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Bill Conlin: Dick Allen, Woodstock and change

FORTY YEARS ago this weekend, the Grateful Dead and others drew 400,000 people to a rock concert on the Max Yasgur farm in Sullivan County, N.Y., 43 miles from the town of Woodstock.

FORTY YEARS ago this weekend, the Grateful Dead and others drew 400,000 people to a rock concert on the Max Yasgur farm in Sullivan County, N.Y., 43 miles from the town of Woodstock.

Forty years ago this weekend, the Walking Dead, a k a the Phillies, drew 14,091 to Connie Mack Stadium for a three-game series with the Houston Astros. On Saturday, as the crowds and the music neared crescendo at a phenomenon the media decided to call Woodstock, a Phillies throng of 3,113 watched Rick Wise shut out the Astros, 7-0. The game lasted only a few minutes longer than Joe Cocker's spastically epic "With a Little Help From My Friends." It's a safe bet that more than 3,113 joints were fired up during Cocker's lurching performance.

Dick Allen backed Wise with his 26th homer. No. 15 had been riding shotgun for a precipitous plunge in Phillies fortunes that had driven Carpenter family ownership to its lowest ebb. The Phillies were just months from a transaction that would change the business of baseball more profoundly than the Black Sox Scandal or even Brooklyn's 1947 signing of Jack Roosevelt Robinson.

In fact, Bob Carpenter and general manager John Quinn had already decided to part with their franchise player. They sowed the seeds of Dick Allen's bitter rebellion in July 1965 by their clumsy attempt to micromanage a pregame fight between their gifted second-year slugger and veteran Frank Thomas. A brief, violent, batting-cage brawl was triggered by needling that escalated from schoolyard affront to racial insult.

It should have been treated for what it was, an unfortunate fight between teammates who shook hands moments after it was over. But Quinn waived the popular Thomas the next day. At the same time, he slapped Allen with a gag order threatening a $2,000 fine if he discussed the incident in any way. A city already on edge in a summer of escalating war in Vietnam and festering racial unrest at home made Allen a convenient tipping point. From that summer of his discontent through the endgame of 1969, he was a rebel careening from crisis to crisis.

Too bad Edwin Starr didn't growl, "War! Unh! . . . What is it good for? . . . Absolutely Nothin'!" a year earlier. It would have been a perfect clubhouse anthem during the bizarre mix of front-office punishment and self-inflicted suspension that began after Allen no-showed a June 24 makeup game at Shea Stadium. He was indefinitely suspended and, save for an occasional racetrack sighting, vanished until July 20.

The slugger walked into Connie Mack Stadium as the world stood transfixed by images of Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong walking on the moon. It was a small step for Armstrong, a giant one for Dick Allen. He played the next game. The guy missed nearly a month. And as police and National Guard troops were shutting down the traffic-engorged New York State Thruway, Dick Allen swung that 40-ounce cudgel and hit No. 26.

But he was gone by then. Dick was gone the minute manager Bob Skinner walked into the blazing heat of an Aug. 7 afternoon, climbed into a waiting taxi, an ex-Phillies manager. The former outfielder who had replaced Gene Mauch a year before had called his own news conference to announce his resignation. With Carpenter, Quinn and the hastily convened media sitting slack-jawed, Skinner blasted ownership for failing to support his efforts to maintain club discipline.

A shellshocked Quinn said foghorn-voiced third-base coach George Myatt would manage the rest of the season. Myatt was asked how he planned to handle the deteriorating Allen situation.

His reply was one for the ages.

"Stud," the baseball lifer croaked, "God Almighty hisself couldn't handle Dick Allen . . . I'll just write his name on the lineup card and hope for the best."

When Quinn traded the most gifted position player of the Carpenter era on Oct. 7, the Max Yasgur farm was back to normal. But baseball would never be the same. To his credit, the old purist with the suspenders and starched collar engineered a favorable trade. For Allen, promising righthander Jerry Johnson and versatile veteran Cookie Rojas, the Phillies received perennial All-Star centerfielder Curt Flood, catcher Tim McCarver, lefthanded reliever Joe Hoerner and reserve outfielder Byron Browne. Not an insulting package.

Then Flood, a portrait artist with a thriving St. Louis business, became baseball's Dred Scott. He said, hell no, he wouldn't go. He refused to become "chattel" in a baseball trade that would uproot his family and disrupt his life.

He would challenge major league baseball's sacrosanct reserve system, if necessary. In a letter to commissioner Bowie Kuhn, Flood wrote, "I do not feel I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes . . . "

The elephant in baseball's room for a century suddenly broke wind. Flood's suit against Bowie Kuhn, et al., eventually was rejected by the Supreme Court on grounds economic matters should be settled through collective bargaining. But in 1975, a federal arbitrator created by collective bargaining awarded free agency to unsigned pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally. Flood's economic Declaration of Independence had ended robber baron control of the hired help.

As you revisit the musical legacy of Woodstock, ask how many Utopian goals were achieved by those optimistic, stoned hordes. Peace? Love? Racial and social equality? An end to war, starting with the nightmare of Vietnam? Our African-American president, Barack Obama, wrestles with the same inequities as his Caucasian predecessors. We have had boots on the ground since 1969 in countries unknown to most of Woodstock Nation. Meanwhile, most of the 400,000-plus who made the ultimate road trip to Yasgur's farm have been assimilated by the mainstream society they vowed to replace.

You want real change? Dick Allen demanding a trade and Curt Flood refusing to be part of it set into motion an unstoppable and overdue victory for freedom of choice. The Power of Two . . . *

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