By Ray W. Kelly
(Phillies beat writer 1964 through 1981)
Perhaps the greatest stumbling block is a man named Bill James, a renowned baseball historian and statistical guru. In 1985 he wrote a book entitled The Historical Baseball Abstract. It was hailed as the “holy book of baseball,” a classic.
In it, the newly-crowned “Sultan of Statistics” said this about Dick Allen:
“Dick Allen did more to keep his teams from winning than anyone else who ever played major league baseball.”
James, who never met Allen or even saw him play, went on to add that Allen was the second most controversial player in baseball history, behind Rogers Hornsby.
It was a damning assessment, one that instantly became the gospel truth to a lot of people, many of them baseball people, some of them voting sportswriters.
James has never provided an ounce of evidence as to what brought him to draw such dire conclusions concerning Dick Allen. Whenever attempts were made to discover the reason he embarked upon such slander, he simply vanished into the woodwork.
Surely such an expert knows how to read the record.
The 1962 Phillies were a mess, last in everything.
Dick Allen joined the Phillies at the end of 1963 when they finished in fourth place club. Then in 1964, as he was winning the Rookie of the Year Award, they came close to winning it all.
After Allen left the Phillies following the 1969 season,this is what manager Gene Mauch said about the hostile press reporting that Allen was a clubhouse lawyer, who was a distraction to teammates.
“Never,” said Mauch. “His teammates always liked him. You could go forever and never meet a more charming fellow. He wasn’t doing anything to hurt his teammate’s play of the game and he didn’t involve them in his problems. When he was personally rebellious, he didn’t try to bring the other players into it.”
Before Allen went to St. Louis, the Cardinals were a fourth-place club
They remained a fourth-place team even though Allen, battling an Achilles tendon problem, led the Cards with 101 RBIs and 34 homers during an all-star season.
Manager Red Schoendienst later admitted he was against the acquisition of Allen because he’d heard Allen had a bad attitude.
Afterward the season, when asked if he found this to be true, the manager shook his head.
“He did a real fine job for me,” he said. “He had a great year, led our team in RBIs and never game me any trouble.”
Noting that injuries on the club had forced him to use Allen at three different positions during the season, Red noted, “He was good about that.”
When asked if Allen had a negative effect in the locker room, the manager said “Absolutely not. He was great in our clubhouse. He got along with everyone. He wasn’t a rah-rah guy, but he came to play. They respected him and they liked him.”
Dick Allen’s brief stint with the Los Angeles Dodgers was given a hard look by noted baseball writer Craig R. Wright, who observed that the team was crippled by injuries that season. Yet, the Dodgers made a run at the pennant with Allen playing a big part, appearing in 155 games, hitting .295 with a team high of 90 RBIs.
Manager Walter Alston said at the time, “If we win this year, I’ll be more proud of this team than any I’ve ever managed.”
Why then was Allen traded? And, did Alston play a part?
Danny Ozark, a Dodger coach at the time, said this, “Walt was a quiet guy. He didn’t talk a lot to the players. If he didn’t say anything, you assumed it was all right. He never said anything bad about Allen, not that I know of.”
Another LA coach, Caroll Beringer added more insight saying, “That’s exactly how he (Alston) was. I don’t remember any problems with Richie. I do remember one thing that hurt him with the Dodgers.”
Beringer noted that owner Walter O’Malley had a bit of an obsession about players making personal appearances. Allen balked at that, putting Alston between a rock and a hard place. He knew the “Dodger Image” was paramount with the owner. And he told Beringer that Allen was hurting his chances of staying with the team.
He was right.
The Dodgers traded Allen and finished ten and a half games out of first place the following season.
But, Allen fared far worse. Yet another trade left little doubt in people’s minds that no team in its right mind would discard a player who contributed so much to a team’s success unless there were more sinister reasons. Allen was now a marked man and he knew it.
That was one of the reasons he decided to retire rather than join a Chicago White Sox, which was a carbon copy of floundering Phillies organization he’d joined at the very start of it all.
His mother convinced him that things might be different since Chuck Tanner, a neighbor of the Allen family in Wampum, Pa., was managing the team.
Allen gave the White Sox his all, turning them into a contender with a historic, MVP season that saw him hit 37 home runs and drive in a league leading 113 runs.
In the Baseball Research Journal, author Wright included these quotes:
General manager Roland Hemond said, “He was always there. I’ll never forget him, and I’ll always be grateful to him. He gave us great years; he made it fun. He revitalized baseball in Chicago.”
Manager Tanner said, “He was the greatest player I ever managed. What he did for us in Chicago was amazing. He took care of the young kids, took them under his wing. And he played every game (for three years) as if it was his last day on earth.”
A collision at first base in 1974 resulted in a fractured fibula signaled the beginning of the end of Allen’s stay in Chicago.
Before it was all over, the Phillies asked him to join their group of budding young stars for the 1975 season. That alone should tell you something about what is true and not true about Dick Allen.
But, the damage to his reputation was done and people like Bill James continued to perpetuate the awful myth. This is curious because James almost always bases his opinions on the most modern of statistics, like these:
In the mathematical wonderland called OPS+, Allen was a 10-year winner (1964-1973), with a score higher than Willie McCovey, Frank Robinson, Harmon Killebrew, Willie Stargell, Roberto Clemente and Willie Mays. All but Allen are in the Hall of Fame.
Numbers guys like Bill James also use a numerical compilation called WAR, which Allen owned for three seasons at 9.3 WAR, 9.1 WAR and 7.8 WAR.
Every eligible player with two 9-plus WAR seasons is in the Hall of Fame except for Dick Allen, which in itself is a statistical anomaly worthy of investigation.
How a supposed statistical scientist like Bill James can ignore his own mathematical equations and go with something someone once whispered in his ear boggles the mind.
It’s not fair. It’s not right.
And, so we end up with our researching with Mr. Wright, who took the time and effort to ask someone who should know, a well-respected, well-informed baseball man like Chuck Tanner.
Was Bill James right about Dick Allen?
Tanner was astonished by the question at first.
Wright explained by reading aloud James’ assessment of Allen.
To which Tanner answered, “He’s full of shit, and you be sure to tell him that.”