Dick Allen’s absence from the Hall of Fame is an insult to him and the friend who championed him. | Mike Sielski
The former Phillies great finished one vote short for the second time in seven years. The result crushed the man who has led the campaign to get Allen inducted.
There were exactly 90 names and addresses on the email chain that Mark “Frog” Carfagno started at 6:51 p.m. Thursday, the latest missive in a campaign that, over the last 15 years, has come to consume the man. There were sportswriters and media members current and former, and there was a pitcher who won more than 280 games in the major leagues before retiring, and there was an 86-year-old baseball scout who hasn’t retired yet, and there was even a movie producer. Carfagno had swept all of them up in the wave of his obsession – his mission to get his friend and former Phillies slugger Dick Allen inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame – and here was one more chance, before the Hall’s Golden Days Era Committee voted Sunday night, to send out his rallying cry for the sake of good luck.
The subject line was We’ve done all we can do.
“As you know, for the hundreds of emails I’ve sent over the years I signed off with the words ‘KEEP SWINGIN’,” Carfagno wrote. “Well, let’s hope all of those swings hit the ball over the rooftop just like a Dick Allen home run.”
Three days later, just about to the minute, the ball died at the warning track. Allen needed 12 yes votes from the committee’s 16 members. He received 11. For the second time, he finished one vote shy of the Hall. In anticipation of a joyous outcome, Carfagno had joined several members of Allen’s family and several Allen supporters in flying to Orlando, Fla., where the committee met. The vote left them, all of them, crushed.
“I don’t know what to say,” Carfagno said over the phone Sunday night. “I’m devastated. I’m absolutely devastated. I can’t believe it. I’m stunned.”
That the committee made an egregious mistake by failing to vote in Allen should be obvious to anyone familiar with the standards that have been and ought to be used to judge someone worthy of Hall immortality. He deserved it in 2014, the last time he was eligible for induction, and he deserved it Sunday. The Hall is a lesser institution, and a less legitimate one, for his absence from it.
But this was always more than a story about just Allen, about his receiving the validation that he had earned over his 15 years in the majors with his 351 home runs. With his 1964 National League Rookie of the Year Award with the Phillies and his 1972 American League MVP Award with the White Sox and his seven All-Star appearances. With the stretch from 1964 to 1974, when he was as good or better than any hitter in baseball, including the 17 Hall of Famers who played during that same period.
This was also a story about his friendship with Carfagno, who had grown up in South Philadelphia and whose father, a string-band leader, died of pneumonia in January 1964, when Frog was just 10. Who rooted like hell for Allen and the Phillies during that infamous ‘64 season, when the team squandered a 6½-game lead atop the National League with 12 games to go. Who as a groundskeeper at Veterans Stadium met Allen in 1975 and found in him a friend and mentor and object of idolatry all rolled into one. A little Italian kid and a Black man who could hit a baseball a mile became inseparable.
“He took a liking to me,” Carfagno once said. “Somebody told him, ‘Look, this kid don’t have a father.’ He came up to me and said, ‘If you ever need anything, tell me. If you don’t, I’m going to be [ticked] off.’”
Carfagno had begun his campaign on Allen’s behalf — without Allen’s help; the man was too proud to beg — in 2006, and he has continued it without pause over the successive 15 years: writing letters to the Hall’s officials and to former players and to anyone with a modicum of influence in baseball, compiling statistics to support his case, crafting arguments to counteract the assertions that Allen was too sullen and selfish, too poor a teammate, to warrant a plaque in Cooperstown. Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Vin Scully: He sought the support of all of them and more.
A few weeks before the Golden Days Era Committee’s vote in 2014, Carfagno sat at his computer, text-heavy emails and spreadsheets loaded with numbers flying across the screen, his enthusiasm for Allen’s candidacy growing into an fiery, angry speech, as if there were an audience of hundreds in the room with him, instead of just one.
“My thing is, the man is basically a freak,” he said, his voice rising throughout the monologue. “He’s a freak. He had 102 Division I scholarships. Mickey Mantle: only one football scholarship. Jimmie Foxx got hurt. Frank Howard, All-American in basketball because of his height. Dick Allen was 5-10½ at the most, 27-inch waist, 175 pounds, with big arms and could hit the ball.
“That’s a FREAK to me, and freaks are rewarded. Bob Hayes. Deion Sanders. Dave DeBusschere. Allen Iverson. ... They’re going into the Hall of Fame. Why isn’t this guy going into the Hall of Fame? And that dynamic should be mentioned.
“He arguably could be the most powerful hitter EVER to pick up a bat! EVER! Don’t that have any cream? That should matter for something!”
Carfagno was distraught in the aftermath of that vote seven years ago, fearful that Allen either wouldn’t be inducted or wouldn’t be alive when he was. But when Allen died last December at 78, Carfagno only redoubled his efforts to keep Allen’s candidacy fresh and at the forefront of people’s minds. The emails and social-media posts arrived even more frequently, if that were possible, as if giving in to the grief and backing off would dishonor his friend and their friendship.
He was asked once how he would react if Allen were to get in.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I’d probably cry like a baby. No doubt about it.”
Around 6:30 Sunday night, in a hotel suite in central Florida, Mark Carfagno did exactly that. He had done all he could do, and he cried like a baby. For all the wrong reasons.