Dick Allen wrapped one of his arms, that famously swung a 42-ounce bat, around Mike Schmidt’s shoulders and pulled the third baseman aside before an early-season game at Chicago’s Wrigley Field. The Phillies had opened the 1976 season by losing three of their first four games, a slumping Schmidt had been dropped from third to sixth in the batting order, and the pressure was bubbling.
Allen had returned to Philadelphia a year earlier to be a power bat and a veteran presence on a rising team, to be the one with his arm around the young star.
He told Schmidt that April afternoon that the game was supposed to be fun. There’s no place, Allen said, for pressure or stress. Smile, he instructed, and stop worrying so much.
“Darned if he wasn’t right,” Schmidt said last week by telephone. “I ended up going 5-for-6 with four home runs.”
Allen was a mentor, Schmidt said, in his second tour with the Phillies. He helped guide the cast of young Phillies -- Schmidt, Larry Bowa, Greg Luzinski, Garry Maddox, and Bob Boone -- who would form the nucleus of one of the greatest eras in franchise history.
And four decades later, Schmidt has his arm around Allen’s shoulder as he advocates for his former teammate’s place in the Hall of Fame.
Allen, 78, is expected to be placed later this year on a ballot presented to the Hall of Fame’s Golden Days Committee, which considers candidates who played in the era from 1950-69. The committee consists of 16 members, including eight Hall of Famers along with baseball executives and media members, and a candidate must get 12 votes to join the 2021 Hall of Fame class. The committee last met in 2014 and Allen came one vote short. Perhaps the voice of Schmidt, arguably baseball’s greatest third baseman, could help secure Allen’s place in Cooperstown.
“I hope to be a big supporter of his when we get to that point when that committee meets and votes on it,” Schmidt said. “I would think there’s a really good chance that he gets in this year.”
Allen played 15 seasons, was a seven-time All-Star, led his league in OPS four times, hit 30 or more homers six times, had six seasons of 90 or more RBIs, was the National League Rookie of the Year in 1964 with 29 homers for the star-crossed Phillies, was the American League MVP with the Chicago White Sox in 1972 with a 199 OPS+, and finished his career with a .292 batting average.
He was baseball’s best hitter over the first decade of his career, as Allen’s 165 OPS+ from 1964 to 1973 led the majors, better than all-time greats such as Hank Aaron, Harmon Killebrew, and Willie McCovey. From 1880 to 1990, 24 players registered a slugging percentage of .510 or better over at least 6,300 plate appearances. Allen is the only one not in the Hall of Fame.
“If you go back in time and analyze Dick’s career and look at his career by applying the modern-day analytics, his numbers are far and above a lot of the guys who are in the Hall of Fame,” Schmidt said. “That’s always one way to look at it: ‘Well, if he’s in the Hall of Fame, then he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.’ You’ll go nuts looking at things that way. You’ll also ruffle feathers if you do. But for me, it’s the simplest way to look at it.”
Allen’s place in Cooperstown could have been secured in 1983, but he received just 3.7% of the votes from the baseball writers in his first year on the ballot. He returned to their ballot in 1985 but never came close to reaching the 75% needed for enshrinement; he topped out at 18.9% in 1996, his next-to-last year on the ballot.
His failure to win support on the writers’ ballots was likely fallout from Allen’s first tour in Philadelphia, when he clashed with the writers and gained a reputation for being dysfunctional. There was the time he suffered a hand injury when pushing his car, the twi-night doubleheader he missed after spending time at the horse track, and the batting-cage fight with teammate Frank Thomas.
But what Allen overcame -- a minor-league season of racial taunts in Arkansas, followed by being one of the first African American Phillies during the racially charged 1960s, and playing the field with a batting helmet for protection from projectiles -- should have been valued just as much by the writers.
“I didn’t play with Dick during the time that all of the racism was part of his baseball experience in Philadelphia. I’ve read about it, probably as you have, and I would think that playing in those conditions was extremely difficult,” Schmidt said. “I would think dealing with it and playing as well as Dick did, was amazing. I know that I couldn’t have. Heck, I had enough trouble playing in Philadelphia with boos every now and then. But with a battery flying out of the stands, I might have had to walk off the field. It had to be very, very hard.”
“A tough time to play, especially in our city. He did it. Probably, if it had been a comfortable environment for him to play, he’d have a plaque hanging in Cooperstown a long, long time ago because he would’ve extended his success. He would have probably doubled his statistics if he played another six or seven years in Philadelphia -- or somewhere in baseball -- comfortably, and being treated as any other player was treated, he would have amassed very, very impressive numbers, not that his aren’t impressive now.”
Schmidt’s power display at Wrigley Field in the Phillies’ 18-16 win over the Cubs that day in 1976 still stands as the only four-homer game in the ballpark’s history. Allen’s pregame message struck a chord. Schmidt would lead the majors that season in home runs for a third straight year, laying the groundwork for a Hall of Fame career. The Phillies won the division title and reached the postseason for the first time since 1950.