The Starting Lineup
October 30, 2015Dick Allen: The Wampum Walloper. Considered by some to be the best player not in the Hall of Fame and by others to be the most divisive and destructive force in the game – ever. “If that’s a Hall of Famer,” baseball historian Bill James has asserted, “I’m a lug nut.” Maybe he’s a lug nut.
Allen’s raw stats place him on the doorstep of the Hall, perhaps a bit outside looking in. But when considered within the context of the era in which he played, he becomes a more intriguing candidate. The case for his enshrinement resides within these advanced metrics. In sum, these are the highlights (analytic and otherwise) trumpeted by those who support his candidacy: He was the 1964 National League Rookie of the Year and the 1972 American League Most Valuable Player. His 351 home runs are more than those of Hall of Famer Ron Santo and trail those of Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda by only 28 despite the fact that he accumulated nearly 1,400 fewer plate appearances than Cepeda. His three slugging titles dwarf the lone title claimed by the prototypical slugger of the era, Harmon Killebrew, and his lifetime .292 batting average tops Killebrew’s by 36 points. And perhaps most impressive, his “adjusted OPS” (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage, adjusted for ballpark factors) is higher than that of the greatest slugger of all time, Hall of Famer Hank Aaron. Adjusted OPS is generally considered by the analytic crowd to be more informative than raw OPS in that it measures players against the league average in a given year (an OPS+ of 100 is considered league average). Allen’s career OPS+ was 156 (i.e., 56% higher than league average over the course of his career); Aaron’s was 155 (i.e., 55% higher than league average); Willie Mays’s was likewise 156. If we consider prototypical Hall of Famers to perform at a level far above their peers, there is probably no better way to judge the candidacy of a slugger than through an analysis of OPS+. By way of further comparison, the OPS+ of Hall of Famers most typically compared to Allen are as follows: Harmon Killebrew: 143; Orlando Cepeda: 133; Jim Rice: 128; Ron Santo: 125.
The case against him rests primarily on two fronts: his relatively short career and his off-field theatrics. We’ll tackle each in turn. First, it cannot be argued that Allen’s career numbers suffer significantly due to his aborted career. He played 15 seasons, compared to 23 for Aaron and 22 for Willie Mays. Still 15 seasons, by itself, is not a short career (Ron Santo only played 15 seasons, Orlando Cepeda played 17, and Jim Rice played 16, for example). However, Allen’s prime consisted of only 11 of those seasons (he played only 10 games in 1963 and was relatively ineffective after 1974) and his decline was rapid. A longer, more gradual decline would have helped his case immensely as it would have padded his career statistics; however by 1974 he was suffering from numerous injuries that ultimately sent him into retirement. Yet, when his raw numbers (home runs, RBI’s, etc.) are compared to Hall of Famers with careers of similar length, they are comparable (a little better than some, a little worse than others). Thus, it is probably something beyond the mere length of his career that has kept him out of Cooperstown.
Which brings us to the second front: his off-field theatrics. Allen was certainly no angel but then again, how many players were? The book tackles his off-field issues and the perceptions and conclusions that grew from them so I won’t repeat them here. Suffice it to say, however, that the issues that surrounded Dick Allen were far more complex than many have traditionally assumed them to be. People skeptical of Allen’s “integrity, sportsmanship and character” (i.e., the HOF’s so-called “morality clause”) are invited to read the book and decide for themselves where they stand on this issue. In particular, they are invited to consider Allen’s relationship with Tony Taylor before concluding that he lacks the requisite integrity of a Hall of Famer.
Dick Allen will once again be considered for enshrinement in 2017.
Gene Mauch: The Little General. Hired by the Phillies in 1960 after the abrupt resignation (after an Opening Day loss) of “Whiz Kids” manager Eddie Sawyer, who remarked upon exiting that “I’m 49 and want to live to be 50,” Mauch was tasked with rebuilding the moribund ballclub and by 1964 he appeared to have completed the job. Ultimately, it was his meddling that proved to be the downfall of both the ’64 club and for Mauch as the Phillies’ manager as well. He overworked starters Jim Bunning and Chris Short down the stretch and stoked the rising tensions in the Phils’ dugout that contributed to their fateful September collapse (for those unfamiliar with Mauch, picture current Cubs skipper Joe Maddon. Then picture the opposite of that). Later, he engaged in a battle of wills with Allen that he couldn’t hope to win. Mauch firmly believed that he knew baseball players better than they knew themselves and, as such, knew what was best for both them and the club. His theories and tactics seemingly knew no bounds: he once cut a relief pitcher (Joe Verbanic) for being ‘‘too polite’’ for the job and was said to order the team trainer to give tranquilizers disguised as aspirin to a jittery pitcher. When he turned his tactics toward Allen, a battle royal was on.
Bob Skinner: A former marine who took the reins of the Phillies after Mauch’s firing, Skinner initially expressed a willingness to bend somewhat to accommodate his superstar cleanup hitter. ‘‘Look,’’ said Skinner. ‘‘It’s the same way in the business world. The successful business man goes places that the average business man can’t. Ted Williams stayed in different hotels. He always had his own room, and this and that. It’s not a question of rules for 24-and-1. It’s a prestige thing. Recognition of a player of Williams’ caliber.” Very quickly, however, his sense of order and discipline became offended. In August, 1969, he resigned via a spectacular press conference wherein he eviscerated club owner Bob Carpenter and General Manager John Quinn, who were sitting silently nearby. “I have too much pride to stay without support,” Skinner told the drooling media horde gathered around him. “There’s no way a manager can be a winning manager with this lack of support. . . . It’s reached the point now that [Allen’s] been spoiled to the extent that no manager can handle him.” Allen’s bemused summation of the Skinner era, along with the speculation that he, Allen, was somehow running the club behind the scenes was succinct: “They holler about me being spoiled. They say I have a lever in the front office, that I can call my own shots. How can they say that when all I want to do is get out of here? How can Bob Skinner quit on account of me? He didn’t show me much. Who likes a quitter? I’ve been taking the rap for five years now and I’m still here. . . . All I know is that everybody is getting out of here but me and I’m the one who wants to go.’’
Bob Carpenter: Known as much for his perpetual suntan as anything else when he assumed control of the Phillies in 1943, Carpenter was given the club by his father who hoped it would give his son something to occupy his time. It would. Perpetually confused as to the issue of race, Carpenter for years claimed that his Phillies were not prejudiced despite the fact that they were the last National League club to integrate (in 1957, a decade after Jackie Robinson’s debut with the Dodgers) and the last club in all of baseball to insist on integrated spring training facilities. With Allen’s signing in 1960, his protestations were put to the test at last.
John Quinn: General Manager of the Phillies from 1959-72. Charged with negotiating Allen’s contracts, Quinn, a baseball conservative who was said to be so staid as to wear both a belt and suspenders, was perpetually flummoxed over Allen’s insistence that his salary be determined not by years of service (as had been the accepted practice for as long as anyone in baseball could remember) but by performance on the field. He was repeatedly discharged from these negotiations by Allen and his agent, Clem Capozzoli, due to his intransigence. With each passing year, and each successive public dismissal, his pique and ire toward both Allen and Capozzoli grew more intense.
Chuck Tanner: A pioneer in leading baseball managers out of the dark ages. Tanner understood, before almost any of his peers, that in order to get the most out of his players, he had to understand them first as individuals. As such, he was the inverse of Gene Mauch. “I don’t have one rule for 25 players,” he once said. “I have 25 rules. I think communication is more important than regimentation.” He was the first person in MLB in a position of authority over Allen to recognize that Allen’s makeup as an introvert was driving much of his behavior. “Everyone says Allen, Allen, Allen, no matter what he does,” said Tanner at one point. “Well, Dick Allen is a human being. He’s a sensitive, shy person who just wants to be left alone to get ready in his own way for the season. And his program has no effect on the other players . . . I treat every player differently, according to what I think is best for them. This is what I think is best for Dick and I don’t care what anybody else thinks.” Under Tanner’s tutelage, Allen was the AL’s MVP in 1972 and led the White Sox to within a whisker of the AL West crown, finishing 5.5 games behind one of the greatest dynasties in modern baseball history, the Oakland A’s.
Tony Taylor: Second baseman, mentor to and friend of Dick Allen during both of Allen’s stays in Philadelphia. As a veteran of the Phillies’ segregated spring trainings, Taylor took the organization’s players of color under his wing. ‘‘I remember my first year,” Dick recalled near the end of his career of his initial spring training experience in Clearwater in 1960. ‘‘Tony (Taylor) was cooking for 18 of us in one room. We [the 18 black players invited to spring training] each put in five dollars. Nobody knows how hard it was then.” Taylor helped to make it at least a bit more tolerable. By 1976 Taylor was a pinch hitter and de facto coach, playing out the final year of a 19-year career that never concluded with a World Series appearance. With the Phils possibly on their way to one at last, Allen took a stand in an effort to do repay the person who had done so much for him and who asked almost nothing in return. ‘‘Tony [Taylor] is an unselfish person and a guy who puts team in front of himself,” Dick told a reporter one day. “If we get to the playoffs, and I know we will . . . I think it’s only right that a guy like Tony that gave so much should be there.” On the eve of the Phillies’ clinching of the Eastern Division, Allen made good on his promise: “That man deserves the chance to be in the playoffs in a Phillies uniform after what he’s contributed to this club over the years. . . . If Tony Taylor is made ineligible after we win the division I won’t play in the playoffs or World Series. As sure as God made me and guides my hand I won’t play if they take him off for the playoffs. Let them take me off it if it comes down to a choice.” With that, another showdown was underway.