life as well as in baseball. He’s got a great attitude.”

So much so that Kaline began getting applause in opposing ballparks around 1969-70, something that didn’t go unnoticed by him. “This makes a guy feel good,” he told The Sporting News in 1970. “Most of it is for being around so long. I’ve stood the test of time. And I haven’t done anything to embarrass the game or myself.”

Kaline’s humility was as legendary in Detroit as his playing consistency. He missed five weeks in 1968 with a fractured forearm, then saw limited time when he returned. He even questioned whether he belonged in the World Series when Mickey Stanley and Jim Northrup, who’d gotten most of Kaline’s plate appearances in the interim, had run the distance.

That’s when then-manager Mayo Smith devised his gambit of moving Stanley from center field to shortstop, displacing good glove/spaghetti bat Ray Oyler, and shifting Northrup to center field, enabling Kaline to take his usual post. Kaline’s two-run single in Game Five yanked the Tigers from the brink of elimination and he finished the Series with a 1.055 OPS.

That was the man who said after the Tigers clinched the pennant in the first place, “I don’t deserve to play in the World Series.”

Kaline became a respected commentator on Tigers’ game telecasts, working with play-by-play man George Kell and then, after Kell retired from the booth, Ernie Harwell. He did that for two decades to follow before he was moved to the Tigers’ front office in an advisory role. More than that, making friends among just about everyone who met Mr. Tiger seemed to come second nature to him.

He had numerous admirers even among his opponents. “I like to watch him hit,” said Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer once. “I like to watch him hit even against us. He’s got good rhythm, a picture swing. Other hitters could learn a lot just by watching him. The thing about Kaline is that he’ll not only hit your mistakes, he’ll hit your good pitches, too.”

Yet the Tigers honoured him with one of only six statues around Comerica Park by having him seen with a glove, rather than a bat in his hand. It depicts Kaline making a leaping, one-handed catch, very much like the catch he made scaling above the old Yankee Stadium right field, field-level scoreboard, to take a homer from Mantle in 1956.

Kaline was as elegant an assassin shooting down runners from right field as he was at the plate. “He was the only fielder,” tweeted actor/baseball fan Jeff Daniels, “who could make the ball come to him.” Not long ago, though, Kaline lamented contemporary outfielders doing less work on their throwing than he and his contemporaries did.

“The outfielders really need to be practicing making long throws because sometimes you can go several games before you have to make a long or hard throw,” he told a writer.

They don’t do it at all. Today the outfielders play long catch before the game, and they work on the outfield walls when they go to another ballpark but they don’t regularly practice throwing home like we did when I played. They just don’t do it. Throwing in game conditions is a lot different then just playing long catch in the outfield. In a game you have to move your feet a lot faster and you don’t have time to set up and throw . . . I don’t know why they don’t practice throwing home at least once every series just to get used to game situations as you possibly can.

Two years before that robbery against Mantle, Kaline threw White Sox baserunners out in three straight innings. The bad news was the White Sox still slapping the Tigers silly in that game, a 9-0 win with sixteen White Sox hits. Typically, Kaline refused to call for fireworks on his own behalf. “That was a pretty fair day,” he said of his three kills in three innings. “I liked it.”

Kaline had only one more enduring marriage than with the Tigers—with his wife, Louise, his high school girl whom he married after the 1954 season and whom he loved for her beauty, her brains, and for her ability to talk baseball. One of their two sons played in the Tigers organisation briefly.

When baseball changed the name of its annual sportsmanship/community involvement award to the Roberto Clemente Award, Kaline was the first to win the award under that name. Fittingly. Both men had 3,000 hits or more and howitzers for throwing arms. But Kaline has just one up on Clemente: his was the first uniform number (6) retired by his franchise.

Such a kind and generous man who meant so much to so many,” tweeted longtime Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander. “I hope you knew how much I enjoyed our conversations about baseball, life, or just giving each other a hard time. I am honored to have been able to call you my friend for all these years.”

Always felt that to be a slam-dunk HOFer you had to have an ego and be selfish, always knowing how many W’s or HRs you were away from Cooperstown,” tweeted Claire Smith, a Hall of Fame baseball writer herself. Then I met #AlKaline Billy Williams, Sandy Koufax, Phil Niekro — gentlemen & gentle men. “R.I.P. Mr. Tiger.”

In numerology, 6 means, basically, family, home, harmony, nurturing, and idealism. It sounds like a thumbnail sketch of Kaline himself. If we have to say farewell on the day this gentleman and gentle man went to the Elysian Fields, the date is only too appropriate, too. The sixth.

Blake Snell’s hidden plea

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Blake Snell was not amused by the Rays trading Tommy Pham.

Within Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Blake Snell’s gutteral emission upon the trade of Tommy Pham to the San Diego Padres, you could find a plea pondered almost as long as professional baseball’s been played. If you wanted to.

On the surface, Snell fuming aboard the social media outlet Twitch was negative amazement that Pham would be surrendered for lesser elements: “We gave Pham up for [Hunter] Renfroe and a damn slap[penis] prospect?” And he has a pretty point, since the Rays may or may not have received equal value in return.

Baseball administrators are nothing if not men and women seeking the maximum prospective performance at the minimum prospective cost, of course. Pham earned $41. million in 2019 and was liable to earn more next season following salary arbitration; Renfroe earned $582,000 in 2019 and isn’t eligible for arbitration until after next year. And the damn slap[penis] prospect, Xavier Edwards, was ranked number five on the Padres prospect list before the deal.

Renfroe in 2019 was the Clete Boyer of outfielders, hitting 33 home runs against a .289 on-base percentage, rather companionable to the longtime Yankee third base legend’s 1967 with the Braves, 26 home runs and a .292 OBP. And Renfroe is a promising defender in his own right. But the Rays are renowned for mulcting large results out of small costs and the words “salary dump” come to mind for some, surely.

Snell apologised almost post haste. “[J]ust saying I’m sorry I’m just upset we’re losing a guy like Tommy who helped our team in so many ways!” he said. “Didn’t mean any disrespect to Edwards who I didn’t know who he was until after I said that. I was just sad to lose Tommy . . . It’s tough losing someone you respect so much and enjoy being around.”

Thus does Snell invite deeper examination, where you may find the unenunciated very present plea for loyalty and the noticeable absence thereof. Except that when you do enunciate it, you provoke another tirelessly tiring debate on where the loyalty disappeared among, well, the players, who need to learn a thing or three about loyalty while they pursue their unsightly riches, yap yap yap.

It’s been that way ever since the advent of free agency, of course. Once upon a time it amused, if only because those bellowing against the lack of player loyalty were only too obvious in their ignorance, willful or otherwise, regarding the lack of team loyalty even to Hall of Famers. In both the so-called Good Old Days and the days, years, decades to follow. It’s still somewhat amusing, even when it gets somewhat annoying.

Referencing Hall of Famers was something I did about a decade ago, for another publication, when pondering the “loyalty” question. (That publication ceased to exist not long after I published my old finding.) It began then and now with there having been but one single-team player (Walter Johnson) among the inaugural five players enshrined in 1936. The first single-team Hall of Famer to follow: Lou Gehrig, in 1939.

It goes from there to those whose careers were entirely or mostly reserve era. Thirty-six single-team Hall of Famers played all or mostly in the reserve era; eighteen (allowing the prospect of at least Derek Jeter and Thurman Munson being elected for 2020 induction) played all or mostly in the free agency era. Out of all 232 Hall of Fame players (Jeter and Munson included), it means 54 players—23 percent, not even one quarter of all Hall of Fame players—were single teamers.

The reasons vary as much as their playing or pitching styles do. Age is one. The chance to bolster or reconstruct a roster, hopefully without downright tanking, is another. Issues off the field, which didn’t begin with Rogers Hornsby’s trade after winning a World Series (as a player-manager) because he was a horse’s ass so far as his team (and a lot of baseball) was concerned and didn’t end with the Phillies’ barely conscionable mistaking of a slumping should-be Hall of Famer Scott Rolen for lacking heart or passion, are others.

Still others are organisational philosophy changes, and economic hardship real (think of Connie Mack’s fire sales breaking apart two separate Philadelphia Athletics dynasties) or alleged. (Think of M. Donald Grant’s capricious purge of Tom Seaver in 1977, to name one, or Charlie Finley’s capricious practically everything around the dynastic-turned-rubble Oakland Athletics of the 1970s. Among others.)

The loyalty issue has been with us since the signature dried on the Messersmith-McNally ruling that ended the reserve clause’s abuse in 1975 and provoked the immediate firing of arbitrator Peter Seitz, who heard the evidence real or imagined and ruled properly on behalf of Andy Messersmith. (The intending-retirement, non-playing Dave McNally, technically an unsigned player, signed onto the action as an insurance fallback in the event the refusing-to-sign Messersmith wavered during the 1975 season.)

And almost invariably it begins with rare diversions forward with player loyalty. The fact that owners pre- and post-free agency felt little if any comparable “loyalty” to their players remains underrated if not undiscussed if not untouched at all. The millionaires-versus-billionaires debate is an exercise in fatuity; the loyalty-versus-disloyalty debate exercises a lot of plain nonsense by people who’d impress you otherwise as being old enough and smart enough to know better.

This week Washington Nationals owner Mark Lerner said plainly that the team could afford to keep only one of two now-free agent World Series heroes/homegrown Nats, Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon, but not both. Lerner’s are economic reasons by his own proclamation, never mind that between himself and his father they’re baseball’s second-richest owners at this writing. Warble not about “loyalty” when Strasburg and Rendon—neither now under binding contract, each free to negotiate on a fair and open job market—are told, pending an unforeseen change of mind or heart, that the team who raised them can’t afford to keep both.

Last March Mike Trout looked at two seasons to come before his first free agency and no small speculation as to whether he’d stay where he was or move elsewhere, and as to how many teams would prepare to mortgage the gold reserves to bring him aboard. That talk included a certain freshly-signed, $350 million Phillie whispering sweet nothings toward Trout regarding keeping the City of Brotherly Love very much at the front of his mind.

Then Trout and his Los Angeles Angels agreed mutually to make him an Angel for life to a $450 million extent, the major talk of which surrounded how richly he deserved the dollars while there seemed little enough appreciation for Trout himself proclaiming publicly, without sounding sirens or fireworks, that he was plenty enough content where he was. And, by the way, hoping more than kinda-sorta that the Angels, maybe, finally, might reconstruct themselves into a team their and baseball’s best player could be proud of.

That was a mutual exercise in loyalty by player and team that went noticed to a glandular level over the fact that Trout would earn the equivalent of a small country’s economy for the rest of his playing career and to a dust bunny’s level over their hard-earned loyalty to each other. Remember it the next time you eavesdrop upon or partake in yet another exercise in the just plain nonsense that baseball loyalty debates become, at least as often as Trout steals a home run from over the center field fence, or hits one there.

Hunger pains

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Going on sale come 4 June . . .

To my late younger brother, Bruce, wherever you are, guess what’s coming forth on what would have been your 59th birthday on earth. A new Pete Rose book. By Pete Rose himself. The title is Play Hungry: The Making of a Baseball Player. And if NBC Sports’ Craig Calcaterra can be believed, which he can be as one of the country’s most acute baseball writers, it stands to be a page-turning stomachache.

“I just got this book in the mail,” Calcaterra tweeted in about the same Thursday time frame during which Albert Pujols bopped a solo home run to nail his 2,000th career run batted in. “It has 2.5 pages (out of 290) about his gambling and ban. No specifics other than a claim that he only bet on the Reds to win, which is irrelevant. There are 6 pages about Pete Rose Jr.’s 11-game big league career.”

Bruce, so help me God I had nothing to do with a birthday present like that.

But I’m also feeling a little like Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part III. You know. “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” Just when I think I can keep any promise not to address Rose again, something pulls me back in. That’s not exactly the same thing as trying to ditch a life of murder, of course. But just as Michael Corleone could never truly escape organised crime until his own death, I suspect no baseball writer will truly escape Rose until his own or Rose’s death, whichever comes first.

You could argue plausibly that using a mere two and a half pages on a subject to which Rose devoted almost an entire previous book (My Prison Without Bars) makes a certain perverted sense in the current context. “I Blew It and I Know It,” he calls that very brief chapter. Even if it took him three decades and a volume enough of obstructions and lies before he could finally say it that way.

From what Calcaterra says and the advance synopses verify, the book’s prime premise is how Rose willed himself past his long self-admitted skill limits to become the Hall of Famer he would have been if it hadn’t been for, you know, that other stuff. It’s also the fifth autobiographical book he’s produced. And its timing, just like that for My Prison Without Bars and the much earlier Pete Rose: My Story, is just a little too ticklish.

This season the Reds commemorate franchise milestones. Baseball should pay a lot more attention to the 1919 Reds, a hundred years ago, whose World Series triumph was delegitimised by the Series fix plot among some White Sox. How troublesome it must be to the Reds that baseball’s two most notorious gambling scandals injured them directly. The first compromised the integrity of the their first World Series winners through no fault of their own. The second cost them a franchise icon and manager through all fault of his own.

My Prison Without Bars, of course, hit the bookstores in one of the most grotesque cases of horrible timing in baseball history, the same week it was announced that Paul Molitor and Dennis Eckersley were elected to the Hall of Fame. Pete Rose: My Story came forth shortly after his original banishment from baseball and the death of the commissioner who banished him, A. Bartlett Giamatti. And, with its recalcitrant denials of his betting on baseball, the book accomplished nothing other than staining the reputation of its co-author, Roger Kahn (The Boys of Summer).

Indeed, when Rose sat for a 2007 interview with ESPN in which he said, “I bet on my team to win every night because I loved my team,” Kahn—who’d begun researching Pete Rose: My Story before Rose started facing the investigation that got him banished— admitted he wanted to reach for an airsick bag. And that was before the Bertolini notebooks were made public and shredded every last lingering defense Rose and his supporters might have still had.

At least Play Hungry‘s publication date doesn’t cross into a known baseball commemoration. Unless you think anyone would really like to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the drunken ninth inning fan riot that led to an Indians forfeit to the Rangers on 1974’s Ten Cent Beer Night.

The Rose story has been told so often and so voluminously that its sole relevance now would be toward younger fans today who have little idea who this Pete Rose might be, other than that he’s an annual controversy, however large, whenever Hall of Fame votes or Hall of Fame inductions cross our paths. I’m not sure there’s a more polarising Hall of Fame-concurrent subject to be found, not even when other controversial Hall of Fame candidates or inductees (Phil Rizzuto, Jack Morris, Harold Baines, etc.) are involved.

Either writers or online forum denizens pipe up about Rose at those times. The drift runs between keeping Rose out for the transgressions that got him banished from baseball and made ineligible to stand for Hall of Fame election; and, forgiving, forgetting, and letting him in on his career accomplishments while he’s still alive to appreciate the honour. Because, you know, it’s just not a legitimate Hall of Fame without the Hit King.

And the former group has the latter group whipped every time when they ask, as you absolutely must, “Which portion of Rule 21(d) do you still have trouble comprehending?”

Once upon a time Rose autographed baseballs for those visiting his stands in Las Vegas or Cooperstown with this beneath his name: “I’m sorry I bet on baseball.” His autograph repertoire has expanded liberally since. Rose-signed baseballs abound with such additional phrases as:

“HOF?” (Not until a) he’s reinstated to baseball (it won’t happen); or, b) the Hall of Fame changes its rule denying those on baseball’s ineligible list standing on any Hall ballot. And why should the Hall change that rule?)

“I didn’t do steroids.” (No, but he was doing greenies—amphetamines—in his time. Players then and beyond have been given steroid shots for pain, too. Yes, cortisone is a steroid, technically though non-anabolically. And, a lot of those who turned to later actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances, whether particular steroids or human growth hormone, started doing so for pain relief. Yes, you can look it up.)

“There is no crying in baseball.” (Apparently, he doesn’t always remember the tears of joy he shed at first base after he passed Ty Cobb on the career hit parade.)

“Mr. Trump, Make America Great Again.” (President Tweety thinks Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame despite breaking the rules. That could be called sympatico from a man to whom the rules often seem to be that there ain’t no rules.)

“I’m sorry I shot J.F.K.” (In the immortal words of the late Robin Williams, as Mork from Ork, “Humour—ar! ar! ar! ar!”)

“I regret I ever got involved in the book,” Kahn once told the Los Angeles Times about Pete Rose: My Story. “It turns out that Pete Rose was the Vietnam of ballplayers. He once told me he was the best ambassador baseball ever had. I’ve thought about that and wondered why we haven’t sent him to Iran.”

Penguin Press, which is publishing Play Hungry, has also published volumes by the like of Matthew Arnold, Francis Bacon, William Blake, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and John Steinbeck. (Don’t even think about asking which papers they wrote for, Yogi, wherever you are.) Imagining Pete Rose in their company is something comparable to imagining Denny Crane in Clarence Darrow’s.

“Culture,” Arnold wrote, “is to know the best that has been said and thought in the world.” Along comes Rose, whose flair for the jarring aphorism once made sportswriters hunger but also made baseball men reluctant to investigate what were then only whispers about his darker sides. “Playing baseball for a living is like having a license to steal” is pithy but hardly “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.” (Bacon.)

“The road of excess,” wrote another Penguin author, Blake, “leads to the palace of wisdom.” Baseball fans know that by way of Annie Savoy quoting it indignantly to Crash Davis in Bull Durham. The road of excess led Rose to breaking baseball’s gambling rule and away from the palace of Cooperstown he craves to join. But wisdom isn’t the same as being a wisenheimer now and then.

 

 

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.