Today, the baseball world was told of the passing of Dick Allen at his home in Wampum PA after a long illness. He was 78. While most of his career was in Philadelphia, he had his greatest season as a member of the White Sox.
Throughout White Sox history, there had never been a great power hitter. Sure, they got Ted Kluszewski for the 1959 pennant winners, but he was pretty much done at that point.
They tried putting a chain link fence in the outfield, hoping Sox hitters would get a “White Owl Wallop”, but all it did was make life easier for the Frank Howards and Boog Powells of the world. Like they needed any help.
In 1970, Bill Melton became the first player in White Sox history to hit 30. He hit 33 in 1971 as well. But that was it. No other Sox player hit 20 in either of those years.
It all changed after the 1971 season, when Sox GM Roland Hemond sent Tommy John to the Dodgers for the man who was “Rich Allen” on his baseball card.
Dick Allen had been the first Black superstar on the Philadelphia Phillies, who were the last team in the National League to integrate. This was after their notorious racial abuse of Jackie Robinson. Allen joined the Phillies in 1964, and he damn near carried them to the pennant, hitting 318/382/557 with 29 home runs. While the Phillies famously faltered and were overtaken by the Cardinals for the pennant, Allen won the Rookie of the Year by an overwhelming margin.
This was after a rough 1963 season, where he was promoted to the Phillies AAA team in Buffalo, only to have the team relocated to Little Rock, Arkansas. Allen and the team coming to town also meant that Little Rock got integrated baseball.
Arkansas governor Orval Fabrus, a strident opponent of integration, attended the first game, as did fans with signs protesting Black players on the Little Rock team. Allen did Allen things there, hitting 289/341/550 and hitting 31 home runs, as Little Rock fans voted him MVP.
Allen picked up in 1965 where he left off in 1964, mangling baseballs with his 40 ounce bat. After an altercation with veteran slugger Frank Thomas, Thomas was waived. Fans were outraged, and were chanting for Thomas, blaming Allen for Thomas being let go. Thomas was clearly at the end of his career and was no longer hitting well enough to justify putting his glove in the field every day, but that didn’t matter to Phillies fans.
He started wearing his batting helmet in the field to protect himself from things being thrown at him, and he wound up wearing it the rest of his career. He’d also respond to the booing by scratching out messages with his spikes in the dirt around first base.
One thing that grated him was the fact that the Phillies called him “Richie”, despite his being called “Dick” throughout his minor league career. By the time he got to the Sox, he was known as Dick Allen throughout baseball.
And when he got to the Sox, it was a huge thing. After the Phillies sent him to St. Louis for a year, he went to the Dodgers before the aforementioned swap for Tommy John.
He was a different type of player. He had personality. He had style. And when he hit baseballs, they stayed hit. Before his arrival, home runs hit onto the roof of Comiskey Park were a rare occurence, but with Allen it happened so often that the Sox put signs on the roof with the date that Allen roofed each one.
He finished his first season with the Sox hitting 308/420/603 with 37 home runs and 113 RBI. He led the American League in HR and RBI, and all season there were Triple Crown watches on both sides of town, as Billy Williams was also in the running, falling short by 3 HR and 3 RBI.
You couldn’t go anywhere in Chicago without seeing Dick Allen. He was on TV during Sox games selling Chevrolets. His face was in the windows at Morrie Mages and Sportmart. You got a Slurpee at 7-11, and Allen’s smiling face was on the cup. He was Reggie before Reggie was Reggie. Hell, they even sold Dick Allen buttons outside Wrigley Field.
The Sox even went out and got his brother Hank, so there were two Allens on the team. I mean, Hank played almost 400 big league games, something any of us would give a kidney to do, but let’s be real. He hit as many home runs in his career as his brother could hit in two weeks.
He fractured his leg in 1973 and didn’t even play in half the Sox’ games, but came back with another All Star selection, the 7th and final one of his career. He hit 301/375/563 with an AL-leading 32 home runs. But he was in a lot of pain, and in mid-September he announced his retirement.
The thing is, he never filed the paperwork for retirement. So the Sox traded him to Atlanta. After his experience in Little Rock, he had no interest in playing in Atlanta. So the Braves traded him to the Phillies. He was OK in 1975 and pretty good in 1976 – the only year he played in the postseason.
He played a few games in Oakland in 1977, where he wore his hometown (Wampum) as his nameplate instead of his last name. But he called it quits for real.
Sadly, due to the COVID pandemic delaying the vote, he never got elected into the Hall of Fame, an honor he richly deserves. At least the Phillies retired his number 15 while he was still alive.