More than five years had passed since Dick Allen received his wish to leave Philadelphia when Mike Schmidt, Richie Ashburn, and Dave Cash pulled into his Bucks County farm.
The 1975 season was two months away and the Phillies were finally on the rise. But the Phillies knew their young lineup could use a veteran hitter.
And Allen, who was raising racehorses on 13 acres in Perkasie, could be the player they needed.
Allen’s end in Philadelphia had been tumultuous. He traded blows with a teammate in 1965 and played the field with a batting helmet in 1966 to ward off objects thrown from the stands. He injured his hand in 1967 while pushing his car in the rain and wrote “Boo” in the dirt with his cleat in 1969 because that’s the noise he heard so often.
Allen kissed his hand after the final home game that season, touched the dirt, waved to the jeering fans, and left Connie Mack Stadium for the last time in a Phillies uniform.
But now three important figures in Phillies history - Ashburn, Schmidt, and Cash - were at Allen’s farm to persuade him to return.
For years, the Phillies followed a team policy that said they could retire numbers only for players elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. But managing partner John Middleton ditched that policy earlier this year to honor Allen, the player Middleton adored during the 1960s.
The Phillies, refusing to wait for Allen’s admittance to the Hall, retired Allen’s No. 15 in September at a ceremony at Citizens Bank Park. It was Allen’s final public appearance before he died on Dec. 7 at 78. His Hall of Fame pursuit outlived him, but Allen did see himself immortalized by the team he once yearned to leave.
Allen’s Hall of Fame candidacy will be voted on in December 2021 and he has a strong case for Cooperstown. And if Allen does make it, his bronze plaque will likely be adorned by a Phillies cap.
But would a retired number and a Cooperstown plaque with a “P” be a possibility if Allen’s Phillies career simply ended in 1969 with his walking out of Connie Mack Stadium?
He was an All Star with St. Louis, won an MVP award with the White Sox, and twice led the American League in homers. He played for three teams in the five seasons before Schmidt, Cash, and Ashburn arrived at his farm.
How different would Allen’s legacy be in Philadelphia if he never came back?
“Way different. Night and day,” Mike Schmidt said. “Returning in ’75 was like extending a hand, a peace offering, to both the fans and the organization. Although Dick would never forget those years, he knew the fan base in 1975 had no part in the ’60s fiasco. The racist nature of our country had changed, the last being baseball, was totally comfortable with black athletes. Times had changed drastically.”
Hearing them out
Allen, an all-state basketball player at Western Pennsylvania’s Wampum High School before being signed by the Phillies, challenged his three visitors to a game of H-O-R-S-E on the basketball hoop attached to his Bucks County barn.
“You could tell he still had game,” Schmidt said.
Allen listened to their pitches, but he still had questions about the Phillies.
“The racist nature of our country had changed, the last being baseball, was totally comfortable with black athletes. Times had changed drastically.”
What kind of team were they? How did they play the game? What was the atmosphere in the clubhouse? How would the fans treat him? And how about the writers who helped chase him out of town?
Schmidt told Allen to think about the offense the Phillies could generate with the two of them hitting in the middle of a lineup of Cash, Greg Luzinski, Larry Bowa, Bob Boone, and Garry Maddox. Cash told Allen the Phillies were more focused on winning instead of personal accomplishments. Ashburn, who worked as a team broadcaster after retiring in 1962, told him the fans and press would be kinder this time around.
“Our job was to tell him what we had and what we were thinking about doing and what our path forward was,” Cash said. “Dick was a student of the game and he wasn’t going to join a team that had any nonsense or wasn’t about winning first and foremost. I think we kind of convinced him that we were on the up and up and that we were all about winning more than anything else.”
Charges of tampering
Allen led the American League in homers in 1974 yet left the White Sox in early September and announced his retirement. But Allen never filed the proper paperwork. Allen said two months later that he wasn’t retired and would play in 1975.
The White Sox, stunned by the development, traded Allen three weeks later to the Braves. Allen was under contract for one more season but refused to play in Atlanta. He earned his horse trainer’s license shortly after being traded and seemed content to train horses in Perkasie instead of playing for the Braves.
“To play in the World Series or to develop a good horse,” Allen said in 1974. “I can’t think of which would give me more pleasure.”
Phillies general manager Paul Owens and owner Ruly Carpenter, knowing their team was ready to contend, eyed a chance to land Allen. Owens called Schmidt and Cash and asked them to visit the farm. Ashburn, a friend of Allen’s, was the connection they needed.
“A lot of it was Whitey’s idea. I give Whitey a lot of credit for that,” said former Phillies broadcaster Chris Wheeler, who was then working in the team’s public relations department. “He really pushed it and he had access to him. He knew where the farm was and that it would be a good thing to do.”
The meeting had to be secret since Allen was still under contract with the Braves and it would be illegal for a team to negotiate with him. A few days later, the details were in the newspaper and the Braves were furious.
Cash downplayed it and said Allen invited them there “for a social meeting.” He said Allen’s wife made ribs and the group didn’t even talk about the Phillies.
Braves general manager Eddie Robinson, who visited Allen’s farm a month earlier, accused the Phillies of tampering and requested an investigation by the National League. A league representative called Cash, but he stuck to his story.
“I didn’t think it was tampering, myself,” Cash said recently. “Tampering is when you go in and say, ‘Here’s a few hundred thousand dollars, do you want to come join us?’ That would be tampering. It was a great conversation. A time well spent and after we left we had an idea that we thought we convinced him but we weren’t quite sure. Dick was an independent individual and nobody can make any decision about that kind of thing but him.”
Phillies land Allen
Shortly after the meeting, Allen wrote a letter to the Braves and told them he would not play for them in 1975. Robinson, knowing he had no choice but to trade him, finally agreed in May to move Allen to the Phillies.
The meeting helped convince Allen that Philadelphia would be a different place than it was in 1969. And the Allen who arrived at Veterans Stadium that May was much different from the player written about during the 1960s.
“I happened to play with Ronnie Allen in 1966 in Spartanburg,” Bowa said. “I got to know Ronnie really good. I said, ‘Man, I watch you brother play.’ He said ‘Bo, all this stuff that’s written about him, that’s not my brother. I have no idea of what’s going on.’ He said there was a lot of racial stuff going on.”
“Coming back, we didn’t see any of that. I’m telling you. He was a model citizen. After a game, we would sit around and just talk baseball. Me, Cash, Maddox, Schmitty, Booney, Bull. We would just sit down, maybe have a beer or two. Win, lose, or draw it was always about baseball. The more you talked to him, the smarter he was. He would be like, ‘I would’ve done this.’ And you would say ‘Wow.’ He was nine steps ahead of everybody. He reminded me a lot, baseball-wise as far as his mindset, of Pete Rose. Their baseball IQ not just hitting the baseball or catching it but going in between the lines and the strategy. An unbelievable mind.”
Back in Philly, again
Allen returned to the Phillies lineup on May 14 at the Vet against the Reds, batting fifth between Luzinski and Schmidt. The fans, buzzing since they first read about the meeting on the farm, were ready to welcome back the player they booed out of town.
“The unveiling of D.A. that night was something,” Schmidt said. “Applause from the moment he left the dugout, to the batter’s box. He tipped his helmet and a love affair started. The fans were apologizing for what they did to him in the ’60s.”
Allen, in white cleats and swinging a 42-ounce bat, roped a single to center in his first at-bat. The crowd roared again. By then, the uneasiness Allen felt at the farm was lifted.
“The stadium was on fire,” Cash said. “It was electric. You can’t even describe the feeling that was in the stadium at that time. At least I couldn’t. Maybe someone else could. I know I was ready to play that night for sure after hearing that crowd.”
“It was like a World Series atmosphere,” Bowa said. “Moments like that send goosebumps up and down your spine.”
Forever a Phillie
Allen was no longer playing for the Cardinals, or the White Sox, or the Dodgers, or even the Braves. He was back with the Phillies. The memories of 1969 were still painful, but they became more distant with each of the three standing ovations he received that night.
Allen played two more seasons with the Phillies, helped them win the division in 1976 as they returned to the postseason for the first time in 26 years. Allen reached the playoffs for the first time in his career and was the veteran the young team needed.
“No one will ever admit this, but I think getting Dick and us starting to springboard to better things made them say, ‘Hey man, Pete Rose can do the same thing,’” Bowa said. “I think the two had something in common to get us where we wanted to go. Dick got us going in the right direction. Pete pushed us over the top. To this day, I believe that.”
It’s hard to imagine the Phillies retiring Allen’s number this summer if his time in Philadelphia ended with his leaving after six seasons. And if he is voted next year into Cooperstown, perhaps there’s a different logo on his hat if 1969 was the end of Allen’s Phillies career.
Schmidt, Ashburn, and Cash’s secret mission to the farm allowed Allen and Philadelphia to write a new ending to their story. Allen’s Philadelphia story no longer ended with boos. And 45 years later, Allen is remembered as a Phillies legend.
“There’s no question,” Bowa said of how different Allen’s legacy would be if he never returned. “I take my hat off to John. It’s just a shame that he isn’t around to take in all the adulation. He’s up there with Mays and Aaron and Robinson and all those great players. McCovey. Because of his relationship with some writers, I just think it’s a shame that they couldn’t see beyond that and look what he did on the baseball field. It’s sad. It really is sad.”