The winter meetings were canceled this week, but baseball’s hot stove still seems to be burning. The Mets are rumored to be after players such as George Springer and James McCann. The Angels are reported to be in the market for a starting pitcher. There were rumblings about the Nationals’ trying to trade for Kris Bryant, and the Yankees are said to be inquiring about Pirates slugger Josh Bell.
And how about the Phillies?
Well, the only thing we know for sure is that they won’t trade Zack Wheeler for Babe Ruth. It’s shaping up to be a long winter in Philadelphia.
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— Matt Breen (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The legend of Dick Allen’s 42-ounce bat
The 42-ounce bat — the heavy piece of lumber Dick Allen used to become one of the greatest sluggers of his generation — has become as synonymous with the Phillies great as the home runs he hit over the Coca-Cola sign at Connie Mack Stadium.
It was one of the heaviest bats in baseball history, 11 ounces heavier than what Bryce Harper swings. Allen hit 351 homers with his 42-ounce bats, compiling the offensive statistics that should earn him a posthumous induction next year into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
“That bat was like a weighted bat for us,” former Phillies shortstop Bobby Wine said. “He would swing it right from the end, and I mean, he just had awesome, awesome power. I would love to have known where some of his home runs landed in Connie Mack. He hit them over the roof, over the billboards, out of sight, and you would never know that he hit a home run or a single or struck out. He was the same all the time. He never, never got high. Never got low. He was the same.”
But before Allen first swung his heavy Louisville Slugger, he had to be convinced to use it.
“Four bats came in the box,” Allen told History Making Productions in 2012 about receiving a shipment of new bats in the minor leagues. “I said, ‘Oh my gosh.’ I thought they forgot to take the roots off. They were tree trunks. ‘Who’s going to swing this?’ ”
Allen called John Ogden, the scout who signed him in 1960 and shipped him his now-famous bat, and asked for something lighter. Ogden, a Delaware County native and former major-league pitcher, told Allen that his old bats weren’t heavy enough and that he should give his new bats a try.
“I finally figured it out,” Allen said. “Like a log, top heavy. I could pick the one end of it up and go around and pick the other end of it up. But I couldn’t pick the log up by handling it in the middle. It then came to me, I was 19 or 20 years old, to try and be top heavy, throw the end of it. Top hand over.”
Allen was 33 years old in 1975 when he returned to the Phillies, and he was still swinging those 42-ounce bats that Ogden sent him. Allen hit 27 homers over those two seasons with the Phillies as a part-time veteran. But the real show came during batting practice when Allen used his heavy bat to make Veterans Stadium look like Connie Mack.
“I’ve seen Bull [Greg Luzinski] and Schmidty [Mike Schmidt] hit home runs in BP, but this guy would hit balls to right field, and if you shut your eye you would think a left-handed pull hitter was hitting them,” said Larry Bowa, who played with Allen in 1975 and 1976. “He had the biggest hands I’ve ever seen in my life. He swung a 40-ounce bat. Unbelievable. It didn’t matter who he was facing. 35 inches, 40 ounces. Guys today wouldn’t even think about doing that.”
The Phillies shook up their minor-league structure for 2021 as Jersey Shore (formerly known as Lakewood) and Clearwater will switch levels.
The Phillies’ search for their top front-office position lost another candidate, Scott Lauber writes, as Josh Byrnes removed himself from contention.
Denis Menke, the 1993 Phillies hitting coach, died this month.
John Middleton needs to hire a Phillies president of baseball operation as soon as possible, Bob Brookover writes.
Frank Fitzpatrick shared a great story about his encounter in 1966 with Allen.
“Hall of Fame” should have preceded Dick Allen’s name on his obituary, Brookover writes.
Sept. 3, 1963: Dick Allen’s major-league debut at Milwaukee’s County Stadium
Nov. 29, 1964: Allen was named the National League’s rookie of the year.
Oct. 7, 1969: Allen was traded with Jerry Johnson and Cookie Rojas to St. Louis.
May 7, 1975: Allen was traded by Atlanta to Philadelphia.
Stat of the day
Dick Allen is best remembered in Philadelphia for playing third base and first base. He was the everyday third baseman as a rookie for the 1964 Phillies and drew messages in the dirt as a first baseman in 1969 before being traded to St. Louis. But Allen also played left field, moving there full time for the 1968 season after seriously injuring his right hand in 1967 when he put his hand through the headlight of his car while pushing it in the rain. The injuries sapped Allen of his throwing ability, so the Phillies had to find a way to play with a left fielder who couldn’t throw too well.
“When he hurt his shoulder and hand, they moved him from third to left, and my job when I played was to run out to left field and he’d flip me the ball and then I would throw it to second to stop the runner from getting a double. That’s how we did it,” Wine told my colleague Scott Lauber as he was researching for his book “The Big 50: The Men and Moments That Make The Philadelphia Phillies.” “As soon as that ball was hit to left field, I would just automatically run out to left field, he’d flip me the ball and I’d throw it to second or third or home, wherever the play was going to be. And that’s how we got around that.”
From the mailbag
Send questions by email or on Twitter @matt_breen.
This space is usually reserved for questions, but this week we’ll dedicate it to memories of Allen that we received in our inboxes after his passing. This are some of the e-mails from readers.
“Thanks for telling the real story about Dick Allen in his obituary. I happened to be a 29 year old rookie on the 1970 Cardinals, and had the pleasure of being with the club as a back up catcher. Dick Allen always referred to me as “Rook” and he and other members of the veteran squad took me out for dinner on the road. They knew I could not afford it, but I honestly think they respected that I was an old rookie, which meant I spent considerable amounts of time trying to get to the ML. The writers did not give Dick the opportunity to be presented in a good light, cause they were always looking for the “bad guy” stuff. It wasn’t there and the comments made by the Phillies Executives only proves my point. He was a great baseball player, and an even greater family man. Thanks for taking the time to write your article. It meant the world to me.” — Bart Zeller
“My favorite memory of Dick Allen occurred on the last Sunday of the 1964 season. The Phillies still had a chance to tie for the pennant. They were playing in Cincinnati in the final game of the season at old Crosley Field. If the Phillies won and the Cardinals lost there would be a tie for the pennant. Allen was having a sensational rookie year. Going into that final game he had 197 hits. He needed 3 hits to finish with 200 for the season. Allen did better than that. He went 4 for 5 and hit two home runs as the Phillies defeated the Reds. The Reds also had slim pennant hopes with a win. However, Jim Bunning shut them out and the score was 10-0. The bad news came later in the day when the Cardinals won their final game and clinched the pennant.
Allen’s rookie year in 1964 was spectacular. He led the league in runs scored. He had 201 hits. He hits 29 home runs. To me, it was his best all around season. It was simply unforgettable. One of the best rookie years by anyone in the history of baseball. How many players get 200 hits in their rookie year?
One day a few years ago I bumped into Dick Allen when he was in a Borders bookstore with Jay Johnstone. I asked Allen if he remembered the 1967 home run over the center field wall at Connie Mack Stadium. I asked who the pitcher was. Allen said, “I think it was Nelson Briles … however, I am not so sure it wasn’t you.” — Bill M. from Mt. Laurel
“When my siblings and I were little kids, our parents took us to a Phillies game. Dick Allen came to bat and everybody booed. Except our mother, who stood up and cheered. I was very embarrassed and asked her to sit down. She cheered louder and told me that all the people booing Dick Allen were wrong. Mom says she doesn’t remember this incident. But I do. Rest well, Dick. And thanks, Mom.” — Linda H.
“Dick Allen drove by my house every night going to the ballpark at 21st and Lehigh. He had this beautiful black 1964 Grand Prix. Of course back then he was known as Richie Allen. Sad to hear about this. I grew up a block down the street from Connie Mack stadium. I spent half my life in that ballpark as a kid and waiting outside for autographs and to see and meet not only the Phillies but opposing players. I met so many ball players and Dick Allen brings back the greatest days of my life. I’m so sorry to hear about this. Dick was a good guy. There were things he did that hurt his persona on the ball field but off the field Dick was a class guy.” — Gerald M.
“I was one of those kids whose favorite players were Johnny Callison and Dick (always be Richie to me) Allen. I remember Allen’s large home and property in Perkasie was visible from Route 309, driving in the northbound direction.
“My ninth birthday (9.30.1964) was the day of the final Phils loss of the historic ten-game losing streak. That collapse is probably the worst baseball memory of mine. A SAD day for baseball, particularly since he somehow hasn’t been elected to the HOF. That is BAD for baseball. Fortunately, he was able to see his well-deserved entry to the Phils Wall. That was way overdue, as well. He joins the ridiculous number of baseball greats to have passed this year.” — Leigh N.