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WSI News - Sox Interviews

 

Dick Allen:
Another View

By Craig R. Wright
as originally published by SABR magazine.
  

 

Editor's Note:  A quarter-century after he retired, Dick (nee Richie) Allen remains one of baseball's greatest enigmas.  One of his biggest critics has been sabermatician Bill James, much of it based on his conjecture of Dick's role in hurting the performance of his teammates and thus his team's won-loss record.

Does James' theory hold up?  What are the viewpoints of Allen held by the very people James claims were hurt by Allen?  That's what baseball scout and author Craig Wright wanted to know.  What he found might surprise you and stands as a very different viewpoint from those commonly believed about the former Sox star.

With Craig's permission, here in its entirety is the article he authored as published by SABR magazine.  It is easily the most complete analysis of the subject available anywhere on the internet.  White Sox Interactive is pleased to bring it to you.

  -- GB

Dick Allen, three baseballs, and one cigarette, inside the Comiskey Park dugout--and on the cover of Sports Illustrated, June, 1972!  Allen went on to win the American League MVP award that year.

In recent years, I have been surprised at the harsh assessments of the career of Dick Allen, from his brief bio in "Total Baseball" to Bill James' scathing comments in his otherwise excellent book on the Hall of Fame, "The Politics of Glory" A grudging respect is given to Allen's offensive numbers which are easily understood and irrefutable in their excellence, but in the grayer areas of player evaluation, it seems that great liberties have been taken to shed the worst possible light on his career.

For example, the assessment of Allen's defense in Total Baseball begins with the mocking comment, "He came to the Phillies a professed third baseman," and goes on to note that he led the league in errors a couple times and ended up being shifted to first base. The truth is that Allen never played third base in the minors, and had the unenviable task of learning the position while breaking into the majors at age 21. Allen was error prone, but it is inaccurate to suggest to future generations that he was a brutal third baseman whose poor fielding led to his move to first base.

From 1964 to 1967, Allen had more assists and started more double plays at third base than any NL third baseman except Gold Glover Ron Santo. And that was true even though a dislocated throwing shoulder kept Allen from playing 3rd base for nearly half the 1966 season.

Chances Fielded Cleanly Per Game
1964-67 NL 3B (400 games, min.)

1) 3.40 Ron Santo

2) 2.84 Dick Allen

3) 2.81 Ken Boyer

That's two pretty good gloves to be sandwiched between, and that stat deserves to be mentioned at least as much as Allen's poor .932 fielding percentage -- which, incidentally, is better than Santo's fielding percentages over his first four seasons as a professional third baseman. Allen may never have developed into a good third baseman -- he never did throw as well after the injury to his shoulder -- but there was no thought of moving him off third base until the 1967 hand injury that damaged the nerves in his throwing hand, making it difficult for him to grip and throw the ball accurately. That is why he ended up being moved to first base.

Yet this slanted assessment of Allen's fielding is nothing compared to the wild things that have been written about his influence in the clubhouse. James concluded that Dick had such a negative clubhouse presence that despite his heavy hitting he did "more to keep his teams from winning than anybody else who ever played major league baseball."

When Dick Allen was a spring training instructor with the Rangers in 1982, I got to know him a bit and talked with him about his career. In the intervening years I have had the chance to talk with several people who were also there at various points in Allen's career. Their accounts are consistent, and it is clear there are some gross factual errors in many of these harsh written assessments of his career, and the authors also seem to have mightily misread his impact on his teams, managers, and teammates.

In writing this article, I interviewed Gene Mauch, Bob Skinner, Red Schoendienst, Chuck Tanner, and Danny Ozark. With the exception of Walter Alston who died in 1984, that covers every big league manager who had Allen for at least half a season. While I could not interview Alston, I did discuss Dick's year in LA with two of their coaches, Carol Beringer and Danny Ozark. I also interviewed Roland Hemond who was the GM in Chicago during Dick's White Sox days, and I spoke with numerous others who had personal contact with Dick.

The most helpful in that regard was Pat Corrales, who was an early teammate of Allen's in the minors and in his first two years in Philadelphia. Gene Mauch recommended Corrales as someone from those early days who knew Dick Allen "better than anyone, perhaps better than Dick himself." I tried to contact Allen to refresh my memories of our 1982 conversations about his career. He did not respond to my messages relayed through the Phillies. That did not surprise me. This is not a project he would welcome, and my guess is that he would be happy to leave things as they are, that he would be content to be known only by those close enough to know him first hand.

Continue to 2. Philadelphia Years   


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