2022 Golden Days Era Committee Candidate: Dick Allen

The following article is part of a series concerning the 2022 Golden Days Era Committee ballot, covering managers and long-retired players whose candidacies will be voted upon on December 5. It is adapted from a chapter in The Cooperstown Casebook, published in 2017 by Thomas Dunne Books. For an introduction to the ballot, see here, and for an introduction to JAWS, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

Dick Allen

2022 Golden Days Candidate: Dick Allen
Player Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Dick Allen 58.7 45.9 52.3
Avg. HOF 3B 68.6 43.1 55.9
1,848 351 .292.378/.534 156
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

“Dick Allen forced Philadelphia baseball and its fans to come to terms with the racism that existed in this city in the ’60s and ’70s. He may not have done it with the self-discipline or tact of Jackie Robinson, but he exemplified the emerging independence of major league baseball players as well as growing black consciousness.”⁠ — William Kashatus, The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 2, 1996

At first glance, Dick Allen might be viewed as the Gary Sheffield or Albert Belle of his day, a heavy hitter seemingly engaged in a constant battle with the world around him, generating controversy at every stop of his 15-year career. It’s unfair and reductive to lump Allen in with those two players, however, for they all faced different obstacles and bore different scars from the wounds they suffered early in their careers.

In Allen’s case, those wounds predated his 1963 arrival in the majors with a team that was far behind the integration curve, and a city that was in no better shape. In Philadelphia and beyond, he was a polarizing presence, covered by a media contingent so unable or unwilling to relate to him that writers often refused to call him by the name of his choosing: Dick Allen, not Richie.

Even while earning All-Star honors seven times and winning both NL Rookie of the Year and AL Most Valuable Player awards, Allen rebelled against his surroundings. As biographer Mitchell Nathanson wrote in God Almighty Hisself: The Life and Legacy of Dick Allen, “He refused to pander to the media, refused to accept management’s time-honored methods for determining the value of a ballplayer, and, most explosively, refused to go along with and kowtow to the racial double standard that had evolved within Major League Baseball in the wake of the game’s integration in 1947.”

More from Nathanson:

“[Allen] saw plainly how much more difficult things were for black players than they were for their white teammates. Expectation were different, endorsement opportunities were fewer, careers were shorter. But things, as he saw them, weren’t so great for white players either. Rather than see professional baseball as an Eden, he saw it as a plantation. Few white players saw themselves as farmhands, or, worse, chattel. Black players, descendants of a legacy of both, oftentimes saw things more starkly.”

As Pat Corrales, Allen’s teammate in 1964-65, said, Allen “was years ahead of us [players] in seeing that it was wrong for the owners to have such complete control over our careers.” Marvin Miller, the executive director of the Players Association, wrote of Allen’s input at a union meeting, “He was eloquent and forceful, and the other players listened intently. He didn’t speak as a superstar, but as a player who understood both the issues and the importance of the player’ moving forward as a group.”

In Sports Illustrated in 1973, Roy Blount Jr. wrote, “Allen is the first black man, and indeed the only contemporary man of any color, to assert himself in baseball with something like the unaccommodating force of Muhammad Ali in boxing, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in basketball and Jim Brown in football.”

Allen’s behavior sometimes undercut his claim to occupying that lofty platform. He grew manipulative in ways that often reinforced negative impressions while overshadowing his tremendous talent. Had he not missed so much time due to injuries, absenteeism, and alcohol, he’d almost certainly have the counting stats to be elected to the Hall of Fame. While past generations of voters wrote him off for those shortcomings, more recent research has led to a better understanding of the context for his behavior — and shown that for all of the negativity that colored the coverage of him, he was respected and even beloved by many a teammate and manager.

Allen struggled for support during his 1983-97 run on the BBWAA ballot, never reaching 20%, and he similarly lagged in the voting of the expanded Veterans Committee from 2003-09. However, thanks in part to a grassroots campaign by former Phillies groundskeeper Mark Carfagno, he received a fresh look from the 2015 Golden Era Committee and fell just one vote short of election. The change in Era Committee formats meant that his case wasn’t scheduled to be reconsidered until the 2021 Golden Day Era Committee ballot, but the COVID-19 pandemic led the Hall to postpone that election. In a cruel blow, the 78-year-old Allen died of cancer on December 7, 2020, one day after his candidacy would have been considered.

The collision between baseball immortality and human mortality is an awkward and heartbreaking one, all too common in the annals of the Hall. For Allen, whether or not he is elected, there is at least some solace in the way he was celebrated during the final year of his life, culminating with the Phillies retiring his number on September 3, 2020, an attempt to right past organizational wrongs while proclaiming for the world — and for Allen — that they valued him. That’s not Cooperstown, but it’s a start.

Allen was born on March 8, 1942 in Wampum, Pennsylvania‚ a small town 30 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, the second-youngest of eight children born to Era Allen, a domestic employee, and Coy Allen, a traveling truck driver and sanitation worker who abandoned the family when Dick was 15. One of just five Black students in a class of 146, he starred not only as the shortstop of the Wampum High School baseball team but as the captain and point guard of the basketball team, the latter despite standing just 5-foot-11, 187 pounds. In 1958, he played alongside his brothers Hank (b. 1940) and Ron (b. 1943), all three of whom would earn All-State honors on the court and later play major league baseball.

Phillies scout Jack Ogden, a former pitcher whose minor and major league career spanned 1918-34, courted all three Allen brothers, and endeared himself to Era by agreeing to sign the trio — Hank and Dick in 1960, Ron in 1964. Dick’s $70,000 bonus was the largest ever paid to a Black ballplayer at the time. Ogden, who would remain a trusted friend and advisor to Allen for the rest of his own life, later told The Sporting News, “Dick Allen was my best find. I scouted 90,000 players in my lifetime and Allen was the greatest I ever saw. It’s too bad he had so many difficulties.”

The Phillies had even bigger difficulties. They had spent most of the previous four and a half decades as embarrassments, with 20 last-place finishes and just six seasons above .500 from 1918-62. In 1947, they treated Jackie Robinson as poorly as any NL team, with general manager Herb Pennock (now a Hall of Fame pitcher) threatening a boycott if Robinson played in Philadelphia and manager Ben Chapman viciously taunting the integration pioneer once he did. Though the team captured its first pennant in 35 years in 1950 and remained contenders for the next few seasons, they did not integrate until 1957, making them the last NL team to do so; the player who did, an infielder named John Kennedy, received all of two plate appearances. Underlying the Phillies’ backwards ways was patrician owner Bob Carpenter, who told the Black biweekly Philadelphia Tribune “that he has set a higher standard for any Negro that might be recommended by one of his scouts than for a white prospect,” that he “was not interested in ‘human relations’ so far as his ballclub was concerned,” and that, given the prospect of drawing more Black fans to Connie Mack Stadium to see the team play, “the Phillies was [sic] not a ‘business’ and that people did not go in [to] major league baseball to make money.”

With the Dodgers, Giants and Braves having gotten the jump on signing Black ballplayers much earlier, the Phillies’ stance cost them dearly. They finished at .500 twice from 1954-61, but never above, and in the final four of those years, they were dead last before climbing out of the depths to go 81-80 in ’62 under second-year manager Gene Mauch.

For 1960, 19-year-old Hank and 18-year-old Dick were both assigned to Elmira of the New York-Penn League, where the latter made a whopping 48 errors in 85 games at shortstop. His offense improved even more as he passed through Magic Valley (Utah) of the Pioneer League, where he played second base. Though he hit .317/.401/.526 with 21 homers in 117 games, he also made 27 errors, which led the Phillies to leave him unprotected in the expansion draft to stock the NL’s two new teams, the New York Mets and Houston Colt .45s. This first signal of how little the Phillies truly valued Allen “set the table for everything that would transpire later on,” wrote Nathanson.

Still a Phillies prospect, Allen shifted to center field for Williamsport in 1962, hitting .329/.409/.548 with 20 homers and 109 RBI. Invited to spring training in 1963, Allen hit nine home runs, but with the Phillies’ outfield set between Wes Covington, Tony Gonzalez and Johnny Callison, the team sent him to its Triple-A International League affiliate, the Little Rock-based Arkansas Travelers.

Just six years earlier, Little Rock had been the site of an ugly scene when Governor Orval Faubus called in the Arkansas National Guard in order to prevent the court-ordered desegregation of Little Rock Central High School. The Southern Association, the league in which the Travelers had played, had been forced out of operation after the 1961 season as major league organizations began pulling their minor league affiliates from towns that prohibited integrated audiences, and so Little Rock had no professional baseball at all in ’62.

The Phillies, in assigning Allen to the Travelers, not only sent a message to the 21-year-old slugger for having the nerve to ask for a $50 raise after his strong 1962 season, but gave him no idea what to expect in becoming the first Black professional baseball player in the state. The Arkansas Gazette and Arkansas Democrat both told their reporters not to mention that fact to avoid stirring things up. Racial tensions ran particularly high the night that Allen debuted, with Faubus himself throwing out the first pitch. The Capital Citizens Council distributed leaflets about the “Conspiracy at Little Rock to Negro-ize Travelers Baseball Team,” and picketers carried signs with slogans such as “Don’t Negro-ize baseball” and “N***** go home.”⁠ Similar signs had greeted Allen at the Little Rock airport.

Allen, who for the fourth year out of five was learning a new position — left field, which at Travelers Field was known as “the dump” for its potholes and rubble and gradual upward slant towards a tin fence — was understandably rattled. He let the first ball hit to him fly over his head, but recovered to hit two doubles, including one amid the winning rally. While he received applause as he came to the plate, when he got to his car after the game, he was greeted with a note: “DON’T COME BACK AGAIN N*****,”⁠ as he recounted in his autobiography, Crash: The Life and Times of Dick Allen.

After receiving death threats and telling the Phillies he was quitting, Allen was rebuked by his oldest brother, Coy Craine Allen, as well as his mother for pleading to come home. Third base coach Joe Lonnett, who grew up in nearby Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, cautioned him that a future in the coal mines might await if he quit baseball. Allen developed a resolve to stick it out, vowing, “If I’m going to die, why not die doing what God gave me a gift to do? I’ll die right there in that batter’s box without any fear.”

Fortunately it didn’t come to that, though Allen received countless threats throughout the season, and endured a situation that was far from ideal. He and his wife lived in a Black neighborhood of the segregated town, in an apartment within a house that was owned by a couple whose daughter was one of the nine students who integrated Little Rock Central High School. Allen and his wife rarely went out; he was often stopped by local police for no apparent reason, and could not be served in restaurants unless accompanied by a white teammate. He drank to cope with the stress. Manager Frank Lucchesi, who respected his ability, couldn’t relate to his circumstances, and Allen had few friends on the team. Nonetheless, he hit .289/.341/.550 while leading the league with 33 homers and 97 RBI and being voted team MVP by fans, even while enduring epithets on a regular basis. Called up to Philadelphia at season’s end, he went 7-for-24 in a 10-game trial, mostly in left field.

The following spring, Mauch decided to squeeze the righty-swinging Allen into the predominantly left-handed lineup at third base, yet another new position but a perpetual problem for the Phils, who had used 25 players there over the previous five seasons. “He can play third good enough to get by,” said Mauch. “He has good reactions and good hands and third isn’t as demanding a spot as short or second where he began his career.”⁠ For unclear reasons, the Phillies insisted upon calling him “Richie,” a name he detested but which appeared on all of the team’s rosters, scorecards, and promotional material. In September, just before the team’s infamous collapse, Allen told a reporter, “[Richie] makes me sound like I’m ten years old. I’m 22. … Anyone who knows me well calls me Dick. I don’t know why as soon as I put on a uniform it’s Richie.”

By any name, Allen put up a season for the ages, batting .318/.382/.557 with 201 hits, 13 triples and 29 homers in 162 games, enough to make him the runaway NL Rookie of the Year. His 162 OPS+ and 8.8 WAR both ranked third in the league behind Willie Mays and Ron Santo, and the latter stands as the third-highest WAR of any rookie position player in history, topped only by Shoeless Joe Jackson (9.2 in 1911) and Mike Trout (10.8 in 2012). Allen’s performance nearly carried the Phillies to a pennant; they led by 6 1/2 games with just 12 to play, but a 10-game losing streak spelled their doom. Lest anyone think Allen was at fault, he batted .341/.434/.618 in September and October, going 17-for-41 during their 10-game slide.

Allen spent the next five seasons with the Phillies, hitting a combined .296/.380/.554 for a 164 OPS+ and an average of 30 homers per year. He made three straight All-Star teams from 1965-67; led the NL in slugging percentage in 1966 (.632), in on-base percentage in ’67 (.404) and in OPS+ in both years (181 and 174, respectively); and ranked among the league’s top 10 in both OPS+ and homers annually, including second in the latter in both 1966 (40) and ’68 (33). The Phillies continued to bounce him around the diamond on a nearly annual basis; he spent significant time in left field in 1966, played primarily there in ’68, and primarily at first base in ’69.

For as good as he was, Allen couldn’t singlehandedly push the Phillies over the top, though they finished above .500 annually from 1965 to ’67, and he did not have an easy time of it, enduring numerous controversies starting with a July 3, 1965, pregame altercation with reserve outfielder Frank Thomas (not the Hall of Fame White Sox slugger). Triggered by taunting from Callison, Thomas — who according to one account had jokingly told Allen, “Hey, boy, can you carry my bags to the lobby?” on a recent road trip — escalated things by calling Allen “Richie X” and “another Muhammad Clay, always running your mouth off.” Allen punched Thomas in the jaw, and Thomas countered with his bat to Allen’s left shoulder.

Though Thomas homered as a pinch-hitter in the game following the altercation — after which Allen shook his hand, considering the matter settled — the 36-year-old slugger was placed on waivers immediately afterward, over Allen’s protestations. Mauch, happy to jettison an aging, disruptive player, threatened to fine Allen $2,500 and any other Phillie $1,500 if they discussed the incident with the press. Thus, only the departed Thomas aired his side, claiming that the Phillies acted unfairly in punishing one player but not the other and that Allen “can dish it out but can’t take it.” The manager later regretted his course of action, saying, “The way it was handled brought the town down on Richie’s head… I should have shipped [Thomas] sooner.”

“That was unfortunate as the press and the fans heard just Thomas’s side, and they did not take kindly to a young black guy popping a white veteran,” wrote sabermetrician Craig Wright in 1995. In a city that had been torn by race riots less than a year before, fans hung banners in support of Thomas and sent Allen hate mail, called him “darkie” and “monkey” from the stands, and threw bottles, bolts and coins at him in the outfield to the point that he took to wearing a helmet in the field. The press labeled him a troublemaker. Amid the pressure and abuse Allen drank: “Instead of going straight to the ballpark,” he recalled later, “I started making regular stops at watering holes along the way.” Mauch fined him regularly, but tried to protect him from the press.

Even without the bottle, Allen found trouble, and his critics assumed the worst with regards to his conduct. On August 24, 1967, while trying to push his stalled car up a driveway, he put his right hand through a headlight, severing tendons and nerves and requiring a five-hour operation that left his career in doubt and ended his season 40 games early. Rumors spread that he had been stabbed in a bar fight or jumped out a window after being caught with a teammate’s wife. Allen lost some sensation in two of his fingers, struggled with throwing during the rest of his career, especially in cold weather, and never spent a full season at third base again.

Though Allen negotiated a salary of $85,000 for 1968 — the highest for a fourth-year player in the game at that point — he wanted out of Philadelphia. With free agency not yet an option, he embarked upon a series of minor transgressions in hopes of triggering a trade. He left spring training without permission, claiming to have gone to see a doctor in Philadelphia about his hand. He showed up for games late and, in late May, drunk. The team suspended him for two weeks, covering by saying he had a groin injury. When he returned, Allen declared “a sit-down strike” and refused to play until he could give his side of the story.

Behind closed doors, Allen agreed to a truce, telling owner Bob Carpenter he was ready to play. An incensed Mauch gave the owner a “me or him” ultimatum, and was fired on June 15, when the team was 27–27. He took the high road on the way out. “I’m not going to knock Richie Allen… That son-of-a-gun gave me many a thrill. There was nothing personal in my handling of Allen.” Still, the press hung the blame for Mauch’s firing on Allen, and while he went on a hot streak under new manager Bob Skinner, the team finished 76–86.

In the winter of 1968–69, the Phillies tried to trade Allen, but their asking price was too high. Soon he was missing flights and even games. He wanted out, blamed the press for turning fans against him, and spoke openly about the part he felt race played in the matter:

“Bob Carpenter has been real good to me, but I’ve got to play somewhere else… I get along great with my teammates. But you fellas have created an atmosphere where people who have never met me, hate me. You can knock me and say I’m a no good black so and so and I can still be your friend. But if you don’t ask me about something and take someone else’s word for it and write it as fact, then I got to cut you loose. Sometimes I get so disgusted. I really do love to play the game, but the writers take all the fun out of it.

Soon Allen’s teammates tore into him for his lackadaisical approach and lack of hustle, which only led the slugger to rebel further. He missed a doubleheader against the Mets in favor of a horse race, and the team suspended him indefinitely — 26 days, eventually, costing him $11,700 in salary — with Allen returning only after ownership agreed to trade him at the end of the season. The controversy led Phillies fans to abstain from voting him into the All-Star Game or onto the franchise’s all-time team as part of baseball’s centennial celebration.

After a drawn-out battle over Allen’s eschewing of the team locker room in favor of using of a storage area as a private dressing room, Skinner resigned, and Allen was again scapegoated. A Sporting News editorial took a stand against him: “If ever a young man needed some counseling and guidance, that man is Richie Allen. The Phillies slugger has $1,000,000 worth of talent and 10¢ worth of ability to understand what his role is with a team that has 24 other players besides himself. Unless a firm hand is taken with Allen, he’ll go through more managers than Bluebeard does wives.”⁠

Going nowhere given their pitching, the Phillies finished 63-99. Allen took advantage of interim manager George Myatt’s refusal to stir up further trouble, and began scratching out words in the dirt around first base, such as “OCT. 2” (the final date of the season), “BOO” (the fans obliged), “NO” and “WHY?” (in response to commissioner Bowie Kuhn’s order to stop doing that). On October 7, five days after the end of the season, he was traded to the Cardinals in a seven-player blockbuster, with Tim McCarver and Curt Flood heading the other direction. Flood — who would later describe Philadelphia as “America’s northernmost Southern city” — refused to report, setting off a challenge to the Reserve Clause that would go all the way to the US Supreme Court.

Allen was overjoyed at the deal, saying, “You don’t know how good it feels to get out of Philadelphia. They treat you like cattle.” He added, “It was like a form of slavery. Once you step out of bounds they’ll do everything possible to destroy your soul.”

The Cardinals had won back-to-back pennants in 1967-68, but slipped to fourth place in the new NL East in ’69. Allen hit well (.279/.377/.560 with 34 homers in 122 games), but a hamstring injury limited him to five of the team’s final 44 games. Come October 5, 1970, he was sent packing again, traded to the Dodgers for two young players. While he avoided trouble in St. Louis, the Cardinals wanted to emphasize defense, not Allen’s forte; today’s metrics estimate that he was 16 runs below average splitting time at first, third, and left field. He was healthy and productive in LA, delivering a 5.4 WAR season while again bouncing around the diamond, but chafed at owner Walter O’Malley’s demands for public relations commitments, claiming they distracted him from the mission at hand: winning. The Dodgers, who had not reached the postseason since 1966, went 89-73, finishing one game back in the NL West.

For the third offseason in a row, Allen was traded, this time to the White Sox for two players, including pitcher Tommy John. Playing for manager Chuck Tanner, a native of New Castle, Pennsylvania (not far from Wampum), and again letting the media know that he preferred to be called Dick instead of Richie (a request that was still routinely ignored), Allen settled in at first base and hit .308/.420/.603 with a 199 OPS+, 37 homers, 113 RBI, and 8.6 WAR. All of those numbers except his batting average led the league. The White Sox, who had not finished above .500 since 1967, went 87-67, finishing 5 1/2 games out, and Allen was the runaway winner in the AL MVP voting, receiving 21 of 24 first-place votes.

Allen’s appearance on the June 12, 1972 issue of Sports Illustrated produced one of the most indelible covers in the magazine’s history:

After signing a three-year, $675,000 deal, believed to be the largest in the game at the time, Allen was similarly effective in both 1973 and ’74, but injuries limited him to just 200 games over the two seasons. On June 28, 1973, he suffered a hairline fracture of his left fibula via a collision at first base as he stretched for a throw. He returned five weeks later and went 3-for-4 in his first game back, but was noticeably limping, and was shut down for the season after two pinch-hitting appearances. Some accused him of malingering, but as White Sox general manager Roland Hemond later told Wright, “The leg wasn’t healed. The doctor knew it, but Dick wanted to try. He was trying to help the team, but we saw he couldn’t do it… His teammates appreciated the effort, but some people in the press may not have understood. He seemed indestructible to them.”

Allen returned to hit .301/.375/.563 in 1974, earning All-Star honors for the last of seven times and leading the league in both slugging percentage and homers (32) despite playing in just 128 games. Alas, a mid-August shoulder injury sapped both his power and his will to play. On September 13, he showed up at Comiskey Park, took batting and infield practice, then gave an emotional speech to his teammates and announced his retirement at age 32, with a year and $225,000 still to go on his contract. “This is hard for me to say,” he told them. “I’ve never been happier anywhere than here.”

Hemond and Tanner talked Allen out of officially filing retirement paperwork, which would have prevented him from returning until six weeks into the following season. By all accounts, the slugger was not attempting to force a trade when he retired, though by November he was reconsidering his decision. On the off chance that he might play, the Braves acquired his rights for a player to be named later in December. Meanwhile, Phillies broadcaster Richie Ashburn, whose time with the team (1948-59) had long preceded Allen, lobbied the organization to reacquire him. Now owned by Bob Carpenter’s son Ruly, and playing in Veterans Stadium rather than Connie Mack Stadium, which had been situated in a racially divided neighborhood, the Phillies were a different team. Laden with young talents Mike Schmidt (who grew up idolizing Allen), Greg Luzinski, Dave Cash, Larry Bowa, and Bob Boone, they were managed by Danny Ozark, who had coached the Dodgers during Allen’s 1971 stay.

Allen remained at home through the spring until the Phillies negotiated a four-player trade on May 7. He debuted on May 14, receiving a standing ovation from the Veterans Stadium crowd of 30,908. “You don’t know what it means to me,” he told reporters. “It’s a different situation altogether.” The fans could heal only so much, however. Though the team went 86-76, Allen hit just .233/.327/.385 with 12 homers in 119 games.

Even with the benefit of a full spring training the following season, Allen found himself at odds with Ozark, who benched him in favor of light-hitting but good-fielding Tommy Hutton, then found Allen unwilling to pinch-hit. After a bout of shoulder soreness landed him on the disabled list, Allen returned and was largely productive despite being dropped to seventh in the batting order, missing 39 games after a jarring collision due to dizziness (perhaps concussion-like symptoms) and further shoulder troubles, and openly questioning why the team’s Black players weren’t getting as much playing time as he felt they merited. Even with a 3-for-40 slump in September, he hit .268/.346/.480 with 15 homers in 339 PA. The Phillies won 101 games and their first NL East flag. In his only postseason appearance, Allen went 2-for-9 with three walks, but made a key error in Game 2 of the NLCS as the Phillies were swept by the Reds.

Informed that he would not be re-signed, Allen caught on with the A’s, who had been decimated by the first winter of free agency. He was productive early in the season, hitting .313/.395/.507 with four homers through April, but he not only cooled off, he refused to DH; unbeknownst to manager Jack McKeon, owner Charlie Finley had written a clause into Allen’s contract excusing him from DH duty. Eventually shoulder problems, a slump, and another unexcused absence led to his release. While he went back to spring training with the A’s the following season, and while Tanner tried to talk him into joining the Pirates — whom he was then managing — in 1979, when Allen was 37, he never played again.

Allen spent more time at first base (807 games) than third (652) or left field (256), but for JAWS purposes, he’s a third baseman because that’s where he accrued the most value. Five of his top six WAR totals came in seasons where he played more third than anywhere else. To get into the minutiae, for classification purposes a player at multiple positions has that year’s WAR total apportioned by position as a percentage of innings played. For Allen, the breakdown looks like this:

Dick Allen Innings and WAR by Position
Year Tot Innings Tot WAR 3B Inn 3B WAR 1B Inn 1B WAR LF Inn LF WAR
1963 52.0 0 1.0 0.0 51.0 0.0
1964 1419.0 8.8 1419.0 8.8
1965 1433.7 6.4 1431.3 6.4
1966 1180.3 7.5 806.3 5.1 374.0 2.4
1967 1087.0 5.3 1085.7 5.3
1968 1250.3 3.5 71.7 0.2 1178.7 3.3
1969 1021.3 3.7 1021.3 3.7
1970 1046.3 2.3 331.0 0.7 687.3 1.5 28.0 0.1
1971 1292.0 5.4 561.7 2.3 234.0 1.0 496.3 2.1
1972 1218.3 8.6 16.0 0.1 1202.3 8.5
1973 565.0 2.9 554.0 2.8
1974 1004.0 3.8 1003.0 3.8
1975 918.7 -0.5 918.7 -0.5
1976 681.7 0.7 681.7 0.7
1977 387.0 0.2 387.0 0.2
Totals 14556.6 58.6 5723.7 29.0 6689.3 21.7 2128.0 7.8
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
Does not include Allen’s 12.3 innings at 2B and 3.0 innings at SS.

Allen’s career was comparatively short by Hall of Fame standards, in part due to his injuries and other absences, including his early retirement. Only 10 of the 36 enshrinees at either corner infield position played fewer games than his 1,749, including four whose careers began in the 19th century and just one (Hank Greenberg) who played after World War II, but missed more than four seasons due to military service. There’s a similar problem with his 1,848 total hits. As I’ve noted at several turns, no position player whose career crossed into the post-1960 expansion era has been elected with fewer than 2,000 hits, which underscores the uphill battle Allen has to enshrinement, at least with regards to traditional counting stats.

Allen’s total of 351 homers is less impressive for its volume than its context. In the 16-season span from 1961-76, a low-scoring period bracketed by the first and third waves of expansion, Allen hit 346 homers, more than all but Harmon Killebrew (489), Willie McCovey (439) and Norm Cash (355). From 1964-74, the 11-season heart of his career, he led his league twice, ranked second twice and had four other top-10 finishes.

The rate stats give further evidence of Allen’s dominance within his era. In that same 11-year period, he had 20 top-10 finishes in a slash stat, leading in OBP twice and in slugging three times. He led in OPS+ three times and was twice runner-up, with five more finishes in the top 10. All of which is to say that every year in that span in which he qualified for the batting title — 10 out of 11 seasons — he was one of the league’s 10 most potent hitters.

Career-wise, among players with at least 7,000 PA, Allen’s 156 OPS+ is tied for 14th all-time with Frank Thomas (the White Sox slugger, not the Phillies assailant) — who had a much longer career, but that’s the point of the cutoff. Convert that potency to batting runs and Allen’s 435 above average ranks 56th, a tad less impressive but within 10 runs in either direction of Hall of Famers Joe Morgan, Carl Yastrzemski, Wade Boggs, Ken Griffey Jr., Willie Stargell, Vladimir Guerrero, and George Brett, all of whom needed at least 1,712 more plate appearances to approximate Allen’s total.

Combine all that with his seven All-Star appearances and his Rookie of the Year and MVP awards, and Allen scores a 99 on the Hall of Fame Monitor, in the general vicinity of a “likely” Hall of Famer. That score is held down by his minimal postseason resume and his defensive shortcomings. He was nothing close to a Gold Glove candidate, but given the way the Phillies and other teams handled him, what should anyone have expected?

Via Total Zone, Allen’s total of 110 runs below average at all positions ranks as the 18th-worst in history. He was 45 runs below average at third (nine per 1,200 innings); 40 below average at first (seven per 1,200 innings), and 24 below average in left field (13 per 1,200 innings). That’s nearly DH-caliber, but of course the DH didn’t exist in those days, and Allen was none too keen on the idea once it did. Yet even while costing his team an average of nine runs per year with his glove, Allen’s bat carried the weight and more. He ranked among the league’s top 10 in WAR six times, with a league lead and two other appearances in the top five. For that 1964-74 span, only five other players topped Allen’s 58.3 WAR, all of them enshrined: Hank Aaron, Yastrzemski, Roberto Clemente, Santo, and Brooks Robinson.

Measured against third basemen, Allen’s career total of 58.7 WAR ranks 18th, 8.7 wins below the standard; relative to the Hall of Famers, he’s ahead of only the three bottom-tier guys (George Kell, Pie Traynor and Fred Lindstrom) and two with their roots in the 19th century, Deacon White and Jimmy Collins. His 45.9 WAR peak is 2.8 wins above the standard, however, and ranks 10th, ahead of eight of the 15 non-Negro Leagues enshrinees at the position, not to mention popular defense-first candidates such as Scott Rolen, Graig Nettles, and Buddy Bell. Overall, his 52.3 JAWS ranks 17th, 2.6 points below the standard.

Considering Allen as a first baseman doesn’t change a whole lot. At that position he would rank 21st in career WAR (8.2 wins below the standard), 12th in peak (3.2 above the standard) and 17th in JAWS, the latter 1.9 points below the standard but ahead of 10 enshrined first basemen, including short-timer Greenberg, plus Killebrew, another slugger who bounced around the diamond in an effort to hide his glove.

Any way you slice it, Allen’s a bit short on the JAWS front, so choosing 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. To these eyes, 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, paternalistic 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, nor should they have to be. The distortions that influenced the negative views of him — including Bill James’ crushing dismissal (“[Allen] 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”) in The Politics of Glory — were damaging. To give them the upper hand is to reject honest inquiry into his career.

Sabermetrician Don Malcolm called that passage “the absolute nadir of Bill James’ career, a summary statement so blatantly biased that his long-time friend and associate Craig Wright felt compelled to write an essay refuting Bill’s perspective… Everyone knows that Dick Allen was a great hitter; there’s just all that other baggage that they’re afraid to open.” Having opened it, well, it’s not pretty, but by now it’s abundantly clear that it wasn’t all Allen’s baggage to begin with. Wright’s work, which featured interviews with all but one of Allen’s big league managers (the late Dodgers skipper Walter Alston) as well as several teammates, strongly refutes the notion that Allen was a divisive clubhouse presence or a particular problem for his managers aside from his early-career tardiness (and his extreme behavior in 1969). “His teammates always liked him,” said Mauch. “He wasn’t doing anything to hurt [his teammates] play of the game, and he didn’t involve his teammates in his problems. When he was personally rebellious, he didn’t try to bring other players into it.”

Even Skinner and Ozark, the two managers portrayed as the most openly critical of him, told Wright that Allen wasn’t the problem with their teams and that they’d have him back again if given the chance.

Perhaps not surprisingly given his tumultuous career and modest counting stats, Allen never fared well in front of BBWAA voters. He received just 3.7% in his 1983 debut (when venerable scribes such as Jack Lang and Charley Feeney patronizingly resurrected “Richie Allen” in their Sporting News coverage), enough to bump him off the ballot. Via a 1985 compromise between the writers and the Hall over some rejiggering of the Five Percent Rule, 150 such candidates were reviewed by the BBWAA Screening Committee, with 11 getting “one more chance”: Allen, Flood, Santo, Ken Boyer, Clay Carroll, Ron Fairly, Harvey Haddix, Denny McLain, Dave McNally, Vada Pinson, and Wilbur Wood. Allen received 7.1%, more than all of the others save for Boyer (17.2%) and Santo (13.4%), enough at least to keep his name in circulation. He lingered on the ballot through 1997, topping out at 18.9% in 1996.

After aging off the writers’ ballot, Allen fell under the purview of the enlarged Veterans Committee, with similarly tepid results: 16.0% in 2003, 15.0% in ’05, 13.4% in ’07 and 10.9% in ’09. He wasn’t included among the 10 candidates on the 2012 Expansion Era Committee ballot, via which Santo was posthumously elected, but was on in ’15. Thanks to the outreach campaign led by Carfagno, a former Phillies grounds crew member, his candidacy drew widespread attention. On a committee that included former teammate Jim Bunning (the Phillies’ ace during Allen’s first stint), Pat Gillick (then-current president of the Phillies) and Roland Hemond (GM of the White Sox during his stay there), Allen received 11 of 16 votes — tied with Tony Oliva for the highest among the 10 candidates, but one vote short of election nonetheless. It was a bittersweet result. Gillick did attempt to reassure the public that the Allen’s candidacy was viewed with a fresh eye, saying, “If anybody had any concern about any press that was associated with Dick, that was not a concern.”

Based upon the triennial rotation put in place by the Hall of Fame, the Golden Era Committee would have voted again in December 2017. A 2016 rule change reconfigured the three committees into four, voted upon at differing frequencies, with the Golden Days Era Committee thus not scheduled until December 2020 — and then the pandemic hit. Particularly with no current baseball to cover, the buzz around Allen began to build. In June, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives even passed a resolution urging his election to the Hall of Fame. On August 13, less than two weeks before the Hall announced its postponement, the Phillies revealed a plan to retire Allen’s number — a shift in policy for the franchise, which had previously limited that honor to players in the Hall, and one spearheaded by John Middleton, the club’s managing partner. Said Middleton at the socially distanced ceremony (the full video of which is here):

“As I thought about that policy and its impact on players like Dick, I remembered one of my favorite quotes. Recently our country lost a great civil rights leader, but John Lewis’ memory will endure because of his lasting message to all of us; ‘When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something. You have to do something.’

“Dick, your brilliance has compelled me to change our long-standing policy. Today, the Phillies organization is doing and saying something to correct what is historically not right, not fair, not just.

Unfortunately, Allen didn’t live to see himself elected. And on this ballot, with four other candidates — Oliva, Jim Kaat, Maury Wills, and Minnie Miñoso — who received at least 50% on that 2015 ballot, plus Gil Hodges, who fell one vote short in the past there’s no telling which way the Golden Days panel’s vote could swing. I do think Miñoso is the most worthy of all Era Committee candidates for his outstanding play and role as an integration pioneer, but Allen is next on my list, an elite hitter who clashed with a world that just wasn’t ready for him. We’re more than ready now.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky @jayjaffe.bsky.social.

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2 years ago

I am hoping this is the year for Dick Allen. There are three things I’ll say about Dick Allen:
1) If you’re a “peak performance” voter rather than a “did they hang on for 10000 PAs voter” then Dick Allen looks way better. He had 5 seasons where he was an absolute megastar, from 1964-1967 and then in 1972. The total WAR itself is not a slam dunk for a third baseman (there are way too few third basemen in the hall), but he is within striking distance, and the peak WAR is incredibly strong.
2) Offensively, he was in the top tier of players ever. From 1964-1977–which covers his entire career, including his decline years–he had the second highest wRC+, just behind Frank Robinson and just ahead of Hank Aaron (he was also #6 in position player WAR, and of the Top 14 players in that group, 12 are in the Hall of Fame and the other two are Pete Rose and Dick Allen).
3) The only reason he isn’t higher than #6 on that list is because of his defense. His defense was, admittedly, not very good, but part of the reason for that was because they more or less played him at third base without giving him any reps there, and while we can’t be certain he’d be better somewhere else it’s remarkable he was able to learn it while he went along. Eventually, he had to move off the position because he shredded his hand in 1967 (ending that incredible 1964-1967 run) trying to push his car, but they kept running him out there at positions where he couldn’t actually make the throws because he had severed all those tendons in his hand, pushing his defensive value down further.

And that’s all before talking about the death threats and the people throwing batteries at him in the outfield.

2 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

His hitting and injury related defensive problems seem similar to Edgar Martinez but with a much shorter career. Edgar of course didn’t have to deal with overwhelming antipathy.