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WSI News - Sox Interviews

 

Dick Allen:
Another View

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

Back to 1. Another View

The Philadelphia Years

Keeping in mind James' claim that Allen actually hurt his teams, I made it a point to ask each of these managers if after their experiences with Allen, they would have traded fair market value to have Dick on their team again. Gene Mauch managed Allen longer than any other manager, and in his mind there was no question that the pluses outweighed the minuses.

"I've never been in contact with a greater talent. He was held in absolute awe by every player in the league. He had tremendous power. He had a great feel for the game, and he was one of the finest base runners -- which is different from base stealing -- that I ever saw. If I was managing California today and Allen was in his prime, I'd take him in a minute."

In our interview, Gene downplayed any problems that he had managing Allen, with the exception of Dick's being frequently late getting to the ballpark.

"One year I fined him probably more than the minimum salary over times he got to the park late. He never missed a game -- wasn't late for the game itself, but he was late getting to the park. And I fined him for that. I should say he fined himself. He knew what he was doing."

Pat Corrales also mentioned Dick's chronic tardiness early in his career.

"He got better after awhile, but being on time definitely wasn't something that came naturally to [Allen]. He just wasn't careful with the clock. If I have to be someplace at three, I'm there at 2:45, if not sooner. Dick would shoot for 2:58, and if he got there at 3:15, 3:30, he didn't care.

Dick's 1973 Topps baseball card.

James' basic complaint against Allen is that he was a divisive presence on his teams, that: "Every team that he played for degenerated into warring camps of pro-Dick Allen and anti-Dick Allen factions." I asked Mauch if that was true with any of his teams, he was emphatic in his denial, "Never. His teammates always liked him. You could go forever and not meet a more charming fellow." Later in the interview he came back to this topic to make the following point:

"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."

That last part is important as some critics have suggested that Allen was a manipulative clubhouse lawyer. Corrales did not accept that view, "No, I didn't see that. He wasn't a guy who would use people." And Mauch's famous line, "Richie Allen walks to the beat of a different drummer," also suggests individualism more than a clubhouse politician.

Allen's critics invariably mention the fight that took place in 1965 between Allen and teammate Frank Thomas. Their theme has been that this fight disrupted the team harmony and kept them from building off their 1964 performance when they won 92 games, finishing one game back. Bill James described it this way: "In 1965, when the Phillies were trying to overcome the memory of having blown the pennant in the last few days of the 1964 season, Allen got into a fight with a teammate early in the season, forcing a trade."

An important correction to that interpretation is that the fight actually took place in the middle of the season, on July 3rd. The team was already well off their 1964 pace before the fight ever happened. Their pitching wasn't nearly as good, and they had a couple of older players who had been key figures in 1964 who were on their way out in 1965. One of them was 36-year-old Frank Thomas who had lost his outfield job, and when the fight took place he was hitting .250 with 0 HR in 76 ABs. Pat Corrales remembers it this way:

"It had really started earlier on our road trip in Chicago. Thomas was your tough bully type, and he had been picking on Johnny Briggs [21-year-old black outfielder], saying `Boy this' and `Boy that.' Dick didn't go for that, and there were some words between them. We get back to Philly, and during early BP I'm down the line talking with Mauch, when we see this commotion down at the cage. They were just pulling them apart at this point, after Thomas swung the bat. During the fight, Thomas had hit Dick with a bat -- on the shoulder."

The fight bothered Thomas so much that in the following game he hit his first homer of the year, but his career continued to slide away. He finished the year as a weak reserve with Houston and Milwaukee, hitting .187 in 91 ABs.

When Mauch told Allen that Thomas was being put on irrevocable waivers, Dick protested on Frank's behalf. Mauch ordered Allen and his teammates not to speak to the press about the fight and backed it up with a threat of stiff fines. 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. Mauch told me, "They really turned on him [Allen] after the Thomas fight. From there, if he did one little thing wrong, they would see it as so much worse because it was Allen. They got it in their heads that this was a bad guy, and they booed his every move."

But the view of the fans and the press was not the view in the clubhouse. Both Mauch and Corrales saw no effect on team morale, and Corrales noted that his teammates backed Allen in this dispute. In the book Crash, teammate Johnny Callison said, "Thomas rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. Mauch wanted him gone -- and here was his excuse. ... Thomas got himself fired when he swung that bat at Richie. In baseball you don't swing a bat at another player -- ever."

Allen hit well in the game after the fight, going 3 for 4. At that point, he led the NL in hitting with a .341 average. But overnight, Allen's shoulder swelled to twice its normal size. Corrales remembers, "He couldn't lift that shoulder for awhile, and it bothered him for some time." Dick continued to play and led the team with 161 games played, but it appears the injury affected his hitting."

Team Record

Allen in 1965   BA   AB  HR RBI  W-L  Win%

Thru July 3rd    .341  279  11   49   40-35  .526

After July 3rd   .271  340   9    36   45-41  .523

Rather than hurting team morale, it looks like Allen's teammates picked him up as they managed to play at about the same level as they did earlier when Allen was stinging the ball.

James wrote that the 1964 Phillies were a "young team ... that never did come together, and were never in position to win again," and suggests that Dick's disruptive presence was responsible. At least he showed enough restraint not to call them "young and talented." Most of their young players simply weren't that good. Bobby Wine (25) couldn't hit; Tony Gonzalez (27) was an outfielder who lacked power, and John Herristein (26) was a weak hitting first baseman who had to be replaced by 32-year-old Dick Stuart the very next year. Johnny Callison (25) was pretty good, but subsequent injuries limited him to just one big year after 1964. With the exception of Allen, there is no one under 32 on that team who went on to star in the big leagues.

Still, Mauch's Phillies did well with Allen until their pitching started to collapse in 1968. And if Allen were holding them back, you sure couldn't tell by the way they played the two times he was on the disabled list. In April of 1966, Allen dislocated his shoulder and the team went 11-13 without him. After his 1967 season was ended by the serious hand injury, they went 19-21, including six 1-0 losses.

But playing in Philadelphia was an increasingly hellish experience for Allen. In 1967, Allen asked the Phillies several times to trade him. He was getting threatening hate mail, and some of his friends were even urging him to hire a bodyguard. The response to his hand injury was the final straw. While trying to deal with an injury that doctors felt could end his career, rumors were spread that his story of the accident was a cover-up, that Allen had been knifed in a bar fight or jumped through a window after getting caught sleeping with a teammate's wife.

For the record, Allen was pushing a stalled car up his driveway when his right hand slipped and went into a headlight. Pat Corrales: "I asked his Momma about it. She was there. She wouldn't lie about it. Dick wouldn't lie about it." To this day Allen has little sensation in the two middle fingers on his throwing hand. He would have trouble with his throws -- particularly in cold weather -- the rest of his career. Dick told me, "Those two fingers would stay on the ball, and I would be throwing sliders."

In his biography Crash, Allen talks about how the steady abuse wore on him mentally and emotionally. "I'd been hearing I was a bum for so long that I began to think maybe that's just what I was." With free agency not yet even a gleam in Marvin Miller's eye, in the spring of 1968 he began a campaign of minor transgressions of team rules in hopes that it would cause Philadelphia to trade him.

1968 was the team's first losing season with Allen, and Mauch resigned about a third of the way into the season. By Dick's own admission he had been far more of a problem player that spring, so I was surprised when Mauch insisted in our interview that, "Allen wasn't a factor. I'd been there a long time, and ... I was ready to move on."

Mauch also refused to blame Allen for the team's poor play in 1968, but he did seem to second-guess himself and ownership about whether they were being fair to Dick and the team by forcing him to stay in Philadelphia. I asked Gene if he felt Dick ever had a negative influence on the team:

"Never. Well, there are a lot of ways to look at that. His trouble with the fans might have been distracting. It was a bad situation. ... they booed his every move. When they gave him a tough time over his hand injury -- questioning his story about how it happened -- that's when Allen wanted out."

That led me to ask Gene whether he felt any of this teams might have been better off if Allen had been traded away.

"No. He was irreplaceable as a player. Maybe that last year in '68. I don't know. He wanted out, and that team wasn't going anywhere anyway. It might have been better to trade him then. "

Mauch was right about the 1968 Phillies being a team going nowhere. The team had been burned by some bad deals. They were stuck with an aging Bill White on first base, who at age 34 hit .239 with little power. Worse, they had 37-year-old Larry Jackson in the rotation, whom they had acquired by trading away a young Fergie Jerkins who was now 24 years old and winning 20 games with the Cubs. Their pitching staff collapsed, going from the 4th best ERA in 1967 to the league's 3rd worst in 1968.

And Dick Allen? In this extreme year of the pitcher he hit 33 homers and drove in 90 runs for a team where no one else had more than 48. Only Willie McCovey had more homers or a higher percentage of his team's RBIs. New manager Bob Skinner, who managed the last two-thirds of the season, did not remember having any problems with Allen that season. "I don't recall any real incidents in `68, nothing that would make him stand out from most players. He wasn't late; he didn't miss any games."

Corrales made the point that Dick "was years ahead of us [players] in seeing that it was wrong for the owners to have such complete control over our careers." In the off-season, on January 1st, the players' union had a historic meeting of 130 players where they discovered the solidarity of their feelings in battling the owners for their rights. Over 20 years later, in Marvin Miller's book A Whole Different Ballgame, Dick Allen's voice was the one he remembered best.

"He [Allen] did not speak in the early part of the meeting but later spoke with quiet dignity in a fashion that indicated he had been listening carefully. 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."

But in 1969, it was still just Allen versus the Phillies’ right to retain his services for the rest of his career. Allen described 1969 to me as a year of anger and confusion. He was a figure of ambivalence; he still had the desire to play well but there was no joy to it; his heart wasn't fully in it.

In May, for the first time in his career, Allen arrived at the park after the game had started. Skinner fined him $1,000, a huge fine for that era. A month later, Allen forgot that the starting time for a doubleheader in New York had been moved up. He was on his way to the ballpark when he heard on the radio that the first game had started and that Skinner had suspended him. While acknowledging that he was wrong and had no excuse, Allen had reached a point of such misery that he could not remember the last time he had fun playing ball. He finally decided he would rather retire than continue to play in Philadelphia.

At the time Allen was hitting .318 and was on pace for his best HR year. (He had hit 19 in their 62 games, which projects to 50 in a full season). A month later Allen was reinstated and came back only after ownership made him a firm promise to trade him at the end of the year.

From my interviews with his managers, it is safe to say that his extreme offenses in 1969 were something that Allen had never done before and would never do again. Mauch had trouble with Allen getting to the park on time, but he also noted that he was never late for a game and never missed a game. With the Cardinals, Red Schoendienst said, "He was always on time for me ... He never gave me any trouble." Chuck Tanner and Carol Beringer (LA coach) said pretty much the same thing. Danny Ozark was very emphatic: "He wasn't any problem for me, ever, not in LA or Philly. He was super. He did everything I asked him to."

But even if one succeeds in getting folks to treat 1969 as a unique season in Allen's career, we still have to battle a stubborn perception that Allen ruined the Phillies season, that he was the reason the 1969 Phillies were such a horrible team. The simple truth is that the 1969 Phillies improved their offense relative to the league. The problem was the continued demise of their pitching. Chris Short, their #1 starter in 1968, threw only 10 innings in 1969 before being shelved by back surgery. Only the two expansion teams had a worse ERA than the Phillies.

Despite a late season slump and missing 44 games, Allen still led the team in batting average, homers, and RBIs. The question is, how much should Allen's 1969 transgressions be held against him? There have been some analysts who suggest that Allen didn't help the team at all in 1969. They point to the fact that the Phillies had their longest winning streak of the year while Allen was suspended. What they don't mention about that winning streak is that nearly half the wins came against Montreal, the new expansion team that lost 110 games, and that shortly after that streak -- still without Allen -- they lost 7 in a row. Despite playing Montreal nine times in those 31 games, they were only 13-18 during Dick's suspension. That is hardly a strong endorsement that they were a better team without him. I asked Bob Skinner if he ever felt his 1969 team was better off without Dick.

"No, I had a poor team, and he was way above everyone else. He was a good player, a damn good player. 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 that he was trying to get them to move [trade] him. He was very unhappy. He wanted out. There were people in Philadelphia treating him very badly, throwing garbage on his lawn, things like that."

I also asked Skinner my standard question about whether Allen had been a divisive presence on the team.

"I didn't see any of that in the time I had him. 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."

I asked Skinner that if he were managing somewhere in 1970, would he have okayed a trade for Allen at a reasonable price:

"At any price. Any time you have a shot at a player of that caliber, you want to take it. He was a great hitter; one of the best base runners you'd ever want to see, and he had great instincts for the game. He had some throwing problems with the bad hand, but you could play him at first base well enough. I'd gladly have taken him."

Skinner resigned in August, after ownership gave Allen permission to skip an exhibition game with their AAA farm team. When I asked if his problems with Allen contributed to his resigning, Skinner said, "No. In my eyes, Allen was just another player. My problem was with the front office."

In assessing Allen's professional career, there is no excuse for Allen's transgressions in 1969. Regardless of how desperate or how justified Allen may have been in trying to reach his personal goal, it doesn't change the fact that those actions negatively affected the team. But I think we do need to ask, as historians, if we are assessing the damage in a realistic manner, and if we are unfairly projecting that negative effect into the evaluation of the rest of his career.

Without disputing that what Allen did in 1969 was wrong and hurt his team, is it really all that different from what other players have done to their teams at isolated points in their careers? Why are we more forgiving of, say, Roger Clemens in 1987 than we are of Dick Allen in 1969?

In 1987, as a young player without arbitration rights, Clemens refused to accept Boston's right to renew his contract when their negotiations broke down -- which is something his union had agreed to in forming the same salary structure that would be so lucrative to Clemens in the following years. On the day the spring exhibition schedule was to begin, Clemens walked out of camp and didn't return until April 4th. He was not ready to pitch when the season started; he didn't win a game until April 21st, and through June he was only 6-6. He pitched very well after that, but by then his team had already fallen out of the race.

Now where is the difference between Clemens and Allen? The Red Sox were coming off a season where they came within one strike of being World Champions. If I had been a Red Sox player, I would have been a little upset with Clemens taking a hike the next spring. At least Allen's personal battle was not hurting the Phillies in a year where they had a chance to win anything.

It has been suggested to me that the difference between the two is that the Red Sox players would "understand" Clemens' battle, be sympathetic to his stand, and thus it would be less disruptive to the team. Well, Boston was disrupted enough to misplace 18 wins from their 1986 total, but never mind; if that's the difference between Clemens and Allen, then there is no difference. The manager of Allen's team has told us that his teammates "did not have a sense of animosity toward him. ... They had some understanding of what was going on."

Both players hurt their teams by putting a personal goal ahead of the team. Both had reasons that did not overly alienate them from their teammates. Both helped their teams with their play. Neither deserves to have his whole career colored by that single season. It has not happened with Clemens; it should not happen with Allen.

The 1969 season ended Allen's first tour of duty with Philadelphia. Even with those two weak final seasons, it is still a far better six-year period than they had before Allen, and better than the six-year period they had after he was gone. The difference was the big bat of Dick Allen.

Even with the Phillies trading with their back to the wall, there was a good market for Allen's services. There were a couple of minor players exchanged on both sides, but the deal that sent Allen to St. Louis boils down to Allen for Tim McCarver, a fine catcher in his physical prime (just five months older than Allen), and Curt Flood, a Gold Glove center fielder.

There is irony in Allen being in this particular deal. Flood, who is black, did not want to go to Philadelphia and challenged baseball's reserve clause, setting in motion the chain of events that would bring about the present case of free agent rights after six years of service. Under the modern rules of free agency, Dick would have been able to play through that last season in Philly knowing he would be a free agent at the end of the year. We can only guess at what a difference that could have made in his career and how Allen is viewed today.

Continue to 3. St. Louis & L.A.


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