Grave Story: Sled Allen (1886-1959)

Here lies Sled Allen, a backup catcher for the St. Louis Browns in 1910. This is one of my most favorite baseball stories ever, because it shows you what you miss if you never look outside of a player’s career. If you only pay attention to his playing career, you see he played in the minors for a few years and then passed away in the ’70s. What you miss is that Sled Allen played a pretty important part in the growth and creativity of the Texas music scene. If Texas music means anything to you, the name “Allen” may be familiar for a good reason: this is Terry Allen’s dad.

I wrote Sled Allen’s entry in the SABR Bio Project, so if you want to get the full story of his life in several thousand words, go and check it out. It’s pretty fascinating stuff. This is the Cliff’s Notes version:

Fletcher Manson Allen was born on August 23, 1886 in West Plains, Mo. One of his most vivid memories of life in Missouri was the time he had a bad case of tonsillitis in a blizzard when he was a child. The local doctor burned them out of him with a hot fireplace poker while his father and brothers held him down. So it kind of makes sense that he ran away from the family farm as soon as he possibly could to chase his baseball dreams.

Allen started playing professionally with the Enid Railroaders of the Western Association in 1908. He picked up the nickname of “Sled” due to the size of his feet. He hit .147 in his first season but brought his average up more than 100 points in 1909. He was invited to the Browns’ Spring Training camp in 1910 and got his chance to play in the majors that May. Unfortunately for Allen, he managed just 3 hits in 23 at-bats for a .130 average. His last career hit was a double off of the Philadelphia A’s Eddie Plank. His MLB career ended after about two months.

Source: The (Louisville) Courier-Journal, March 16, 1911.

Allen spent the rest of 1910 and all of 1911 playing for the Louisville Colonels of the American Association. He then played for the Houston Buffaloes until 1916, retiring from pro ball when he was 29 years old. He never was much of a hitter in the minor leagues; his topped .250 just once and slugged over .300 once.

Allen’s ties to baseball lasted for years. He managed teams all across Texas through the 1940s, both for professional minor-league teams and semi-pro teams. As player-manager of the Lubbock Hubbers, he led the team to win the Denver Post Tournament, a sort of World Series for semi-pro teams, in 1925.

During the Depression, Allen traveled wherever he would find work. Notably, he tried working at a pork slaughterhouse in Kansas City. The job lasted three days before he grew tired of the screaming of pigs, and he never ate bacon again. Allen’s eventually settled in Lubbock and made it his home. He became a wrestling promoter there and booked events for decades, drawing some of the top names in pro wrestling. He later expanded his booking into the music world, leasing a shuttered church and turning it into Sled Allen’s Jamboree Hall.

Allen brought Elvis Presley and Little Richard to Lubbock. He hosted the area’s first integrated dance party, featuring Ray Charles. Those early rock & roll shows had a tremendous affect on Lubbock’s youth in the 1950s. Several of them, Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock, would go on to play music professionally. Either working together as The Flatlanders or solo, they have recorded dozens upon dozens of classic albums that helped give rise to the Texas music scene.

Then there is Terry Allen. The only child from Sled Allen’s second marriage, Terry took more after his mother, who was a piano player. Living for a spell in San Francisco before returning home to Texas, Terry has produced multiple albums that are essential parts of the Texas Music canon. His 1979 release Lubbock (On Everything) is widely considered a masterpiece. Apart from being a singer/songwriter, Allen is also a playwright, painter, sculptor and poet. He’s produced several exhibits, including Dugout, a series of mixed media pieces that celebrate the lives of his parents.

Sled Allen died of bone cancer on October 16, 1959. He was 73 years old. He made it to the end of the 1959 World Series, slipping into a coma shortly after the Dodgers finished off the White Sox in Game 6, on October 8. He is buried in Lubbock City Cemetery — the same cemetery where Lubbock’s own Buddy Holly is buried.

Terry Allen wrote a song about his dad, “Red Leg Boy.” The recording features Terry’s sons, musicians Bukka and Bale. Bale’s son, who kicks off the song with some toddler-speak, is named Sled — that’s no nickname. He became a pretty good athlete in high school, so he clearly got more from his grandfather than just the name.

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