By George Castle CBM Historian
and David Fletcher, CBM President
December 7, 2020
“Better late than never” truly defined Dick Allen’s baseball life.
“Late,” but properly credited, can sum up Allen’s epitaph. The man who likely saved the White Sox for Chicago with his Most Valuable Player season in 1972 died at 78 on Monday, Dec. 7, after a long illness in Wampum, Pa., Allen’s hometown. And now the statistical perspectives will come forth to show Allen is Hall of Fame worthy — unfortunately, posthumously.
Allen was the controversial slugger recognized as one of the game’s best all-around players — a seven-time All-Star, an MVP winner (1972), and a Rookie of the Year winner (1964 — in his 15-year career spanning an era of pitching dominance. Yet decades later the clearer eye of history could put his performance and his impact on baseball in a more proper perspective. He was a man ahead of his times who overcame racism with dignity and grace.
When Allen was on top of his game, he was one of the most feared sluggers in baseball. During the 10 seasons between 1964 and 1973, Allen had an Adjusted OPS (OPS+) of 165, which was the highest-ranking OPS+ in the majors during that decade. That figure was greater than 11 Hall of Famers who played during that era, including No. 2 Hank Aaron (161), No. 3 Willie McCovey (161), No. 5 Harmon Killebrew (152), No. 6 Willie Stargell (152), No. 7 Roberto Clemente (151), No. 8 Mays (148) and No. 10 Al Kaline (140.)
During that decade-long span, Allen averaged 29 homers and 89 RBIs while hitting .299 with a .940 OPS (on base Percentage + slugging percentage.) Only Aaron’s .941 OPS was better over that span.
Allen should have been honored continually on the South Side for his 1972 Most Valuable Player season that teamed with broadcaster Harry Caray to save the White Sox for Chicago. But not until 40 years later was Allen properly recognized for his heroic one-man show in a special tribute and retrospective press conference at US Cellular Field set up by the Chicago Baseball Museum in June 2012.
The man tagged with the nickname “Richie,” after Phillies demigod Richie Ashburn, and not his preferred Dick, was Philadelphia’s first star African-American baseball player in 1964, almost a decade after top players of color broke through in many other big-league cities. He produced, but had clashes aplenty and was booed. Both the Phillies fans and front office did not really know what they had. Time travel to pandemic-upended 2020 before the Phillies franchise properly honored Allen and retired his No. 15 with the Phillies on Sept. 3 at Citizens Bank Ballpark. Allen finally got the apology and redemption from the City of Philadelphia he had deserved for a half-century.
STORYCategory Chicago Baseball History Feature, For Review Tags Chicago Baseball, Dick Allen, Hall of Fame, obituary