Reckoning with Dick Allen (1942–2020)

The cruelty of 2020 is unending. Sunday might have been the day that Dick Allen was finally elected to the Hall of Fame, if not for the coronavirus pandemic that forced the Hall’s era-based committees to postpone their vote. Instead, on Monday, we learned that Allen had died at 78 years old after battling cancer.

Allen, who made seven All-Star teams and won the NL Rookie of the Year and AL Most Valuable Player awards during his 15-year career (1963–77), was one of the heaviest hitters in baseball history. Wielding bats weighing 40 ounces or more, Allen led the league in home runs and on-base percentage twice apiece and in slugging percentage three times, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In each of the 10 years that he qualified for the batting title, he ranked among the league’s 10 most potent hitters, leading in OPS+ three times, finishing second twice, and placing among the top 10 five more times. His career 156 OPS+ matches those of Willie Mays and Frank Thomas, tied for 14th among players with at least 7,000 plate appearances, but Mays (12,496 PA) and Thomas (10,075 PA) played for far longer than Allen (7,315 PA). The comparative brevity of his career left him with modest hit and home run totals (1,848 of the former, 351 of the latter) that made it easier to downplay the impact of his raw batting line (.292/.378/.534), compiled during a pitcher-friendly era. Hall of Fame voters of all flavors bypassed him more often than not.

Allen’s short career was the product of his engagement in a near-constant battle with the world around him. He generated controversy at every stop, rebelling against his surroundings and presenting himself in a way that often reinforced negative impressions and overshadowed his tremendous talent. By the time he reached the majors with the Phillies — a team far behind the integration curve, in a city that was in no better shape — in 1963, he already bore the scars of the racism he had encountered in the minors. The Phillies had sent him to Triple-A Little Rock, where he not only became the first Black professional baseball player in the state of Arkansas, but also was subjected to watching Governor Orval Faubus, infamous for his role in resisting desegregation, throw out the first pitch on the night of his debut. Allen had to endure picketing, racist taunts, and death threats.

In Philadelphia, Allen was a polarizing presence, covered by a white media contingent so unable or unwilling to relate to him that writers often refused to call him by the name of his choosing: Dick, not Richie. Even in death, he could not escape that slight.

“Dick Allen played the game in the most conservative era in baseball history,” Hall of Famer Willie Stargell told Tim Whitaker, co-author of Allen’s 1989 autobiography, Crash. “It was a time of change and protest in the country, and baseball reacted against all that. They saw it as a threat to the game. The sportswriters were reactionary too. They didn’t like seeing a man of such extraordinary skills doing it his way. It made them nervous.”

“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,” wrote historian William Kashatus in 1996. “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.”

When the Phillies finally retired Allen’s No. 15 on Sept. 3, Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt, who played with Allen during his second stint in Philadelphia (1975–76), paid tribute, calling him “an amazing mentor,” and advocating for his election to the Hall. “Dick was a sensitive Black man who refused to be treated as a second-class citizen… [negative] labels have kept Dick Allen out of the Hall of Fame. Imagine what Dick could’ve accomplished as a player in another era, on another team, left alone to hone his skills, to be confident, to come to the ballpark every day and just play baseball.”

Allen was the presumptive top candidate for election via the Golden Days Era Committee, which was scheduled to convene at the Winter Meetings in Dallas on Sunday. Along with Tony Oliva, he missed election by one vote via the 2015 Golden Era Committee ballot, which was voted upon in December 2014. The Hall’s 2016 decision to reorganize the Era Committee system, with older periods considered less frequently, meant that candidates from that ballot would only come up for election every five years. But in August, even before the Winter Meetings themselves were cancelled — and before the slate of candidates could officially be revealed — the Hall of Fame announced its decision to postpone not only the Golden Days vote, for considering players whose greatest impact occurred during the 1950–69 period, but also that of the Early Baseball candidates, whose greatest impact occurred before 1950.

Though the decision to put safety first and abide by travel restrictions and limitations on group gatherings made complete sense in light of the pandemic — indeed, the point would have become moot given the Winter Meetings’ eventual cancellation — many observers, this scribe included, were critical of the Hall’s decision to eschew virtual panels as well. After all, if Fortune 500 companies and others could discuss their confidential business matters remotely via encrypted, secure videoconferencing systems, it stood to reason that the Hall could do so as well, but the institution was unwilling to budge. The Hall places a premium on the in-person nature of the panel, requiring the full attention of its 16 members. As its vice president of communications and education Jon Shestakofsky told the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Matt Breen recently, “There’s no side conversations. There’s no cellphones. That’s the way the process should be. It should be completely focused because everyone needs to hear every word that is spoken.”

While the concerns about the integrity and security of the committee’s process were understandable, the precariousness of their position was obvious given the ages of Allen and the other candidates likely to be on the ballot, including Oliva (82 years old), Jim Kaat (81), and Maury Wills (87). Minnie Miñoso, who received eight votes on the 2015 ballot, was somewhere between 89 and 92 years old at the time and did not live to see his next chance. “Don’t tell me that maybe I’ll get in after I pass away,” he told ESPN’s Christina Kahrl in an interview published on Feb. 27, 2015. Two days later, he died.

The timing of Allen’s death recalls the gut-punch of his contemporary, Ron Santo. Bypassed by the BBWAA and then various forms of the Veterans Committee four times from 2003 to ’09, Santo died in December 2010 at the age of 70 due to complications related to diabetes. He was elected by the first Golden Era Committee 368 days later. Allen’s candidacy could follow a disturbingly similar path.

In my role analyzing Hall of Fame candidates and ballots, I have concluded that Allen is on the top tier of Era Committee-eligible candidates outside the Hall, with a case rivaled only by that of Miñoso. Via JAWS, he owns the 10th-highest seven-year peak WAR among third basemen, about three wins above the Hall standard, and while his 52.3 JAWS is 3.4 points below the standard, a more modern reckoning with the obstacles that he faced helps to explain why he fell short. I wrote about Allen at length for my 2017 book, The Cooperstown Casebook; what follows here is a revised excerpt from the that chapter.

Richard Anthony 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. 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 also as the captain and point guard of the basketball team, the latter despite standing just 5’11” and 187 pounds. In 1958, he played alongside 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 major league career spanned from 1918 to ’32, endeared himself to Era by agreeing to sign the trio — Hank and Dick in 1960, Ron in ’64. Dick’s $70,000 bonus was the largest ever paid to a Black ballplayer at the time. Ogden would later call Allen the best of the estimated 90,000 players he scouted in his career.

Nineteen-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, though his bat showed more promise. His offense improved even more as he passed through Magic Valley (Idaho) of the Pioneer League and Williamsport of the Eastern League in 1961 and ’62, shifting to second base and then the outfield, hitting .329/.409/.548 with 20 homers and 109 RBI at the latter stop.

The Phillies 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 to ’62. In 1947, they treated Jackie Robinson as poorly as any NL team, with general manager Herb Pennock 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 were the last NL club to integrate, in 1957. While the Dodgers, Giants, and Braves got the jump much earlier and dominated the NL in the first two decades of integration, the Phillies’ stance limited them to finishing at .500 twice from 1954 to ’61, but never above. They ran dead last for four straight years before climbing to 81–80 in 1962 under second-year manager Gene Mauch.

Invited to spring training in 1963, Allen hit nine home runs, but with the Phillies’ outfield set, the team sent him to Little Rock, which just six years earlier had been the site of an ugly scene when Faubus called in the Arkansas National Guard in order to prevent the court-ordered desegregation of Little Rock High School. The Phillies gave Allen 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 on the night that Allen debuted, with Faubus himself throwing out the first pitch and picketers carrying signs with slogans such as “Don’t Negro-ize baseball” and “N***** go home.” So rattled was Allen that the first ball hit to him in left field flew way over his head. He recovered to hit two doubles, including one amid the game-winning rally, but on his car after the game, he was greeted with a note: “DON’T COME BACK AGAIN N*****.” After receiving death threats and telling the Phillies he was quitting, he was rebuked by older brother Hank as well as his mother for pleading to come home. He 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. He lived with a Black family in the Black section of the segregated town, was often stopped by local police for no apparent reason, and couldn’t be served in restaurants unless accompanied by a white teammate. 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 International 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, a position he had never played regularly. “He has good reactions and good hands and third isn’t as demanding a spot as short or second where he began his career,” said the manager. 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 Phillies’ infamous collapse, Allen complained, “[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 (Baseball-Reference version, as are all such figures here) both ranked third in the league, and the latter ranks third among all rookie position players, topped only by Shoeless Joe Jackson (9.2 in 1911) and Mike Trout (10.5 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.

That rookie season began a six-year run over which Allen hit .300/.380/.555 (164 OPS+) while averaging 30 homers. He 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). He ranked among the league’s top 10 in homers five times in that span, including second in both 1966 (40) and ’68 (33), and made three straight All-Star teams. The Phillies bounced him around the diamond on a nearly annual basis; he spent significant time in left field in 1966 and ’68, and 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 Johnny 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 turned to alcohol: “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 regarding his conduct. On Aug. 24, 1967, while trying to push his stalled car up a driveway, he put his right hand through a headlight, severing tendons and nerves, requiring season-ending surgery, and sparking rumors of his having been stabbed in a bar fight or jumping 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, 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, he agreed to a truce, telling owner Bob Carpenter he was ready to play. An incensed Mauch gave the owner a “me or him” ultimatum, but 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:

“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.”

Allen’s teammates tore into him for his lackadaisical approach, which only led him to rebel further. He missed a doubleheader against the Mets in favor of a horse race, and was suspended indefinitely — 26 days, eventually, costing him $11,700 in salary — returning only after ownership agreed to trade him at the season’s end. 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. When Skinner resigned, 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 Oct. 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 northern-most Southern city” — refused to report, setting off an ultimately unsuccessful challenge to the Reserve Clause that would go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Allen, on the other hand, was overjoyed. “You don’t know how good it feels to get out of Philadelphia,” he said. “They treat you like cattle.”

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 but a hamstring injury limited him to five of the final 44 games, and the Cardinals were wary of his defense. On Oct. 5, 1970, he was traded to the Dodgers for two young players. He delivered 5.4 WAR in his lone season in L.A. while again bouncing around the diamond but chafed at what he felt were distracting public relations commitments. The Dodgers 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, Penn. (not far from Wampum), and again reminding the media that he preferred to be called Dick instead of Richie (a request still routinely ignored), Allen settled in at first base and hit .308/.420/.603 with a 199 OPS+, 37 homers, and 113 RBI. All of those numbers except his batting average led the league, while his 8.6 WAR, his best since his rookie campaign, ranked third. 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 AL MVP, receiving 21 of 24 first-place votes. His 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 despite injuries that limited him to just 200 games. On June 28, 1973, he collided with a runner at first base while stretching for a throw, suffering a hairline fracture of his left fibula. He returned five weeks later, limping while going 3-for-4, but 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… His teammates appreciated the effort, but some people in the press may not have understood. He seemed indestructible to them.”

Allen hit .301/.375/.563 in 1974, making his seventh All-Star team and leading the league in both slugging percentage and homers (32) in just 128 games. Alas, a mid-August shoulder injury sapped both his power and his will to play. On Sept. 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 remaining 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 1975. 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 lobbied the organization to reacquire him. Now 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 until the Phillies negotiated a four-player trade on May 7, and debuted a week later, 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; Allen hit just .233/.327/.385 with 12 homers in 119 games. In 1976, he hit a more robust .268/.346/.480 with 15 homers in 339 PA, but clashed with Ozark over the quality of his defense, found himself benched, and missed 39 games due to dizziness following a jarring collision at first base. Nonetheless, Philadelphia 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. Though productive early in the season, he not only cooled off but also 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 Tanner tried to talk him into joining the Pirates — whom he was then managing — in 1979, when Allen was 37, he never played again.

In retirement, Allen hoped to build up a stable of racehorses, but in a sad irony, his house burned down in October 1979, during the World Series in which Tanner’s Pirates faced the Orioles. Allen and his family survived, but he had fallen behind in his bills and was without insurance. He soon split from his wife, Barbara, who in the divorce took custody of their three children and received most of his remaining assets as well as his baseball pension.

Allen briefly worked as a spring training instructor with the Rangers in 1982, and then as a roving instructor with the White Sox in ’86, when he worked with prospect Ken Williams, an outfielder who today is the team’s executive vice president. Otherwise, he largely receded from view, training thoroughbreds on a Maryland farm owned by his brothers. He didn’t consider returning to baseball until 1991, after his daughter Terri was murdered. He approached several teams about a job as a hitting instructor or scout but was told to send a resumé. “All they had to do was look on the back of one of my bubble gum cards,” Allen told Sports Illustrated’s Franz Lidz in 1993. “I still love baseball, I do. But once you’re done with the game, the game is done with you.”

The game wasn’t quite done with Allen. In 1994, the Phillies hired him as a spring training instructor and a fan development and community representative; that same year, he was inducted into the team’s Wall of Fame. He maintained a level of visibility through the Phillies, participating in the 2003 closing ceremonies for Veterans Stadium and throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at the Division Series opener in 2009.

In 2010, he was elected to the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame. In 2018, he was elected to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum’s Hall of Game. “That’s the real Hall for me,” Allen said at his jersey retirement ceremony in Septmber. “They are a very elite group. They’re part of the legends. And to me, the way that it’s going, it could be a little political the way [the Baseball Hall of Fame] does things, but however, it’s beyond me. I pay no attention to it.”

One couldn’t blame Allen, given the way that his candidacy was treated. He first became eligible for election to the Hall in 1983 but received just 3.7% in his debut — perhaps not surprisingly given his tumultuous career and shortage in the counting stats. Adding insult to injury, venerable scribes such as Joe Falls, Charley Feeney, and BBWAA secretary Jack Lang patronizingly resurrected “Richie Allen” in their coverage. Because he fell short of the 5.0% minimum needed to maintain his eligibility, Allen was bumped from the ballot, but 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 another chance, including Allen, Ken Boyer, Flood, and Santo. 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. “Richie Allen also stayed ‘alive,'” wrote the Chicago Tribune’s Jerome Holtzman. Allen lingered on the ballot through 1997, topping out at 18.9% in ’96.

His candidacy wasn’t helped by Bill James. In his 1994 book, The Politics of Glory, James claimed that 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 2002, 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.”

Allen’s baggage isn’t pretty, but by now it’s also abundantly clear that it wasn’t all his baggage to begin with; Malcolm’s searing response was to my own embarrassingly under-researched conclusion. 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, 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). Even Skinner and Ozark, the two managers portrayed as the most openly critical of him, said that Allen wasn’t the problem with their teams and that they’d have him back again if given the chance.

After aging off the writers’ ballot, Allen fell under the purview of Veterans Committee, which starting in 2003 was enlarged to include all living Hall of Famers, Spink and Frick Award winners (the Hall’s lifetime honor for writers and broadcasters, respectively), and committee members whose terms had not expired. He received just 16.0% of the vote in the first of four tries and wasn’t included when the VC was junked in favor of the Era Committee format. Though eligible for the 2012 Golden Era Committee ballot, via which Santo was posthumously elected, Allen wasn’t considered, but he was on the ballot three years later, and thanks to an outreach campaign led by Mark 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-president of the Phillies), and Hemond (GM of the White Sox during his stay there), Allen received 11 of 16 votes, tied with Oliva for the highest among the 10 candidates, but one vote short of election nonetheless. In the wake of the bittersweet result, Gillick attempted to reassure the public that 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, but via its 2016 rule change, three committees became four, voted upon at differing frequencies, with the Golden Days Era Committee doing so every five years. 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 Aug. 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.

Allen’s death comes at the end of what’s been a very rough year for the baseball community. Six Hall of Famers — Lou Brock, Whitey Ford, Bob Gibson, Al Kaline, Joe Morgan, and Tom Seaver — have passed away in 2020, the second-highest total since the institution’s founding. More than a dozen other former All-Stars, including Tony Fernandez, Bob Watson, and Jimmy Wynn, have died as well. All of those players left their marks on the game and the world, but for the heartbreaking timing of Allen’s passage and the circumstances that surround it, none leaves a hole quite like this.

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. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and Mastodon @jay_jaffe.

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2 years ago

I have been waiting all day for this, Jay. An odd thing to write, really, considering context, but this, as always, did not disappoint. It’s so evident you put in even more hours on this piece, even though you’ve been, really, writing it for years…. Dick Allen deserved the respect you have always shown him. I am not sure I have the heart to write anything more than that today. Thank you.