The cigarette smoking, the outlaw mentality, the 40oz bat and the famous Sports Illustrated Cover. No player in MLB history ever epitomized the ethos of the Southside Chicago White Sox fan better than CSHOF member and 1972 MLB MVP Dick Allen. Dick passed away December 7th after a long illness. He was 78 years old.
Allen was born March 8, 1942, in Wampum, Pa., in a baseball-loving family. Two of his brothers, Hank and Ron Allen, also played in the major leagues.
He earned the National League Rookie of the Year award with the Phillies in 1964, when he led the league with 125 runs scored, 80 extra-base hits and 352 total bases. He finished in the top five that season in batting average (.318), slugging percentage (.557), hits (201) and doubles (38) while committing a league-high 41 errors in his first season playing third base.
As a 5-foot-11 and 187 pound rookie he carried a big stick. His 40-ounce bat was far bigger than the ones most of his peers used. Willie Mays once said Allen hit a baseball harder than anyone he ever had seen, and Allen’s 445-foot home run to center field at Comiskey Park off the New York Yankees’ Lindy McDaniel in 1972 was testament to that fact. “Nobody has ever hit a ball any further,” yelled Sox announcer Harry Caray, who was broadcasting the game from the bleachers.
Allen arrived on the South Side of Chicago after the 1971 season following a trade from the Los Angeles Dodgers and quickly ignited Comiskey Park the place to be. Attendance at Comiskey had fallen below 500,000 in 1970 and was barely over 830,000 when Allen joined a team that hadn’t won a pennant since 1959 and finished 22½ games out of first place in ’71.
His presence helped spark the club on the field and at the gate in 1972 on his way to being named the American League’s Most Valuable Player. Allen batted .308 with a league-leading 37 home runs, 113 RBIs, 99 walks and a .603 slugging percentage, and he led the majors with a .420 on-base percentage, 1.023 OPS and 199 OPS plus.
The Sox remained in contention most of the season before finishing 5½ games behind the mighty Oakland Athletics in the AL West. They drew more than 1.18 million fans to Comiskey and stabilized the franchise, which had been rumored to be possibly moving to Seattle or St. Petersburg, Fla.
Allen was a seven-time All-Star with the Philadelphia Phillies and the White Sox. He also made stops with the St. Louis Cardinals and Oakland A's. He finished his 15-year career with a .292 average, 351 home runs, 1,119 RBIs and a .912 OPS. Former Sox teammate Rich “Goose” Gossage called Allen “the greatest player I’ve ever seen play in my life” and said he belongs in Cooperstown. Other greats including Willie Mays have shared this sentiment as well.
We would be remiss to say that Allen's career didn't have some terrible and unfortunate bumps. He was a consistently subjected to racial injustices and prejudices during his time as a player and he has been quoted as saying that he "played angry" as a result. Allen began wearing a helmet while he played in the field in Philadelphia because fans, who were known to shout obscenities and racial slurs at him, began throwing batteries at his head. In 1967, Allen punched his right hand through a car headlight, almost ending his career. In 1969, the Phillies suspended him indefinitely and fined him $2,500 for failing to show up to a game.
Allen inadvertently played at role in the birth of baseball free agency. After demanding a trade following the 1969 season, Allen was sent to the Cardinals for Curt Flood, who refused to report to the Phillies, thus beginning the fight for free agency. The Cardinals traded Allen to the Dodgers after one season, and the Dodgers dealt him to the White Sox on Dec. 2, 1971, for Tommy John and Steve Huntz.
It was on the South Side that Allen’s legendary career took off again. Former White Sox third baseman Bill Melton said Allen wanted to quit the game after the way fans and front offices had treated him. But Chicago quickly adopted its new star, who now went by the name “Dick” instead of “Richie,” and he reciprocated by devoting himself to the team and the city.
After three All-Star seasons with the White Sox, Allen left the team with two weeks remaining in the 1974 season after a feud with third baseman Ron Santo, according to Allen’s autobiography, “Crash.” The Sox sold Allen’s contract to the Atlanta Braves for $5,000, but Allen refused to report and announced his retirement. He eventually played three more seasons, including two with the Phillies, before he left the A’s halfway through the 1977 season. While Allen played only three years in Chicago, he called it the favorite stop of his career. “It’s better than anywhere I’ve been my whole baseball career,” he told the Chicago Tribute in November in what would be his final interview. “I might say my whole baseball life. I’ve never been treated any better. You guys are the best for my money.” Allen has been quoted as saying that if he does make it into Cooperstown he would like to have the Chicago White Sox cap on his plaque.
We are just happy that we had the pleasure to induct him into our Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame first. Godspeed Dick the memories you gave us are treasured.