Stan Hochman had a legendary 55-year career at the Daily News until his death in 2015. Hochman was the paper’s Phillies beat writer when Dick Allen first played here in the 1960s. This piece first appeared in the Daily News on May 6, 2014.
Dick Allen led the entire cockeyed world of baseball in OPS-plus for 10 years, from 1964 to 1973. His number was 165, higher than Henry Aaron, higher than Willie McCovey, higher than Frank Robinson, Harmon Killebrew, Willie Stargell, Roberto Clemente, and Willie Mays.
Dominate any phase of the game for 10 years, pitching or hitting or slugging, and you oughta be in the Hall of Fame. Allen is not in the Hall of Fame. The other seven guys are.
Philadelphia’s City Council, which can’t always agree that today is Tuesday, unanimously passed a resolution last week urging the committee that’s going to nominate overlooked players who played in the Golden Era, from 1946 to ’72, to consider Allen.
The resolution was sponsored by Councilman Jim Kenney. Kenney remembers being taken to the ballpark by his father, remembers seeing Allen scrawl “Boo” in the infield dirt. That would have been 1969, when Allen had heard enough booing, dodged enough missiles playing the outfield with his batting helmet on, to sulk his way out of town.
“He was our Jackie Robinson,” Kenney said. “Robinson was under orders to not respond to the taunts. Allen came along a lot later and spoke his mind. "
Speaking your mind shouldn’t keep you out of the Hall of Fame. Not speaking to the media, that shouldn’t keep you out. Not when Steve Carlton and Eddie Murray are in. Not when your OPS-plus is higher than Aaron and Stargell and Mays.
OPS, that’s a sabermetric abbreviation for on-base percentage plus slugging. OPS-plus, that factors in the ballpark you played in and the league you played in. Figure that 100 is average, 150 is excellent, 165 is superstar. Case closed.
You can’t argue baseball without involving those decimal-point guys and their cockamamie equations and their baffling abbreviations, WAR, WHIP, OPS-plus. Bill James is their godfather, and Bill James once wrote that Allen was so disruptive that he cost his team more games than anyone in the entire cockeyed world of baseball. Said Allen was the second-most controversial player in history, right behind Rogers Hornsby.
Bill James was a snot-nosed, 15-year-old in 1964, when Allen hit .318, scored 125 runs, drove in 91, kept slugging in September when some of his older teammates gagged and spit up a 6½-game lead with 12 to play.
Smacked 29 homers that season, some of them over the Coca-Cola sign atop the roof at Connie Mack Stadium, which is why he also scrawled “Coke” in the infield dirt in ’69, the year he sulked his way out of town.
How in the name of Pythagoras did Bill James get to know Allen well enough to figure out an equation that made him so cancerous in the clubhouse that he cost his team so many games? Times tardy, plus times showing up with Heineken on his breath, multiplied by time spent with the grounds crew instead of schmoozing with the media, plus games spent dressing in an equipment room?
“Everyone knows he liked the occasional libation,” Mark Carfagno said that day in City Council. Carfagno, whose nickname is Froggy, and who sings Sinatra songs with a band and works the PA system at high school games, talks that way.
He was part of that grounds crew, and he is leading the last-ditch drive to get Allen to Cooperstown, while crediting Dick Allen Jr. as the catalyst. Mainly because they are trying to squeeze an endorsement from the Phillies, and Froggy left the franchise on a contentious note.
Carfagno can recite the numbers from memory, the 351 homers, the 1,119 RBI, the seven All-Star Games, on and on, enough stats to melt a sabermetrician’s cold heart.
He has a squadron of people gathering endorsements from former teammates, from stars of that era. He brought a fascinating muddle of Allen fans to City Council that day, a stat guy who played with Allen in Wampum, the former home dugout security guy, a woman who cooked meatballs for Allen and asked him to hit a home run for her and he hit two that day.
Carfagno knows the numbers are strong enough. What he focuses on is buffing Allen’s image 50 years down the rocky road. “Remember a kid named Rick Bosetti?” he rasps.
“Got called up, got put into a game as a pinch-runner. Gets picked off. Sits, and then gets used again, pinch-runner. Boom, gets picked off again. Kid comes up the dugout ramp crying his eyes out.
“Dick sees him, wraps his arm around him, takes him in the back, to an equipment room. Sits the kid on a bench and pulls up a chair, and stays there till 2 in the morning, consoling the kid.
“Next day, there’s a story in the paper about Dick Allen leaving the ballpark early. Crazy! Dick don’t say a word. Don’t defend himself. That’s the kind of guy he was.”
Allen stays aloof, while Froggy and his friends poke around in the ashes of his career, battling lottery odds to get their hero into the Hall of Fame. City Council believes he belongs. So do I.