In this article, first published on August 7, 2001, Dick Allen talks about Allen Iverson and acceptance and changing times.
The city now loves Allen Iverson. The suburbs, too.
They've forgiven and forgotten the latenesses, the sulking, the swaggering arrogance of the early years. They've learned to accept the cornrows and the tattoos and the do-rag and the platinum ice jangling around his neck and the loose-fitting FUBU he do so well.
Dick Allen thinks he knows why.
"He runs hard," Allen said. "Gives 100 percent. From tipoff to final buzzer. There's no lolly-gagging. "
Lollygagging? Allen never lollygagged on the field. He was named National League Rookie of the Year after that nightmare 1964 season. Iverson would be NBA Rookie of the Year 33 years later.
Allen had his best year playing for Chuck Tanner with the White Sox. Was American League Most Valuable Player in 1972, after hitting 37 homers and driving in 113 runs. The transformed Iverson was the NBA's MVP 29 years later.
The similarities don't stop there. Iverson has a son he calls "Deuce. " Allen has a grandson they call "Trey. " While their mothers differ in size and personality, both exerted tremendous influence. The Phillies exposed Allen on the expansion list when the Mets and Houston came into the league. The Sixers threatened to trade Iverson.
Larry Brown only thought about leaving. Manager Gene Mauch had some problems with Allen 's lust for independence and got fired. Bob Skinner had trouble with Allen , quitting after the slugger skipped an exhibition game in Reading. Allen says he had permission to miss the game. By 1969, he wanted out, scrawling farewell messages in the dirt around first base.
Allen swung a 42-ounce bat and hit home runs over the Connie Mack Stadium roof that old-timers still talk about in awed whispers. So why was Allen jeered for so much of his time in Philadelphia? Why did he feel compelled to wear his batting helmet while playing leftfield to ward off debris tossed his way?
If he played today, would things be different? Has the city changed that much? Have the fans become more tolerant, more understanding? Are nonconformists acceptable now, provided they can run, hit, hit with power or transfix an opponent with a crossover dribble?
Lollygagging, that has to be a word Allen first heard growing up in Wampum, Pa., maybe playing high school basketball for the legendary coach, L. Butler Hennon.
"We pushed after misses, pressed after makes," recalled Allen , 59. As a 5-10 high schooler, he could dunk with either hand. Was an all-state player on a championship team that stressed the fun in fundamentals.
And then he signed with the Phillies. Used most of the $60,000 bonus to make life easier for his mom, Era, who raised eight kids with a loving heart and a righteous hand.
The Phillies called him up in September 1963 after an anguished season in racially tense Little Rock, Ark.; bigoted, threatening notes left on his windshield.
"I wanted to quit," Allen said. "I called home, said, 'Mama, I want to come home. ' She said, 'God gave you to me and I raised you according to his will. He gave you talent. It would be disobedient to me and to God if you quit. ' I cried, I stayed."
Dressed differently, had a droopy eyelid that people misconstrued as uncaring, marched to the tune of his own race-track bugler, bristled at rules. Sound familiar?
"Got booed first at-bat in Connie Mack Stadium," he recalled. "I don't know why. Maybe something somebody wrote. Maybe something somebody said on the radio."
Somebody wrote about his fashion sense, the tweed jackets with the belt in the back, the wing-tipped shoes.
"I wasn't trying to impress anybody," he said. "We had to shop in Pittsburgh. Those were the Nehru jacket days. I bought what I could afford."
He was always wary of the media after that.
"I loved playing the game," he said. "I couldn't see the point of standing around, analyzing it afterward."
Drove in 91 runs in that '64 season. Hit 29 homers, many of them over the Philco sign atop the stadium roof. Was voted the league's best rookie despite playing a new position, third base.
The next year, July 3, on the field, before a game, Allen decided to silence teammate Frank Thomas' needling mouth with a left hook. Thomas retaliated by swatting Allen's left shoulder with a baseball bat.
Thomas slammed a pinch-hit homer, but was released that night. Allen never got to tell his side of the story.
"Gene [Mauch] said it would cost me $2,500 if I talked," Allen said. "I was making the minimum. My check was $353.64 every two weeks."
It didn't matter how many rooftop homers Allen hit after that, how many runs he drove in, how many times he went first-to-third swiftly, the city never forgave and never forgot. The suburbs, too.
"It's a different atmosphere now, a different arena," said Larry Bowa, who played with Allen when the Phillies, through the urging of Richie Ashburn, brought him back from exile in 1975.
"When you look at the things he did, they pale against some of the stuff reported about Iverson. When Dick came up, the environment was different. He went through a lot of racial stuff. You wouldn't want to wish that on anyone.
"You still read about Dick Allen and Frank Thomas, the fight. It's different now. Guys fight in the clubhouse, it's written about one day, forgotten the next. Two weeks later, nobody remembers it. All those homers, everything he accomplished, it's like the fight was the highlight of his career.
"If he played today, it'd be different. And he would put up unbelievable numbers. Unbelievable numbers."
If he played today, would it be different? Has the city changed that much? The fans? The tolerance level?
"When I signed," Allen recalled, "I wasn't old enough to shave. Spring training, '64, I showed up with a mustache, little beard. Gene Mauch said, 'Clean it up!'
"I'd come to play ball, not be a contestant in a beauty pageant. After that, I let the sideburns grow a little longer every year. Had lots of hair when I got the most American League All-Star votes in '72. Showed up at the luncheon, looked at the dais, name tags for Johnny Bench, for everyone else, no spot for me. I left."
Nobody makes a fuss about hair anymore. Shave it off, wear it long, put it in pigtails. If you can hit, you can look like Don King, or a porcupine, or both.
"When I think of Dick Allen ," said Pat Williams, who once booked the slugger as a halftime singer at a 76ers game, "I think of little white golf balls disappearing into the night over the roof, tracer shots.
"I remember enormous controversy, an unsettled, troubled young man, trying to find himself. 'My Way,' that would have been Allen 's theme song. He was blessed with enormous talent, and had a troubled soul.
"Only one thing matters now, in 2004, in 3004, and that is, you produce, you win, you're beloved," Williams said. "Sure, Iverson showed more leadership, less hostility this year. But if he'd been Mr. Warmth and they hadn't played well, fans would have grumbled, 'Give us back the old Iverson.'
"They come from totally different backgrounds. Allen was raised in a loving home in a small town in Western Pennsylvania. His mother was saintly. His brother Hank was a teammate of mine in Miami. His brother Ron played for Spartanburg when I was general manager there.
"And when I ended up in Chicago [with the Bulls], Dick was with the White Sox, playing for Chuck Tanner. The White Sox players were awed by him. He did things his way, took his game to a higher level, and Tanner milked the best out of him."
Allen said: "It was like I always dreamed the major leagues would be. Play the game, and that's all that counted."
Once, in the midst of a Phillies season when Allen was hitting .315, with 25 homers, someone asked his brother Hank, if Dick would be hitting .350, with 40 homers, if he conformed.
"If he conformed," Hank said firmly, "he might be hitting .250, with 15 homers."
Dick Allen laughs at the memory.
"I was always a loner," he said. He scans a list a writer has constructed, similarities with Iverson.
"Trouble with old-school managers? " Allen says, wincing. "I never had trouble with managers."
"They might have had trouble with me."
He went to the Cardinals in the historic Curt Flood trade in October 1969. Then to the Dodgers, and on to the White Sox. Four teams in four years. The Phillies brought him back in '75, and the rerun ended sourly when the Phillies clinched the '76 pennant in Montreal and Allen headed home instead of flying with the team to St. Louis.
"They were gonna strip the uniform off Tony Taylor," Allen said.
He threatened to quit if they didn't put Taylor on the playoff-eligible roster. They compromised, making Taylor a coach. The Reds swept them in three games and Allen was gone again.
He lives in Wampum now, working for the Phillies under Rob Holiday, assistant to the director of scouting and player development. When we talked, he was enthused about working with the kids in the RBI (Reviving Baseball in the Inner City) program.
"He's a community representative," Holiday said. "He's helped with the inner-city baseball league. We sponsor 70 teams. He loves being around the kids and the coaches. He's extremely popular, he's received very warmly wherever he goes.
"Plus, he's worked individually with players in the minor leagues. He's been a mentor to Reggie Taylor, he worked with Jimmy Rollins, worked with Pat Burrell when we were trying him at first base. He's given them off-the-field advice that's invaluable."
There is gray splattered in the mustache now, sadness in his eyes.
"In a short time," he said sadly, "lost a sister, another sister, lost my daughter, my mom. Whack, whack, whack, whack."
He will be in town Friday and Saturday for "alumni weekend" and is scheduled to take part in a home-run hitting contest. He has a cameo role in Mike Tollin's new movie, "Summer Catch."
Tollin grew up in Philadelphia, cried himself to sleep after Chico Ruiz stole home to start that 10-game skid in 1964. Idolized Allen then, befriended him later on, collects memorabilia, including the 45-rpm record of "Echo's of November" on the Groovey Grooves label.
Hopes someday to make a movie based on their friendship. The "Summer Catch" premiere is in Philadelphia on Aug. 20, a benefit for Phillies charities.
And, if Allen were playing now?
"Give him $10 million," Tollin said quickly. "Leave him alone and save a place for him in the Hall of Fame."
That's what he always wanted, to be left alone, to play the game he was passionate about, to swing that 42-ounce bat and hit the ball over the Coca-Cola sign, which is why he scribbled "Coke" in the dirt around first base.
He has only one regret.
"I wish I could have kept my cool and never fought with Frank Thomas," he said. "Lost my head that night. And now we're best of friends. We were OK before the night was over. Shook hands."
That was 1965, and times have changed dramatically. Just look at the way the city has fallen in love with Allen Iverson. The suburbs, too. Allen thinks he knows why.