In the fall of 2016, a group of supporters from the Dick Allen Belongs in the Hall of Fame campaign staff met with administrators from both the Philadelphia Public and Parochial School Systems. The premise of our meeting was to point out that most high school students in the Philadelphia area certainly know what the number 42 represents in Major League Baseball, that, of course, being the number worn by Jackie Robinson, the first African American ever to play in the Major Leagues.
As a result of his courage and the rough road he had to endure, Robinson’s number 42 was retired by Major League Baseball. Also, a movie “42” was made in honor of this black hero.
However what the students did not know was that the City of Philadelphia had their own version of Jackie Robinson in Dick (then called) Richie Allen in the early to mid-1960’s. In the spring of 1963, the Philadelphia Phillies organization sent Allen to Little Rock, Arkansas to play for their Triple A team. At the time, Little Rock was considered by many people to be the most racist city in the most racist state in the country.
Allen was the only African American player on the team and was subject to death threats, vandalism and verbal abuse and was not allowed to stay in the same hotel as his teammates. Somehow, he persevered and finished the 1963 season as the Arkansas Travelers MVP.
The following year, Allen became the first African American baseball superstar to play for the Phillies. The city of was also going through bad racial times and Allen was not treated very nicely by the mostly white fans of Philadelphia, Yet again, he excelled on the field and was named the 1964 National League Rookie Of The Year.
In 1965, Allen was involved in a fight with a white teammate Frank Thomas after Thomas continued to bait his black teammates with racial epithets. Allen had enough; when he approached Thomas he was held back by teammates. Suddenly, Thomas took a bat and hit the defenseless Allen on the shoulder.
The Phillies immediately released Thomas, who was an aging veteran, and kept Allen, who was ordered by the Phillies organization to keep his mouth shut or he would be fined heavily. Unfortunately, Thomas was very popular in Philadelphia and had his own radio show. The next day he went on the air and blasted Dick Allen.
Not surprisingly, many white fans simply looked at it as keeping the black guy and getting rid of the white guy. For a city already suffering from racial tensions, it was a turning fans point in Allen’s’ career. From that day, Allen had a huge target on his back.
Fans booed him unmercifully at every home game. They threw objects at him, which is why he began wearing a batting helmet while playing defense. One day, someone even threw a smoke bomb at him while playing third base at old Connie Mack Stadium.
Despite all these distractions, Allen continued to play at Hall of Fame level. He eventually was traded in to the St. Louis Cardinals and played for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox (where he was AL MVP in 1973) before returning to the Phillies in 1975, helping them win the 1976 National League East Championship.
Allen finished his career as a seven-time All-Star, 1964 Rookie of the Year and 1972 AL MVP.
Today, with the benefit of modern statistical analysis, many people feel that Dick Allen belongs in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. However, his refusal to speak to the media during his career and walk to the beat of a different drummer have hindered his chances.
Moving forward, both the public and parochial school systems liked what we had to offer and allowed us into their classrooms to speak to and educate students about an African American player who we feel is a hero and pioneer who led the way for other minorities to perform in Philadelphia. In the spring of 2019, with the help of former Phillies pitcher Larry Christenson and Allen teammate, more than 1,000 t-shirts will be donated to every high school baseball player in one of three leagues in Philadelphia: Public, Catholic and Inter Academic.
Our hope is to introduce the t-shirt donation to the media during a press conference at a site and date to be determined. We hope that all three school systems can participate in this press conference and promote it within their own boundaries.
The front of the t-shirt reads “CRASH COURSE IN THE CLASSROOM Dick Allen Belongs in the Hall of Fame”. The word CRASH is in reference to the helmet Allen was forced to wear, when he was known as “Crash Allen.”
Wearing these shirts will accomplish two goals. One is revisiting what Allen went through in the 1960’s by educating High School Students and the other is to affirm that Dick Allen Belongs In the Hall of Fame.