He gripped the computer mouse in his right hand, leaned forward in his chair, and searched for a few words to cool his fevered mind. The e-mails, stored in Microsoft Outlook, whirred down the screen as if the monitor were a slot machine, black script blurring against an egg-white background, and Frog - his real name is Mark Carfagno, but no one calls him Mark, not even his wife - locked his eyes there, scanning each message to find an example of someone famous saying something good about his friend Dick Allen.
Frog sat in the basement of his Southwest Philadelphia rowhouse on a late August morning. He had spent hours down there each day for months and would spend hours more into mid-October, all that time immersing himself in a singular obsession: leading a campaign to get Allen - the 1964 National League rookie of the year, a righthanded slugger who hit 351 home runs and played seven positions over his 15-year career, the Phillies' first prominent black player and the most controversial person in franchise history - inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Because of the relative brevity of Allen's prime, the belief that he was a divisive force among his teammates and managers, and his strained relationships with the media and Phillies fans during a time of racial tumult, the question of whether Allen is worthy of enshrinement in the Hall has been a fascinating topic among baseball historians since his retirement in 1978. It will be again soon. Within a week after the World Series' final game, the Hall of Fame will reveal the finalists for enshrinement through its Veterans Committee process. The committee will vote on the 10-person ballot, compiled by a panel of baseball writers, in December. The writers' deliberations have been secret, but Allen is presumably among the candidates for inclusion on the ballot.
Allen, who was asked through intermediaries for an interview and did not respond, has played no part in the campaign, which has included a pro-Allen resolution passed in May by Philadelphia City Council, a pep rally at FDR Park in July, and a Facebook page that Frog maintains.
"He hates it," his son Richard Allen Jr. said, because he regards the crusade for recognition on his behalf to be unbecoming, a disturbance of his privacy. Now 72, Allen lives near Tampa, Fla. The Phillies employ him as a "community/fan development representative," and they have honored his wishes by not pushing publicly for his induction.
Instead, his candidacy has been championed for more than two years by Frog, a 61-year-old former Phillies groundskeeper who has known Allen for nearly 40 years, a short and slender man with a gravelly voice who speaks as if sentences are bubbling and boiling inside him and his mouth is an inadequate lid.
He and a cluster of Allen admirers have coined a slogan for their cause: "He Won't Campaign, So We'll Explain." For Frog, though, the movement isn't an unbiased analysis of a ballplayer's statistics and historical context. It's a passion play springing from his admiration of and loyalty to Allen.
"He's a freak. Dick Allen was 5-11 at the most, 27-inch waist, 180 pounds, with big arms and could hit the ball," Frog said that day in his basement, his voice rising, his rear end hovering over his desk chair. "That's a freak to me, and freaks are rewarded. He arguably could be the most powerful hitter ever to pick up a bat! Ever! Don't that have any cream? That should matter for something!"
A great wrong righted
The Hall of Fame accepts input from fans on behalf of candidates, and it makes that material available to the Veterans Committee. "I do have correspondence from Mark Carfagno," said Brad Horn, the Hall's vice president of communication and education. "I'm certainly aware of his campaign."
But Frog has gone beyond just corresponding with Horn and the Hall. He has called and e-mailed members of the writers' panel, reached out to Allen's peers, made a plea to anyone who might write a short note of support or offer a testimonial to Allen's talent. Mike Schmidt. Hank Aaron. Willie Mays. Willie McCovey. Ernie Banks. Nolan Ryan. Bob Uecker. Vin Scully. Frog has tried to contact all of them. None of them has responded to him directly.
Aaron's personal assistant answered Frog's 200-word e-mail to her with seven words of her own: "Mr. Aaron does not do this. Thanks." A San Francisco Giants executive had approached Mays and McCovey on Frog's behalf, but according to a subsequent message, "Both have respectfully declined to give a testimonial." Frog hadn't heard back from Uecker or Scully. Who knows if his e-mails even reached them?
"Maybe you have to be strong," he said, "because the way I look at it, nothing else has worked."
A boy's idol
Why Allen? You have to go back more than 50 years for the answer, not long after a neighborhood kid told young Mark Carfagno, You look like a frog, and the nickname stuck. You have to go back to the impromptu Mummers march that killed his father.
Frog was 10 at the time. Angelo Carfagno's string band was scheduled to perform on New Year's Day, but a hellacious storm of snow and freezing rain canceled the parade. No matter. Angelo and the band strutted around the block for their neighbors on South Cecil Street. That was Jan. 1, 1964. Angelo died of pneumonia on Jan. 5. He was 37.
By then, Frog had become a fervent Phillies fan, and that spring his grandfather John continued taking him to the team's home games at Connie Mack Stadium, just as Angelo had. One player in particular captivated Frog: the first-year third baseman who hit a baseball farther than anyone he'd seen before. Frog's friends liked Johnny Callison, the rightfielder. Frog loved Allen, and it didn't matter that the team collapsed down the stretch, throwing away a 61/2-game lead and the National League pennant with 12 games left in the season.
"All I know," Frog said, "is that it wasn't his fault."
For the next five years, Allen divided the city like no pro athlete before him and few, if any, since. In 1965, the Phillies released first baseman Frank Thomas after he hit Allen in the shoulder with a bat during a fight - a fight precipitated by Thomas' baiting use of the phrase "Muhammad Clay" in Allen's presence. Many of the team's white fans turned on Allen, blaming him for the departure of a popular player, booing him before every at-bat. According to his autography, Crash: The Life and Times of Dick Allen, all Allen wanted to do after the incident was return to his hometown of Wampum, Pa., "where the game had been fun."
He grew sullen and confrontational with the media. He drank alcohol before games. In 1969, in an infamous gesture of discontent, he traced the word "boo" in the infield dirt. He had been trying to get traded, and the Phillies obliged him that October, in a blockbuster deal with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Still, Frog's affection for Allen remained unconditional throughout that half-decade. He never stopped sympathizing with his idol. "I knew he was the rebel type," he said, "and it didn't bother me. . . . I didn't care what he did off the field."
Kotter and No. 15
Though Frog graduated from Wilmington University in Delaware with a degree in communication, he found his calling in 1971, the year Veterans Stadium opened, parlaying his part-time work as a junior groundskeeper into a full-time job. He liked it, so he stayed.
In May 1975, having bounced from the Cardinals to the Los Angeles Dodgers to the Chicago White Sox--he was the American League MVP in 1972--Allen returned to the Phillies in another trade. One day, Allen, wearing No. 15, trotted out to the field for pregame warm-ups. Frog - his hair puffed into a jet-black Afro resembling that of the title character in the sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter - had retrieved a protective screen near second base and was walking past him.
"Hey, 15," Frog said to Allen. "Welcome back."
"All right, Kotter," Allen replied.
A lifelong friendship began.
"He took a liking to me," Frog said. "Somebody told him, 'Look, this kid doesn't have a father.' He came up to me and said, 'If you ever need anything, tell me. If you don't, I'm going to be pissed off.' "
The Phillies were a team on the come, and in 1976, Allen's final season with them, they won their first of three consecutive NL East championships. As always, Allen did his best to avoid the media. He preferred to hang out with Frog and the groundskeepers in the crew's equipment room. There, Allen could duck the sportswriters and cameras and let the postgame traffic drain from the streets around the Vet. He wasn't the only one. Schmidt, Greg Luzinski, Tony Taylor, and other Phillies began joining the group. They'd boil hot dogs and corn on a hot plate. Taylor brought margarita mix. Night after night, Kotter and 15 laughed and commiserated over cold beer.
The two of them grew closer over time. When Allen needed to paint the fence that encircled his Bucks County farm, Frog volunteered to do it. When Allen worked for the Phillies as a special instructor during spring training, he and Frog roomed together in Clearwater, Fla., and one night, as the two of them watched ESPN in their hotel, Allen set a lukewarm meatball sandwich atop a lampshade while the lamp was on. This, he told Frog, was how he'd learned to warm his food when he was playing minor-league ball in Arkansas in the early 1960s. His teammates would bring cold takeout back for him, because a restaurant might not serve them if Allen had accompanied them.
In April 2004, Frog's poor relationship with his new supervisor led to his resignation - and a brief stint in the hospital with panic attacks over the stress of unemployment. (Two years later, Frog filed an age-discrimination lawsuit against the Phillies. The parties settled in 2007.) Allen found out, called Frog's wife, Kass, and told her: "I'm coming right up. Tell him not to go anywhere." He and Frog spent three nights at a Cherry Hill hotel, tailgating in the parking lot, leaving the doors to Allen's truck open, singing R&B songs until 4 in the morning, relaxing.
The campaign, then, is a way for Frog to repay his friend. In the annual Hall of Fame election held by the Baseball Writers Association of America, in which a player needs to be on 75 percent of all ballots to earn induction, Allen never received more than 19 percent of the vote. The Veterans Committee selects inductees based on a three-year rotation of periods in baseball history. This class will be from the "Golden Era," figures whose greatest contributions to the game occurred between 1947 and 1972. The last "Golden Era" player to earn induction was Ron Santo, the longtime Chicago Cubs third baseman, in 2011. Allen didn't even make it on the ballot then, and if he doesn't get in this time, he and Frog will have to wait until 2017 before Allen is eligible again.
"But if Dick gets on the ballot, the stress will be 10 times worse," Kass Carfagno said with a smile. "He'll be a wreck."
A way to say thank you
If Dick gets on the ballot. Well, that's the question, isn't it? Frog has created laminated charts on white cardboard, comparing Allen's offensive statistics to Hall of Famers from the same era. From 1964 through 1974, Allen was at his best, and his best was often better than Willie Stargell's, Al Kaline's, Roberto Clemente's: a .940 on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS); an OPS+ (adjusted for a player's ballpark) of 165, higher than any of the 17 Hall inductees who played over the same period; an average of 35 home runs per 162 games, all amid a racial hostility that many of his contemporaries never had to confront.
If Allen could thrive in that environment, if he could display the kind of power at the plate that left men awestruck, who could deny he belonged in Cooperstown?
"Bill James," Frog said. "That's how it all started, I think. I'd like to punch him in the face."
The author, historian, and sabermetrician, James wrote in 1984 that Allen "did more to keep his teams from winning than anyone else who ever played major league baseball." As far as Frog's concerned, that single sentence, from so influential a voice, has done more to damage Allen's chances of induction than anything else. Yet time has hardly softened James' stance.
"What seems to me to be unarguably true is that Dick Allen was a fantastically powerful disruptive force on the teams that he played for," James wrote in a recent e-mail interview. "For people who are too young to remember, I think you could describe it as Terrell Owens times three. . . .
"So some ignorant . . . wants to punch me in the face about something I wrote 30 years ago, that's life in the big city."
Allen, of course, might change that perception merely by opening up more, but he won't do it. Frog has talked to him about it. He has gotten nowhere.
It doesn't bother Frog. It shouldn't bother anyone, because whether Dick Allen gets into the Hall of Fame or even cares whether he gets into the Hall of Fame, the e-mails and the phone calls and the hours Frog has spent in front of that basement computer come down to something bigger, something everlasting, something more important than an athlete's likeness immortalized on a bronze museum plaque. They come down to this:
Wouldn't you want a friend like Frog?