As the Phillies retire Dick Allen’s number, he’s still waiting on the Hall of Fame
Over and over again, Cooperstown has refused to admit this Black star who was neither quiet nor grateful
It was December 2014, and Dick Allen had been on the ballot for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame 17 times. And each time he had lost definitively, never getting more than 19% of the vote.
Maybe the 18th time would be different. The Hall’s Veterans Committee had gathered in San Diego for the MLB winter meetings, and the night before the vote, Allen was optimistic. He spoke with longtime friend Mark Carfagno, a former Veterans Stadium groundskeeper, musing about who he planned to thank in his acceptance speech.
The next day, Allen waited at his Florida home, knowing the Hall would call only if the news was good.
The phone rang. But it wasn’t Cooperstown on the other end. It was his son, Richard. Allen had once again fallen short, this time by a heartbreakingly close margin: He needed 12 votes from the 16-person committee. He received 11.
Perhaps Allen shouldn’t have been surprised. He had learned long ago not to expect — and had taught himself not to need — validation from others. In a career punctuated by racism, controversy and abuse from fans and teammates alike, he was accustomed to not getting respect as a player or as a man.
On Thursday, though, Allen will get at least some of the recognition he deserves, as the Philadelphia Phillies retire his No. 15.
The Hall of Fame announced last week it was postponing the upcoming Golden Days Era Committee elections to next year. When the committee next meets in the autumn of 2021, though, it won’t just be a referendum on Allen’s career, but an opportunity for the Hall to confront the fraught history of systemic racism in baseball.
Allen is among the most famous of the “second wave” of Black MLB players who became stars in the 1960s and ’70s. These players came of age watching Black stars such as Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. Some, including Allen, had grown up in integrated towns. Yet they were expected to abide by a double standard. Though the league was integrated, Black players were expected to be quiet, humble and grateful that they were allowed to play professional baseball.
“Any Black hurts his people if he is other than abjectly, supinely, hand-licking grateful for having been allowed to earn a decent living,” Curt Flood, a contemporary of Allen’s, wrote in his autobiography.
Allen was anything but quiet. He spent his career defiantly rejecting the role of “grateful Black player.” He demanded a higher salary to match his immense talent and didn’t bother to cozy up to sportswriters. He famously fought with a white teammate who had hurled a racial slur — and ended up being blamed for the altercation himself, enduring death threats in the aftermath.
While Allen’s statistics match those of many white players in the Hall, his reputation as a troublemaker — the stereotypical “angry Black man” — derailed his chances. When his next chance at induction comes up, it will be an opportunity for voters to reevaluate his career in the context of his life on the field and off – a life of racial abuse, being marginalized, being taunted by teammates and fans alike, of forever being treated as a “boy” rather than a man. Induction wouldn’t change the past. But it would finally recognize the accomplishments that make him more than worthy for inclusion in the Hall of Fame.
“N—– Go Home,” read the signs held by protesters. They massed outside the stadium, stopping fans on their way to the game and handing out leaflets warning of a “conspiracy” to “negroize” baseball.
That night, on April 17, 1963, the 21-year-old Allen would be making his debut for the Arkansas Travelers, the Phillies’ Triple-A affiliate. In doing so he would be breaking the minor league team’s color barrier, a prospect that enraged a local white supremacist group that led the protest outside Travelers Field.
For Allen, a native of Western Pennsylvania who played on integrated baseball and basketball teams at Wampum High School, this was a new, and terrifying, experience. “When he went there, he was afraid to get off the plane,” Richard Allen told The Undefeated.
The Phillies had done virtually nothing to prepare their young prospect to play in the Jim Crow South. As Allen wrote in his autobiography, his experience was a stark contrast to how the Brooklyn Dodgers handled Jackie Robinson. Nearly two decades earlier, Robinson had been prepared and supported by the Dodgers’ leadership — particularly general manager Branch Rickey — as he broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier.
Allen’s time in Arkansas was just the start of his rocky relationship with the Phillies. After a year in Little Rock — where he endured racist taunts from fans and was forced to live in segregated housing while still hitting a league-leading 33 home runs — he was called up to the big leagues. He again made an immediate impact. In 1964, he was named National League Rookie of the Year and finished seventh in the NL MVP voting. Yet his stellar performance didn’t insulate him from belittling treatment off the field.
It started with his name. “I’d like to be called Dick. … My name is Richard, and they called me Dick in the minor leagues,” he told a reporter from the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin in 1964. Yet the Phillies listed his name as “Richie” Allen, perhaps in an attempt to connect him with Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn, who starred for the Phillies in the 1950s. The diminutive rankled Allen. It “makes me sound like I’m 10 years old. I’m 22,” he said.
Then came the pay disputes. The Rookie of the Year award didn’t come with a cash award, which bugged Allen. “Let them put up $1,000 for Rookie of the Year and it would be worthwhile. I have a family to support. As it is, Rookie of the Year doesn’t mean a thing,” he said in an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer. His comments infuriated white fans and sportswriters, who weren’t accustomed to Black players speaking out about pay — or about anything else. The Phillies didn’t offer their star rookie a raise, prompting Allen to hold out for more money before the 1965 season. He was successful in that effort — the team ended up doubling his salary to $20,000 – but that only angered white fans more.
“[A]ny time a Black guy says something about his job, they say, ‘Well, it beats pushing a broom’ or something,” Allen would say years later in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.
Phillies fans turned on him, with some booing him when he came to bat. Meanwhile, racial tensions were flaring throughout the country, as the civil rights movement gained steam. Philadelphia, even in the best of times, wasn’t the most welcoming place for Black people. Famed Philadelphia sportswriter Stan Hochman once wrote of his city, “There are parts of this town that make Alabama look liberal.” It was only a matter of time before the powder keg exploded.
The moment came on Aug. 28, 1964, when a rumor spread around North Philadelphia that two white cops had beaten a pregnant Black woman to death. The story was false, but the history of white police officers brutalizing Black residents was not. For three days, Philadelphia exploded in riots, leaving an estimated 300 injured and two dead.
When the Phillies returned home from a road trip a few days later, white fans took their anger out on Allen. “Every time a ball was hit to Allen, fair or foul, every time he came to bat, the crowd booed. It was not just a few hundred people, but many thousands,” sportswriter Arnold Hano wrote at the time. Though Allen wasn’t the only Black player on the team, his stature as an outspoken star made him a target for hostile white fans. The booing became so commonplace that a September article in the Philadelphia Inquirer expressed astonishment that Allen hadn’t been booed.
When Frank Thomas joined the Phillies in August 1964, he had already gained the reputation as a “needler.” Philadelphia Inquirer writer Sandy Grady once wrote of him, “He had an uncanny knack for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong guy.” Allen was often the target of Thomas’ agitating. Once, after arriving at an airport in Los Angeles, Thomas flipped him a quarter and yelled, “Hey, boy, take my bags!” Allen recalled in a 1971 interview with Sporting News. Thomas thought it was funny. Allen wasn’t laughing. Eventually, they’d both be involved in one of the most infamous fights in baseball history.
There are many accounts of the fight on July 3, 1965, but most agree it started when Thomas made a racist comment to Allen during batting practice. Thomas claimed a few days later in an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer that he told Allen he was acting like “Muhammad Clay — always running off at the mouth,” though there are also claims he called Allen a “n—–” and a “Black bastard.” Allen confronted him and a scuffle broke out, ending when Thomas slammed his bat into the second-year player’s shoulder. Both played that day, with Allen going 3-for-4, and Thomas hitting a pinch-hit home run.
But the Phillies didn’t let the fight slide, releasing Thomas shortly afterward. Thomas, infuriated, took his complaints to the media. He insisted that Allen was the one at fault and painted himself as the victim. Thomas claimed that he had tried several times to apologize, but Allen wouldn’t listen. Allen “cost me my job,” he told the Philadelphia Tribune. Allen, meanwhile, was forbidden from defending himself. His teammates were threatened with a $1,500 fine if they spoke to the media. For Allen, the fine would be $2,500 (roughly $20,563 in 2020 dollars), more than 10% of his $20,000 salary.
“Your sister was born and I was a brand-new parent,” his son Richard recalled his father telling him. “I couldn’t afford to take a fine.”
Many Phillies fans were quick to accept Thomas’ version of events. ALLEN LANDS FIRST PUNCH, blared a headline in the Philadelphia Bulletin, labeling Allen as the aggressor.
“In any other city, people who hit other people with baseball bats are ranked near criminals,” the Bulletin’s Frank Bilovsky wrote a few years after the fight. “In Philadelphia, Thomas was a hero.” Allen didn’t get any sympathy from sportswriters at the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News, all of whom were white men, says Mitch Nathanson, author of God Almighty Hisself: The Life and Legacy of Dick Allen. “There was nobody on either of those papers who was willing to see things differently,” he told The Undefeated.
Fans turned even more vicious, pelting Allen with debris from the stands, eventually forcing him to wear a helmet while playing the field. Nor was the abuse confined to the ballpark. A few days after the fight, someone called Allen’s wife at home and threatened to murder her husband. Others vandalized his house and tore up his lawn with their cars. Allen had lasting physical damage from the fight, too. In an interview years later with the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), teammate Pat Corrales recalled that Allen’s shoulder swelled to twice its normal size overnight and said, “he couldn’t lift that shoulder for a while, and it bothered him for some time.” It’s likely the fight affected his performance on the field: Before the fight, he was hitting .335, but afterward, he hit only .271 the rest of the season.
“They really turned on him after the Thomas fight,” Phillies manager Gene Mauch said in an interview years later with SABR. “From there, if he did one little thing wrong, they would see it as so much worse because it was Allen. They got it in their heads that this was a bad guy, and they booed his every move.” Though Allen later claimed to have buried the hatchet with Thomas — the two even exchanged Christmas cards for several years — many fans never forgave him.
Even years later, a fan threw a rock through a window at Allen’s house, recalled his son, who was just 4 years old at the time. “We were in the front room and my sister was sitting by the bay window when the rock went through, and the rock landed right next to her. I’ll never ever forget that. That’s etched in my mind,” he said.
Allen would be a top player for several seasons — including winning American League MVP with the Chicago White Sox in 1972 — but controversy followed him throughout his career. He didn’t go out of his way to ingratiate himself with his critics. He later said that he would sometimes drink before games and would skip batting practice or even games to go to the horse track. He often refused to speak with the media, which in turn painted him as selfish and entitled. After demanding a trade from the Phillies after the 1969 season, he was dealt to the St. Louis Cardinals, and played for five different teams over the final eight years of his career (including a second stint in Philadelphia) before retiring in 1977.
The years after retirement were often difficult. In 1979, his Pennsylvania home burned to the ground, though his wife and three kids escaped unharmed. And in 1991, his 27-year-old daughter, Terri, was murdered in Largo, Maryland.
Allen’s son says his father holds no grudges. Before retiring his number, the Phillies had inducted Allen into their Wall of Fame, and he has worked for the club in various roles for several years. His reputation, however, never fully recovered. In 1994, nearly two decades after Allen had played his final game, famed baseball writer and statistician Bill James wrote that Allen “did more to keep his teams from winning than anyone else who ever played Major League Baseball. And if that’s a Hall of Famer, I’m a lug nut.”
Allen’s former managers strongly disagree. Allen’s “teammates always liked him. You could go forever and not meet a more charming fellow,” said Mauch. Chuck Tanner, who managed Allen on the White Sox, said in a 1995 interview with SABR, “Dick was the leader of our team, the captain, the manager on the field. He took care of the young kids, took them under his wing. And he played every game as if it was his last day on earth.”
Among the “kids” he took under his wing was Carfagno, a teenager who had lost both of his parents. In an interview with The Undefeated, Carfagno recalled how, when Allen learned of his parents’ deaths, he approached him. “Look, if you ever need anything, you come to me. And if you don’t, I’m gonna whup your butt,” Allen told the boy. Allen even gave him money so he could go on trips with the Phillies.
“He liked to help the little guy,” said Carfagno, who has spent the better part of three decades lobbying to get Allen into the Hall. “That’s why I’m so passionate about this cause. I want to clear his image. Because it’s not what it’s depicted to be.”
Dennis Millard saw that side of Allen, too. Millard, a Philadelphia native, was a 13-year-old kid who had fallen in with a bad crowd when he first wandered into Connie Mack Stadium and watched Allen take batting practice before a game. He was awed by the then-rookie — even more so when, not long afterward, Allen noticed the teen was short on cash at a food cart and stepped up to pay for his hot dog and soda.
Allen wound up becoming a mentor to Millard. He invited him home to meet his family, helped him out financially, and before games would sometimes stop to visit Millard’s grandmother, who lived near the stadium. Back then, when Millard heard fans abusing his hero, it so upset him that it sometimes brought him to tears. Today, at nearly 70 years old, Millard remains mystified why Allen isn’t in the Hall. Allen “saved my life,” he said of those early years. “I was this close to being a drug addict.” As a reminder of their friendship, he framed the hot dog wrapper from that encounter so many decades ago. It still hangs in his home.
Allen has never publicized his generosity, nor has he ever lobbied for inclusion in the Hall. (Allen declined to be interviewed for this article.) His refusal to “play ball” – to engage with the sports press – is evident in the Hall votes. In his first year of eligibility in 1983, writers gave him only 3.7% of the vote, a figure so low he actually dropped off the ballot. Even after being added back to the ballot in 1985, after the Baseball Writers’ Association of America decided to give 11 players a second look, Allen still struggled to get votes. In his 14 years on the association’s ballot, he topped out at 18.9% — with 75% needed for induction. In his five previous chances before the Veterans Committee — which evaluates players who may have been overlooked — he never got more than 16% of the vote until 2014, when he fell that one vote short.
Allen certainly has the numbers of a Hall of Famer. During the 11-year peak of his career (1964-74), Allen had an offensive WAR of 68.5, easily the highest of that era (beating out first-ballot Hall of Famers such as Aaron, Frank Robinson and Carl Yastrzemski). Many point to his relatively low career home run total of 351 as a reason he shouldn’t be in the Hall, but he played in an era of unprecedented pitching dominance (culminating in 1968’s famous “Year of the Pitcher,” which saw Denny McLain win 31 games and Bob Gibson have a 1.12 ERA). During his peak years, Allen’s 319 home runs were the fifth-most in the majors, and his 0.940 on-base percentage plus slugging percentage (OPS) was second only to Aaron.
When looking at OPS+, which adjusts a player’s OPS for park factors and league hitting environment, with the average being 100, Allen also comes out strong. His career OPS+ of 156 (meaning his OPS was 56% better than the average player during his career) is the 19th-highest in major league history, tied with Mays and Thomas, and ahead of Aaron.
Baseball writer Jay Jaffe has developed a stat called JAWS (Jaffe Wins Above Replacement Score). By averaging a player’s career WAR with their total WAR from their seven best seasons, JAWS is often used to determine the worthiness of a player for the Hall of Fame. Allen’s JAWS is 52.3, 17th-highest among third basemen in history, although slightly lower than the average for the third basemen already inducted (55.7). Jaffe still believes Allen deserves induction.
“He was mistreated by the Phillies, he was mistreated by the media,” Jaffe told The Undefeated. “He had every right to be as angry as he was … I don’t think the world was quite ready for that kind of Black athlete to give pushback at the times that he was doing it.” Jaffe compared Allen’s resume to Hall of Famers Jeff Bagwell and Ron Santo, both of whom had relatively short careers but were exceptional when they played. Bagwell was elected on his seventh year on the ballot, while Santo fell short of election several times before finally being inducted in 2012.
“I have little doubt that if Dick Allen had played in the 1990s and had the same career,” said Jaffe, “he’d probably be in the Hall of Fame.”
“The expectation that people had back then was if you’re Black, you can play in the major leagues, but you better be quiet,” said Nathanson.
These words summarize Allen’s career. Every time Allen spoke out, every time he talked about money and every time he asserted his right to be treated with dignity as a man, not a boy, fans and writers painted him as the stereotypical angry Black man. When Allen appears on the ballot for induction into the Hall of Fame next year, the committee will have a chance to finally give him the respect he has long earned.
“If you’re ever going to put the guy in,” said Carfagno, “now’s the time to do it.”