The electronic billboard that flashed last month over the Vine Street Expressway was not stressing patience. Dick Allen belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame, the sign read in bright red letters, and the former Phillies slugger belongs there “NOW!”
Allen’s Hall of Fame quest is now 22 years longer than his 15-year playing career and patience among his supporters is running thin. But despite the billboard’s request for immediacy, Allen’s fans will have to wait at least one more year for him to take another swing at Cooperstown.
The Hall of Fame’s board announced in August that the vote scheduled for this weekend would instead be pushed to December 2021. The coronavirus pandemic prohibited the Golden Days Committee — the group of 16 who would determine the Hall of Fame status of Allen and nine others — from meeting in person, and a video chat or teleconference was not deemed as a suitable replacement.
“They can’t do it virtual? What do you mean they can’t do it virtual? Everyone else is,” said Mark Carfagno, the chairman of Allen’s supporters group. “The United Nations General Assembly met virtually. I don’t believe that nonsense. What’s so secretive about them?”
Jon Shestakofsky, the Hall of Fame’s vice president of communications and education, said the committee, which normally votes every five years, cannot meet virtually because the process requires a daylong meeting of hyper-focused conversations that take place each year at the site of baseball’s winter meetings. A virtual meeting through either video chat or teleconference would be difficult with 16 people logged on from different locations.
“Over the last nine or 10 months, we’ve all become familiar with the technology of virtual meetings, but we’ve also seen that there are some difficulties with the idea of having a daylong conversation of this level of importance over that platform,” Shestakofsky said. “Distractions or words could be missed or people could have interruptions on their end at home. All of these are potential issues that could pop up, and really anything that could take away from the integrity of this incredibly important process needs to be avoided. It’s an incredibly important process because these 16 people are determining the future and the legacy of each of the 10 candidates.”
It has been more than three months since the Hall of Fame postponed the vote, but time has not softened the sting for Allen’s supporters. The group — which calls itself “The Dick Allen Belongs in the Hall of Fame Committee” — held a rally last month in South Philadelphia near one of its billboards and called the Hall’s decision an injustice.
“It’s cruel,” said Carfagno. “It’s wrong. It’s age discrimination. It’s a heartless decision for making these men wait who may not be with us.”
But Allen, who played nine seasons in Philadelphia, seemed unfazed by the Hall’s decision when he spoke in August after the Phillies retired his uniform number. Allen, 78, said he already considers himself a Hall of Famer after being inducted in 2018 into the Negro League Hall of Fame.
“That’s the real Hall for me,” Allen said. “They are a very elite group. They’re part of the legends. And to me, the way that it’s going, it could be a little political the way [the Baseball Hall of Fame] does things, but however, it’s beyond me. I pay no attention to it.”
When the Golden Days Committee meets, Allen will have to win votes from 12 of the 16 members to gain enshrinement into Cooperstown. The committee is comprised of former players, executives, historians, and media members. Other players they are expected to consider include Gil Hodges, Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva, Jim Kaat, and Maury Wills.
Allen, despite being overlooked for 37 years and coming one vote shy in 2014, has a case. He 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,” Mike 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.”
Carfagno, who met Allen while working as a Veterans Stadium groundskeeper and is best known as “Froggy,” argues that the committee should find a way to vote since the writers have received their annual ballots and the voting is being conducted for the Spink and Frick Awards.
But the voting for those does not have the in-person requirement that the committees do. And the Hall of Fame does not seem ready to budge.
“I’ve been here for almost five years and have gone through the process four times and it’s absolutely astounding the 16 people are all on the same page talking as one,” Shestakofsky said. “There’s no side conversations. There’s no cellphones. That’s the way the process should be. It should be completely focused because everyone needs to hear every word that is spoken. It’s important that no voting member of the committee misses something or doesn’t have the chance to speak to their feelings and their opinions. It is an active conversation and it requires active and full attention.”
Shestakofsky said the Hall of Fame did consider the ages of the candidates when it decided to postpone the election, but said “the number one thought has to be the integrity of this process and getting that right.” Allen is 78, Wills is 88, and Oliva and Kaat are both 82. Hodges and Minoso have died.
“How can you make a guy wait? You can’t make them wait much longer,” Carfagno said. “If any of the men pass away ... just making them wait, even if they don’t pass, it’s one less year of their lives that they won’t be able to enjoy and take pictures with their family and stuff like that. It’s heartless.”
“The Hall of Fame and the board’s primary concern is the right people getting elected to the Hall of Fame and that the process is able to play out with full integrity,” Shestakofsky said. “That really is the number one concern and was the number one concern when the board discussed this issue.”
Carfagno was told that the Allen billboards will be seen each week by one million people. Perhaps the signs will be able to create awareness and generate some buzz for a player who certainly has a case for the Hall of Fame.
But the billboards - which were donated to Carfagno’s group by Keystone Outdoors - will do little to help Allen reach Cooperstown “NOW!” as that will have to wait until December 2021. The Hall of Fame made its decision and a billboard over the Vine Street Expressway does not seem to be changing its plans.
“It was a unanimous decision by our board,” Shestakofsky said. “We think it’s a clear situation where it makes sense to wait and make sure that it’s done right and that it’s done with the full integrity that the process deserves.”