A lot of people and institutions should feel ashamed right now. Dick Allen, a deserving Hall of Famer, died Monday at the age of 78 on the very day an announcement could have been made that the former Phillies slugger was finally going to be welcomed into Cooperstown.
Allen, the first Black superstar in Phillies history, should have been inducted by the Baseball Writers Association America shortly after his career ended at the age of 35 in 1977, but there was too much misinformation and too many misconceptions about who he was and what he did at that time.
The Phillies, at least the people who were running the team when he played, should be ashamed that he was perceived in a negative light. Consider the comments coming from the organization the day he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals on Oct. 7, 1969.
“I guess Rich Allen can hit a ball farther than any righthanded hitter I ever saw,” Phillies owner Bob Carpenter said. “But he is not the superior athlete in the class of DiMaggio or Musial or Mays. You’ve got to put everything together. … Richie and the Phillies couldn’t put it together.”
Farm director Paul Owens, the chief architect of the Phillies’ first great era, also took a shot at Allen on his way out the door.
“At least something won’t be happening every two days now,” Owens said. “We don’t want him affecting our young players.”
And then there was this from incoming manager Frank Lucchesi, who had never even run a clubhouse with Allen in it: “You’ve heard of good trades — well I call this a happy trade,” Lucchesi said before talking about “togetherness” and “harmony.” Lucchesi wasn’t so happy when he was fired with the Phillies in last place in the middle of the 1972 season after also finishing last in 1971 and next to last in 1970.
Those comments leave you with the impression that the Phillies did not win during Allen’s six full seasons with the team because he was a problem. But the fact is, they did win while he was there like they had rarely won before.
The Phillies were a winning team in each of his first four seasons, playing 47 games over .500 during that span. He was the best player on each of those teams. The infamous 1964 collapse certainly wasn’t his fault. The 22-year-old National League rookie of the year was clutch even as the team crashed, hitting .429 with three home runs and 11 RBIs over the final 12 games.
During his six full seasons with the Phillies, Allen ranked third in baseball with a .935 OPS, eighth in home runs with 177, and ninth in on-base percentage at .380. BaseballReference and WAR did not exist then, but once those numbers were crunched, Allen’s 35.2 ranked eighth among all players during his time with the Phillies.
Factor in the Allen controversies if you’d like, but he still averaged 143 games per season during his first stint with the team, which means he was also mostly dependable and durable.
Give credit to Ruly Carpenter and Owens for bringing Allen back near the end of his career at a time when the Phillies were ready to win. Mike Schmidt testified this summer at Allen’s No. 15 retirement ceremony that Allen was a positive clubhouse force in 1975 and 1976 even though many of his amazing hitting skills had eroded.
Also give credit to Phillies managing partner John Middleton for retiring Allen’s number this summer at Citizens Bank Park. It would have been great if it had happened inside a full ballpark, but it was still clear how much it meant to Allen.
It pains me to say this, but the baseball writers also should be embarrassed today because Allen appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot in 1983, and he received just 14 of a possible 374 votes, leaving him at 3.7%. You need 5% to remain on the ballot. That’s a disgrace. In an unprecedented move, the writers and the Hall of Fame decided to restore Allen’s name on the ballot in 1985, but his vote total peaked at 18.9 % in 1996 and two years later his name was gone again.
Baseball historian and renowned statistician Bill James also should be feeling awful right now. James once wrote that Allen “did more to keep his teams from winning than anyone else who ever played major-league baseball.” He also once described Allen as the second most controversial player in baseball history.
It is mind-boggling that a man who knows so much about stats could make such unprovable declarations that undoubtedly influenced the thinking of others.
Finally, the members of the Golden Era Committee, should be feeling pretty awful today, too. Allen needed 12 of 16 votes to get into the Hall of Fame when that group gathered out in San Diego in 2014 and he got 11. That meant five members of the committee declined to vote for Allen. I’d love to hear their reasoning, but we never will.
In a normal offseason, Monday would have been the first full day of the winter meetings and it also was supposed to be the day that the Golden Era Committee took another look at Dick Allen’s Hall of Fame credentials. That vote, as my colleague Matt Breen recently explained, was postponed until next year because of the pandemic. The committee did not want to meet virtually.
The greatest fear of Allen’s Hall of Fame supporters was that time was running out for their deserving candidate to be inducted in Cooperstown while he was still alive. They knew he was not in the best of health and on Monday Dick Allen’s time expired.
A lot of people should feel embarrassed that his obituary did not include the words “Hall of Famer” before his name.