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WSI News - Sox Interviews

 

Dick Allen:
Another View

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

 Back to 4. White Sox Years

Back to Philadelphia

Allen felt that his poor showing with the Phillies in 1975 was a result of the long layoff and having no spring training. (He joined the team in mid-May and went right into the line-up). But when I went through his daily logs, that theory comes up short. He did pick up his power hitting late in the year, but from August 1st on, he still hit only .246 in his final 167 ABs. Allen did have some good streaks in 1976 where it looked like he was coming back, but he suffered disabling shoulder problems again, and when he came back from the last occurrence, he was swinging very poorly. He hit just .228 in the final 241 ABs of his career.

But there is a silver lining to this precipitous decline in Allen's performance. It allows us to ask some very unsettling questions of Allen's critics. Some have suggested that everywhere Allen went his team eventually wised up and didn't want him around anymore. But they never explain how he ended up back in Philadelphia. Dick certainly was no stranger to them. The front office had shuffled a bit, but it was essentially the same people who had dealt with Allen in 1969. The Carpenter family still owned the team. Bill Giles had moved up from GM to executive VP, Paul Owens had gone from Farm Director to GM, and Dallas Green had gone from Assistant Farm Director to Director of Scouting. Their manager, Danny Ozark, had been Dick Allen's coach during his year in LA. The contingent that went to Allen's farm to talk him out of retirement was led by Richie Ashburn, who broadcast the Phillies games during Allen's whole prior career. (As a player, Ashburn had also been the friend and roommate of Frank Thomas.) They knew all they would ever need to know about this guy.

So if Dick Allen was as bad an apple as some people have painted him, why the heck would they go to such great lengths to bring him back? And if Dick Allen was such a horrible influence that he kept his teams from winning even when he was crushing the ball -- Bill James' conclusion -- then how did the 1975 Phillies go from a losing record to 86-76 even though Allen had a horrible year (.233 with only 12 HR in 416 ABs)?

And if Allen was such a divisive presence that his teams split into pro and anti-Allen camps, why would the Phillies ask him back after the worst year of his career? And if Allen kept his teams from winning, how did they improve to 101 wins in his second year, capturing their first championship in over 25 years?

His detractors dance around his teams' earlier second place finishes in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Chicago. What are we supposed to think about this second tour in Philadelphia? That if Allen had been a nicer fellow, the `76 Phillies would have broken the all-time win record?

I asked Ozark if he was consulted and had made a recommendation on Allen's acquisition:

"Sure, they asked me, and I told them I wanted him. Definitely. I admired him. He played through injuries. He never said `I don't want to play.' When he first hurt his shoulder -- it was May or June [1976] -- he didn't want to go on the DL. Even when he wasn't at his best, he was helping us. He did things right, if you know what I mean. He did things you can't find in the stats. He did things as a power-hitter that you'd expect a #2 hitter to do. He knew the game; he was a team player.... he did a lot of good things that nobody saw. He helped other players. He liked to help the young guys. He helped Mike Schmidt more than anyone. Mike will back that up. He got people talking in the dugout -- what a pitcher was doing, base running. He made them think.

The Phillies did not re-sign Allen after the 1976 season. Bill James suggests that Allen left the Phillies under a cloud, that Allen's "group" had held a separate victory party from the rest of the team, and that Allen had threatened not to play in the play-offs unless they made a spot for one of his teammates on the post-season roster. When I asked Ozark if he would have been willing to have Allen on the team in 1977, he said, "I would have been happy to have him back. They thought we might do better with a few changes. It was just a move. He wasn't the only change we made."

Dick Allen on the cover of the 1974 Baseball Digest.  Allen retired in September while leading the league in homeruns!

The Phillies brought in lefty Richie Hebner to replace Allen at first base. This helped balance out a line-up that lacked lefty power and had only one true lefty regular, Jay Johnstone (Larry Bowa switch-hit). In 1977, Hebner hit .285 with a .484 slugging percentage, and that was an improvement over either of Allen's final years in Philly.

The Phillies also had reason to be concerned about Allen's health and his ability to swing a productive bat. The last time he dislocated his shoulder, he was out 40 days, and after his return he was 14 for 70 (.200) with 2 home runs, and in the play-offs he was just 2 for 9. Allen's performance in Oakland before his final retirement also supports this theory. For Charlie Finley's bargain basement A's, he hit .240 with little power.

I naturally asked Ozark about the incidents described in Bill's book:

"I'll tell you what happened [with that party story]. We clinched in Montreal, winning the first game of a doubleheader. I didn't play the regulars during the second game. While the game was going on, they had a little party back in the clubhouse -- I think some even had a prayer meeting. It was no big deal. I knew about it. It was okay with me. It was okay with Carpenter [Club President] and Owens [GM] who were at the game. As for that other stuff [threatening to sit if a teammate was left off the post-season roster], I just don't remember it. Do you know the player's name? I'm not saying it didn't happen, but people say things, and sometimes reporters make them an issue when they're not. For me -- for us -- it was probably just nothing."

It did happen. The player was Tony Taylor, a 40-year-old veteran who was in his final season and had played 15 years for the Phillies. Dick, and probably many others, felt it was unjust that on the eve of the play-offs, they would now take Taylor's uniform away. Allen did threaten not to play, saying that they could take his uniform as well. By speaking up, Allen brought about a compromise that seemed fairer to everyone; Taylor would be in uniform in post-season play as a coach.

This incident, which seems so important to James, is considered so insignificant by the manager of the team that he doesn't even remember it today. That's something that James and others should stop and think about as they assess Allen's career. Do they really have an understanding of the types of personalities that a winning team cannot abide or the types of storms and internal conflicts that a team cannot weather?

When we talk about contributions beyond a player's performance, most players are a mixture of pluses and minuses, and Dick Allen was no exception. On the negative side he is stubborn, lacks tact, and he has a problem with rules and authority. In my talks with Allen, I found that he had a good mind for a lot of subjects, but he had little grasp of the hierarchy of group management, how it works and what it requires. Dick sincerely felt that everyone should be treated at a personal level under any and all circumstances. Given his unusual philosophy, at some point every manager was going to do something out of the innocent necessity of his job that would be seen as a hurtful betrayal from Dick's perspective. That naturally made Dick a tougher player to manage.

Continue to 6. The Positive Side


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