Obituary: Dick Allen (1942-2020)


RIP to Dick Allen, one of the most feared sluggers of his era and a 7-time All-Star, Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year. His family announced on his social media accounts that Allen died on December 7 in his home town of Wampum, Pa. He was 78 years old. Allen played for the Philadelphia Phillies (1963-69, 1975-76), St. Louis Cardinals (1970), Los Angeles Dodgers (1971), Chicago White Sox (1972-75) and Oakland Athletics (1977).

Ex-White Sox teammate Bill Melton told the Chicago Sun-Times that Allen had been battling cancer and had been hospitalized recently. “He refused to take chemo the second time around,” Melton said. “For me, it was typical Dick Allen: ‘I’ve had enough.’ And when he has enough, he moves on.”

Before we get into his life, let’s clear up something that had been a part of the Dick Allen persona for decades: that he was moody, sullen player and a clubhouse cancer. A lot of that stems from his early years of playing in Philadelphia and handling the Phillies media. Allen was the first African-American star the Phillies ever had, and there was friction whenever anyone, be it the fans or a sportswriter, tried to put him in his place. Some of it was over the dumbest stuff. He came up as Richie Allen, but he didn’t like being called “Richie.” He said it made him sound like a 10-year-old. No big deal, right? Nobody pressed Mike Stanton when he said he preferred to be called Giancarlo. The change was practically overnight. But Allen was called “Richie” for years until he joined the White Sox. And as for the clubhouse problem thing, I’ve read many quotes from former teammates, and the positives outweigh the negatives, by far. Managers may have had their problems with him, but most of his teammates loved him.

“Dick will be remembered as not just one of the greatest and most popular players in our franchise’s history but also as a courageous warrior who had to overcome far too many obstacles to reach the level he did,” the Phillies said in a statement Monday. That may be their way of acknowledging that they didn’t do him any favors when he was in their organization. As we’ll see, one of his stops in the minor leagues was for a team in Arkansas — in 1963! I don’t think there was anything malicious behind the decision — Allen was ready for AAA, and the Phillies AAA affiliate was the Arkansas Travelers. Simple as that. But what was fine for one of their white prospects led to a series of traumatic events for Allen, and nobody thought about it in those terms, or cared to put Allen in a better situation.

Allen may not be 100% blameless for the way he was perceived, but if someone gets pushed enough, they will eventually push back. I think the Dick Allen we saw in more recent years, where he was interacting with fans on Twitter and being grateful for the honors he was given, was a glimpse at a kinder and friendlier personality that we were never really able to see in his playing days.

One other thing worth noting: Dick Allen never took a bad picture. Try and find one of him in a baseball uniform looking goofy, because I couldn’t. And he played in some of the most godawful uniforms of his time, like the red-and-white Candy Cane White Sox and the green-and-gold paint store softball uniforms the A’s wore. Some people are born to be baseball players, and Allen was one of them.

Richard Anthony Allen was born on March 8, 1942 in Wampum, Pa. The Allens are one of the rare families that sent three brothers to the major leagues: older brother Hank (b. 1940) and younger brother Ron (b. 1943) both followed Dick to the major leagues. There were a total of nine children in the family.

Allen and his brothers were excellent athletes at Wampum High School; Dick, Ron and Hank all made All-State basketball teams, according to his SABR biography. Wampum High picked up several basketball championships over larger rivals, thanks to the talented Allen Brothers. Dick Allen once contributed 42 points in a game where Wampum destroyed Neshannock by a score of 154 to 54.

Dick Allen was a one-of-a-kind talent. Johnny Ogden, the scout who signed him for the Phillies, spent thousands of dollars in long-distance calls to Wampum and visited countless times, making sure that Allen wouldn’t get lured away by another scout.

“I couldn’t have slept the rest of my life if I’d have lost him,” said the scout in 1966. “This is my 50th year in pro baseball and I never saw a hitter before in my life like him.

“They [the Phillies] say go out and sign another one,” Ogden added. “There aren’t any other ones.”

Allen was an All-Star basketball player in high school. Source: New Castle News, March 31, 1960.

Hank Allen made his debut in professional baseball first, starting the 1960 season with the Elmira Pioneers of the New York-Pennsylvania League. Ogden had arranged that deal as well, to help entice Hank’s brother to the Phillies. Dick Allen was in his senior year of high school and completed his athletic career there by being named MVP of the WPIAL League in basketball and a first-team member of the Little All-State Basketball Team. He signed a $70,000 contract with the Philadelphia Phillies on June 5, 1960. The next day, he joined Elmira — as a shortstop — and clubbed an inside-the-park home run in his first pro game. Allen hit .281 with 8 homers in his first year.

Allen moved up to the Class-C Magic Valley Cowboys (Twin Falls, Idaho) of the Pioneer League and hit .317 with 21 home runs. He was left unprotected in the offseason expansion draft, so both the Mets and Colt .45s could have had him for $75,000 if they wanted him. Allen stayed with the Phillies and had another sensational year with the Williamsport Grays in 1962, where he hit .329 and narrowly lost out on a batting title to Jim Ray Hart of Springfield. He also blasted 21 homers and drove in 109 runs and was a unanimous pick for the Eastern League’s All-Star Team.

Allen made it to the major leagues in 1963, but not before surviving a season with the Arkansas Travelers. He was the first black ballplayer in the team’s history, though he was later joined by others, including Fergie Jenkins.

On the field, Allen hit .289 and led the International League in home runs (33), RBIs (97), triples (12) and total bases (299) and finished second to Don Buford in the Rookie of the Year and MVP vote. The stats don’t tell the whole story of his season, as Allen had to deal with the racism that came with integrating the team. When he arrived at the Little Rock airport, he was greeted by a picket line with a sign that read, “DON’T NEGRO-IZE OUR BASEBALL.” He found notes on his car telling him to get out of town. He was also stuck learning to play the outfield on a pretty substandard field. Some reports stated that he won the fans over with his play and became quite popular, but bigotry doesn’t vanish just because you’re a power hitter.

Allen was rewarded for his good season with a call to the majors in September, and he responded with 7 hits, including 2 doubles and a triple, in 24 at-bats. His first major-league hit was a double to left off the Braves’ Denny Lemaster on September 3, 1963. He would never return to the minors.

The only question the Phillies had about Allen in 1964 was where to play him. Manager Gene Mauch decided to put him at third base, and he committed 41 errors. He demonstrated all throughout his career that third base was not a good position for him, but that didn’t stop managers from putting him there. The offense, though, compensated for his defense. He batted .318 with 29 home runs and 91 RBIs and led all of baseball with 125 runs scored and 13 triples. He had 201 hits and topped the NL in total bases with 352. Allen was the runaway pick for the NL Rookie of the Year Award and finished in seventh place in the MVP vote.

Allen also led the NL with 138 strikeouts, and he admitted he fanned a lot in the minors as well. Not that Mauch minded. “Best damn rookie hitter and third baseman I’ve ever seen,” the manager said. “He’s made this club a contender.”

The ’64 Phillies were indeed a contender until an infamous late-season slump knocked them into second place. Allen tried his best to carry the team to the World Series, with a .341 batting average and .618 slugging percentage in September and October. Allen wouldn’t play a postseason game until the tail end of his career.

An AP article from April 1964 hints at a couple things that would cause problems for Allen later in his Phillies tenure. Writer Frank Eck noted Allen’s name preference. “To be truthful, I’d like to be called Dick. I don’t know how the Richie started,” Allen explained. Sportswriters across the country pretty much ignored that request.

The second issue concerned his stay in Arkansas and some issues with the Travelers’ manager, Frank Lucchesi. “Me and the manager didn’t get along too well. He’s a funny guy,” Allen said. “I wanted to play at third base but he wouldn’t put me there… I played left field there. Originally I was a shortstop and a second baseman.” The two would get into a war of words as Allen was leaving the Phillies and Lucchesi was joining at the next manager.

The Phillies sank to the middle of the standings after 1964, but Allen made the All-Star Team each of the next three seasons. They may be some of the most under-reported All-Star seasons in memory, because every writer was focusing on the off-the-field issues. But Allen hit over .300 each year, led the NL in slugging with a .632 mark in 1966 and on-base percentage at .404 in ’67. He crushed 40 home runs with 110 RBIs in 1966, which were second- and third-best in the league, respectively. He finished fourth in the MVP race, and the three players ahead of him (Clemente, Mays, Koufax) are among the best in baseball history. While speed was never a huge part of Allen’s game, he had 20 steals in 1967 and was thrown out just five times.

What did people write about? For one thing, he talked about quitting baseball before reluctantly signing a contract for the 1965 season. Allen took issue with the notion that rookies should be paid like rookies, even after a Rookie of the Year season. “I had a good year and I want to be paid for it,” he explained. “Like you’re a meat salesman working for me and you do an outstanding job during the week and you want your dust [money] on Friday. You don’t want it three years from now — you want it Friday, and you’re entitled to it.”

Allen even talked about going back to Wampum to work in a mill. “In the mill, I could live like a human being at least and not be on my knees crawling for a raise,” he said.

In July of that same season, Allen got into a fight with teammate Frank Thomas. Thomas was known to be pretty abrasive and sarcastic, and he had been needling Allen for some time. Dick Allen of the Daily News wrote: “… Thomas was getting to Allen, who is still a kid and has a low boiling point. Allen wears a pretty good-sized chip on his shoulder, and when Frank Thomas passed some crack during their exchange, comparing Richie’s mouth to that of Cassius Clay, Allen read racial derogation into the remark, and the fight started.”

Note that Allen’s sensitivity was the problem. Young swore that Thomas was a good Catholic who wasn’t a bigot. At any rate, Allen punched Thomas, and Thomas hit Allen in the shoulder with a bat. Thomas, who only had about 100 at-bats left in his career, was placed on waivers. Allen wasn’t punished, but the fans turned against him. So did many in the press.

“Frank Thomas shouldn’t have hit Richie Allen in the shoulder with a baseball bat. He should have hit him in the head,” wrote Pennsylvania columnist Ed Gebhart.

Allen didn’t say much at the time, but he later claimed that Thomas kept saying things like “Boy, pick up my bat for me” or “Boy, shine my shoes for me.” That was what Young referred to as “needling.”

Allen liked to smoke, drink and go to the racetrack, so naturally stories popped up about his hard-living. He may not have been a saint, but he denied partying too much. “When the team’s in Pittsburgh, I spend time with my family. In Los Angeles I visit my sister. I don’t go out in Chicago, and where can I go in St. Louis, Cincinnati or Houston?” he said.

By 1967, the booing was so bad that even the visiting players stepped up to defend Allen. “What are the fans thinking? What would they do without him?” questioned Cubs manager Leo Durocher. “It’s got to affect the man. There’s no way it wouldn’t.”

Allen’s ’67 season ended in late August when his right hand went through the headlight of an old car he was pushing. He severed two tendons and his ulnar nerve and needed extensive surgery to repair the damage. He came back to hit 31 home runs in 1968, but his batting average dropped to .263, and he struck out 161 times. He also moved to first base as his primary position, as he had some problems gripping the ball. The Phillies fired long-time manager Mauch, and Allen was thought to be a leading reason. Mauch’s dismissal led to a parade of managers and the ongoing questions of whether they could “control” the temperamental star. Allen, for his part, just kept hitting home runs and raised his batting average to .288 in 1969.

Allen had a series of incidents with the new Phillies manager, Bob Skinner. He missed a team flight from Philadelphia and a couple other flights afterwards and was fined. He missed a doubleheader in New York — he went to the racetrack and didn’t know the doubleheader started at 5PM — and was suspended. “It’s reached the point now that he has been spoiled to the extent that no manager can handle him,” Skinner pronounced as he resigned from the job in 1969.

The Phillies named Lucchesi — Allen’s skipper in Arkansas — as manager for the 1970 season. Allen never played for him in Philadelphia; he was traded to St. Louis in the infamous deal that was supposed to have send Curt Flood to Philadelphia. That didn’t stop the two from sparring in the papers, though.

“They take a guy with more talent than anyone else on the club, and they ship him out instead of a manager with no major league experience, a manager who hasn’t proven himself,” Allen said in a 1971 interview.

Source: Standard Speaker, April 9, 1964.

Lucchesi, for his part, responded, “If he ever pops off again I’m going to rip him in print. He better keep his mouth shut because there’s more I can say about Richie Allen than he can say about Frank Lucchesi.”

Allen had a pretty non-controversial season with St. Louis in 1970. He injured his hamstring while stealing second base and missed the last seven weeks of the season, but before that point, he slashed .279/.377/.560 with 34 homers and 101 RBIs, earning another All-Star nod. He was also lauded for his attitude by the likes of no-nonsense teammate Joe Torre and manager Red Schoendienst. He was traded to Los Angeles at the end of the season and put together another solid campaign — .295 average, 23 home runs, 90 RBIs. Still, he was traded again, this time to the Chicago White Sox for infielder Steve Huntz and pitcher Tommy John. Dodgers GM Al Campanis swore that the team just really wanted a left-handed pitcher, but he acknowledged that Allen had been perpetually late. That probably clashed with manager Walt Alston, who never sounded too excited to have Allen in the first place.

Allen was an All-Star for each of the three seasons he was with the South Siders, and his 1972 season was the best of his career. He slashed .308/.420/.603 and led the AL in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, home runs (37), RBIs (113) and walks (99). He picked up 21 of the 24 votes for the AL MVP Award, easily outdistancing runners-up Joe Rudi and Sparky Lyle.

Allen was the subject of several stories about how he had reformed. He shrugged them off. “I didn’t know there was anything that bad about the old me,” he commented. Sox manager Chuck Tanner didn’t mind if Allen skipped batting practice or showed up to a game in the nick of time. “If he is a cancer then I wish the rest of our team had it,” he said. Tanner was about the only manager who had a positive relationship with Allen. He gave his star player a lot of slack, because he knew that Allen would come through when needed.

Allen’s stay with the Sox was successful, but not perfect. He was limited to 72 games in 1973 with a broken leg, and he announced his retirement in early September 1974 as the team chemistry fell apart. At the time of his retirement, he was batting .301 with 32 home runs. However, he never signed the paperwork that put him on the voluntary retired list, so he was still considered an active player. So the White Sox traded him that December for cash and a player to be named later to the Atlanta Braves.

Allen didn’t want to play for the Braves, so he just never showed up. When a white reporter asked why he was adamant about not playing in Atlanta, he said, “I wouldn’t have been if you’d let me borrow your skin.” This was a couple years after the Braves’ Hank Aaron was barraged with hate mail for daring to break Babe Ruth’s home run record. Allen was no stranger to racist hate mail, so Aaron’s plight may have been fresh in his mind.

Surprisingly, Allen was willing to return to the Philadelphia Phillies, where he had been practically booed out of the city. So the deal was made, and Allen returned to the Phillies in May of 1975. He was thrown right into the action, even though he had missed all of spring training. That could account for his low .233 batting average and 12 homers in 119 games. But he sounded like a changed man.

“I never really did want to leave Philadelphia,” he said. “I’m not a different fellow, I just like to think all that stuff I went through before is past me and I can finish out my career with the Phillies.”

Allen showed off a set of custom-made cards that the #DA15 team had made. Prints are available at his website.

Allen performed much better in 1976, albeit in a part-time role. He hit .268 and slugged 15 homers in 85 games, helping the Phillies to 101 wins and the NL East title. He was put on the DL a couple of times for an injured shoulder and was fined/benched a couple times as well. He also caused a stir when he didn’t join the team’s clubhouse celebration after they clinched the division and then insisted that he wouldn’t play in the postseason if the Phillies didn’t put long-time Phillie Tony Taylor on the roster. Taylor was named a coach for the playoffs. Allen had 2 singles and 3 walks in 12 plate appearances as the Phillies lost to the Big Red Machine. He also committed an error at first base that led to a couple of unearned runs.

Allen was released at the end of the season and signed with the Oakland A’s for 1977. Allen was 35 years old and at the end of his career. The thought of him coexisting with controversial A’s owner Charlie Finley was an intriguing one, but he played in just 54 games and hit .240 before he was released. Finley finally had enough when Allen left the dugout without permission and hit the showers early, according to Allen’s SABR bio.

Despite rumors that Allen would land somewhere else — possibly with the Cubs, possibly in Japan — his career was over after 15 seasons. Allen had 1,848 hits and a slash line of .292/.378/.534, with 320 doubles, 79 triples and 351 home runs. He drove in 1,119 runs and scored 1,099 times while taking 894 walks. He also stole 133 bases. His Wins Above Replacement, per Baseball Reference, is 58.8, but it goes up to 70.2 if you take his defense out of the equation. Allen’s best position proved to be first base, but he was still a below-average first baseman.

Immediately after baseball, Allen threw himself into Allen Enterprises, a horse racing stable he operated with his brothers. A comeback attempt with the A’s in 1978 fell short when he was released in late March. He lost his Pennsylvania farm in a fire in 1979, and he took his horses out California.

Baseball kind of forgot about him, too. He appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time in 1983 and got 3.7% of the votes. After a year’s absence, he reappeared on the ballot from 1985 until 1997, never touching 20 percent of the vote. In recent years, Allen’s career has been given a look through new eyes (and new voters who weren’t part of the media that had a hate-hate relationship with him during his career). Rather than focus on what Allen could have done if he realized all his potential, people have looked at what he did do and saw that he had a damned impressive, Hall-worthy career. Had the COVID-19 pandemic not cancelled the Hall’s Veterans’ Committee meetings, he may have been inducted this past summer.

He co-wrote an autobiography with Tim Whitaker called Crash, the Life and Times of Dick Allen, in 1989. His daughter, Terri, was murdered in May of 1991. That same year, his son, Dick Jr., convinced him to go to an old-timers’ game at the All-Star Game in San Diego. Allen began making more appearances in baseball after that and served as a spokesman for the Baseball Assistance Team that helps ex-ballplayers in need.

Dick Allen’s number was retired by the Phillies earlier this year at a special ceremony.

Allen eventually returned to Wampum. He discovered social media and had his own website, www.dickallen15.com. While the Hall of Fame didn’t induct him while he was alive, he was given other honors, like being named to the “Hall of Game” by the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. He had his number 15 retired by the Phillies earlier this year in one of his last public appearances.

As I mentioned way back at the beginning of this story, the Allen may have had his problems with sportswriters and front-office people, but it was a different story with his teammates. The best explanation I saw of Allen came from catcher Duke Sims, who played with him in his one season with the Dodgers. I think it demonstrates pretty clearly what Allen was up against in baseball.

“I wouldn’t call myself a close, personal friend of his, but I find him to be a warm, likeable man,” Sims said. “There’s a side to Richie the front office wouldn’t see and the writers wouldn’t see. He wouldn’t allow it. I don’t care what he does with his personal life. I’m not the type who tries to govern other peoples’ lives. Unfortunately, there are some people in baseball who try to. They’re the old guard. They’re steeped in the tradition of 1930. Sometimes you talk to them and you find out their attitudes are 1930, but the world doesn’t function today like it did in 1930.”

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