Dick Allen

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Richard Anthony Allen is quite possibly the best player not in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Allen played 15 major league seasons, most notably with the Phillies and White Sox, but also had stints with St. Louis, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Oakland A’s.  A seven-time All-Star, Allen was 1964 NL Rookie of the Year and 1972 AL MVP.  He twice led the AL in home runs, won the RBI crown in 1972 and lead both leagues in on-base percentage for one season.  Allen led the NL in slugging percentage [a measure of batting productivity that gives more weight to extra-base hits] once and the AL in two seasons.  In the mid-1960s, he had a better on-base percentage than Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente and Orlando Cepeda.

One of the top offensive producers of the 1960s and early 70s, Allen was among the most feared hitters in baseball.  A true slugger in the mold of Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx and Mickey Mantle, Allen hit tape measure homers.  Eschewing Ted Williams’ idea that a lighter bat generated more bat speed, Allen wielded a 41-ounce stick, heaviest in baseball.  In an era before weight training, dietary supplements and steroids, Allen blasted monstrous home runs.  Willie Mays said Allen hit a baseball harder than any player he ever saw.  Like Mantle, his clouts were legendary.  Two of his bombs cleared the 65-foot high left field grandstand at Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia, and twice he cleared that park’s scoreboard in right center field, a feat considered impossible for a right-handed hitter.

Playing in the “second dead ball era,” a period dominated by pitchers [see 1968: Bob Gibson, 1.12 ERA; Denny McLain, 31 wins; Don Drysdale, six consecutive shutouts], Allen’s .534 career slugging percentage ranks among the highest of his day.  Only Albert Belle has a higher slugging percentage among players not in the hall of fame.  Despite playing much of his career in pitcher-friendly ballparks like Busch Stadium, Comiskey Park and Dodger Stadium, Allen walloped 351 career home runs.  A lifetime .292 hitter, his career on-base percentage was .378.  OPS+ is a metric that measures on-base plus slugging percentage.  Among players of his era with 500 or more career homers, only Mantle topped Allen’s lifetime OPS+, and Mark McGuire is the only player not in the hall of fame with a higher OPS+.

Born March 8, 1942, in Wampum, Pennsylvania, a tiny town 30 miles northwest of Pittsburg.  Allen is one of nine children, three of whom played baseball.  Older brother Hank was a reserve outfielder for three major league teams [including two seasons playing alongside Dick with the Chicago White Sox] and younger brother Ron had a cup of coffee with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1972.  The Allen boys rank 11th on the MLB list of most home runs by a brother combination, with 358.  Hank hit six, Ron one, and Dick belted 351 career dingers.  In 1960, Allen was signed out of Wampum High School by the Philadelphia Phillies, who assigned him to their D-League affiliate in Elmira, New York.  By 1963, he had risen to Triple-A Little Rock, where he was the franchise’s first black player.  After leading the International League in home runs, he earned a September call up to the big leagues, playing in ten games with the Phillies.

Eager to get the immensely-talented slugger into their lineup, the Phillies made Allen their everyday third baseman [despite having never played the position] in 1964.  He carried the Phils, batting .318 with 29 homers and 91 RBI.  Allen led the league in runs, triples, extra-base hits and total bases and was named NL Rookie-of-the-Year.  He also led the league in strikeouts and made a whopping 41 errors at third base.  The 1964 Phillies suffered one of the most epic collapses in baseball history, blowing a 6 ½ game lead with just 12 left to play, losing the NL pennant to the St. Louis Cardinals.  Allen, however, did not collapse, hitting .341 in the final month of the season with a .618 slugging percentage.  During the team’s infamous ten-game losing streak in September, Allen collected 17 hits, batted .428, and drove in 11 runs.

Allen may be the most maligned player in baseball history.  Unfairly accused of dividing the clubhouse along racial lines, Philadelphia’s first black superstar fell out of favor with both the fans and press in the City of Brotherly Love.  During a time of change in America, baseball reacted negatively and Allen was perceived as a threat to the game.  “Dick Allen played in the most conservative era in baseball history,” said Pittsburgh Pirates legend Willie Stargell.  “He was way ahead of his time.  His views and way of doing things would go unnoticed today.” Roundly booed and the target of racism, Allen wore a batting helmet in the field to protect himself from flying objects hurled by unruly fans in Philadelphia.  After six seasons with the Phils – including three as an All-Star, Allen demanded a trade, saying, “I can play anywhere.  First, third, left field, anywhere but Philly.”

Called “Richie” in Philadelphia, Allen became known as “Dick” – his preferred moniker – upon arriving in St. Louis in 1970.  Following an All-Star season, he was dealt to the Dodgers, where he played one season before being traded to Chicago.

Dick Allen saved the White Sox for Chicago.  After drawing fewer than 500,000 fans in 1970, the Sox were rumored to be heading to Seattle or Florida.  That all changed two years later.  In his first season on the South Side, Allen put on the greatest single-season performance in franchise history.  He belted 37 homers and 113 RBI to lead the league, and was tops in the AL in on-base and slugging percentage.  Allen narrowly missed winning the Triple Crown, finishing ten points behind Rod Carew for the AL batting title.  After leading the Sox to their first pennant race in over a decade [Chicago would finish 87-67 and were in first place in late August before finishing second to the eventual World Champion Oakland A’s], Allen was named 1972 AL MVP.  The White Sox were restored to prominence, drawing almost 1.2 million fans in Allen’s first year.

After breaking his leg and missing most of the 1973 season, Allen never fully returned to his old form.  He made his seventh and final All-Star team in 1974 but left the White Sox with two weeks remaining in the season.  Allen returned to Philly for two seasons before joining the A’s in 1977.  After hitting five homers with 31 RBI in 54 games, he abruptly left the A’s in June and retired from baseball.

Allen was misunderstood.  Confrontational with the press, he was beloved by teammates.  He played hard, played hurt and always put his team first.  “He had no enemies in Chicago, I can guarantee that,” said former White Sox teammate Wilber Wood.  “I’ve been around the game a long time and he’s the greatest player I’ve ever seen and the smartest baseball man I’ve ever been around in my life,” said Goose Gossage, a hall of fame reliever and former teammate. “The guy belongs in the Hall of Fame.”

In December 2014, Allen appeared as a candidate on the 16-member Golden Era Committee’s ballot for the Hall  of Fame.  The committee meets and votes on ten selected candidates from the 1947 to 1972 era every three years.  Allen, along with Tony Oliva, was one vote short of the 12 required for election.  The committee votes again at the MLB winter meetings this December.

On this date in 1972, Dick Allen became only the fourth player in MLB history to hit a home run into the center field bleachers of Comiskey Park in Chicago.  In the seventh inning of a mid-week day game, Allen belted a two-run blast off New York Yankees right-hander Lindy McDaniel, lifting the White Sox to a 5-2 win that vaulted the Southsiders into first place.  The ball cleared the 20-foot high centerfield wall that stood 445 feet from home plate, just missing Harry Caray, who was broadcasting the game while sitting in the center field bleachers.

“If I had been manager of the Phillies I would have found a way to make Dick Allen comfortable.  It was my observation that when Dick Allen was comfortable, balls left the park.”  — Willie Stargell