FanPost

In an alternate universe.....


Cooperstown, NY, (AP) July, 1982. In an alternate universe.

"I am proud to say that I wore my Phillies red cap with the "P" my entire career. And with my friends Jim Bunning, Chris Short, and later Mike Schmidt, Larry Bowa, Steve Carlton and Ferguson Jenkins, we ended all the years of frustration in Philadelphia. Guys, you will be on this podium soon enough! Not a losing city now, either! Go Eagles, you are next!"

Laughter and applause rang out today in response in Cooperstown NY as famed Phillies’ slugger Dick Allen, the Wampum Walloper, was inducted into baseball’s National Hall of Fame. Allen was part of the Phillies’ National League East victory in 1975 and World Series championships in 1964 and 1976, before retiring at the end of that year. The 1964 and 1976 victories were especially seminal in the minds of Philadelphia sports fans, as the 1964 victory ended decades of frustration for Phillies fans, and the 1976 championship accelerated an unprecedented decade of success for Philadelphia pro sports teams, including Flyers’ Stanley Cup victories in 1974, 1975 and 1980, and Philadelphia 76ers NBA championships in 1977 and 1980, along with the more recent Phillies championships of 1977 and 1980. Allen, the 1963 National League Rookie of the Year, finished his career with 430 regular season home runs. His most famous home runs, of course, happened in the 1964 World Series, where in game 6 he hit 3 home runs on 3 pitches, a feat that has not been matched. One of those home runs was over the left field roof of old Connie Mack Stadium, and one flew over the 447-foot marker in center field, a mammoth hit.

Former Phils manager Gene Mauch, one of the presenters for Allen, related an anecdote told many times in the past. "There are only two times in my life my wife has had premonitions about baseball that she insisted I listen to. The second was to keep giving Bunning and Short full rest after that 6 game losing streak in 1964 that almost cost us the pennant. But the only reason I listened to that one was her nagging, uh, I mean persistence – (laughter) – about keeping Dick Allen with the big club in 1963. All through Spring Training she says ‘You just have to keep that Richie Allen up with the club! Bad things will happen if you don’t!’ I tried to ignore her, I mean, why should a guy go right from the Eastern League to the big club? And then I would have to convince the brass that it was a good idea. What did she know? How could she know? Well, I guess we all know now what she knew! (cheers and applause). Dick Allen, thank you for a wonderful career, and now you receive a richly-deserved reward! Congratulations!"

Several current Phils players attended the event since it was an off day for the Phils. Third baseman Mike Schmidt was asked about his favorite memory of Allen’s career. "Well, you know, most people always talk about the three home run game in the 1964 World Series. But for me, nothing can top that clutch 2-run pinch hit home run he hit in the top of the 9th in game 3 of the Reds series in 1976 after the error by Concepcion on my pop fly. That sealed the game for us and turned the series around. Of course Carlton and Jenkins threw those gems on 3 days rest in Cincinnati, too. "

Since retirement, Allen has kept close to the game as a Phils broadcast analyst, as well as continuing his love of horses and horse racing.

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Back to our universe.

For those of you who weren’t around, 1964 was a "year that will live in infamy" in Phillies lore. I still remember Les Keiter on channel 6 putting up some kind of home made sign during his sports report with the "magic number" of 7, which of course was never fulfilled.

The 1964 season not only changed the life of Phils fans for the worse, but also for players and management as well. The one most affected, in my view, was Dick Allen. Dick Allen somehow was blamed for many of the problems of the Phils even though he caused few of them. When we see how Matt Stairs turned a few historic games into a broadcasting career, it isn’t too farfetched to believe that Dick Allen would have been lauded forever had the Phils won the National League in 1964 (let alone won the 1964 World Series). Some of the fan venom that surrounded Allen was surely racist, but I think some of it was pure frustration that the Phils would again be banished forever to the depths of the National League, and Allen was a convenient target for that frustration.

But the maelstrom that followed Allen was not just a result of fan idiocy, or even just from management ignorance and intolerance, although there was plenty of that. You’ll note in my alternate universe that Allen was not sent to Triple A in 1963. That’s because in my view, Little Rock somewhat radicalized Allen. Per Wikipedia:

His career got off to a turbulent start as he faced racial harassment while playing for the Phillies' minor league affiliate in Little Rock; residents staged protest parades against Allen, the local team's first black player.

Now, I have friends in Little Rock, and no one in Little Rock is proud of what was going on there in 1963. It was viciously racist, more so than many other Southern towns; after all, that was the town that Eisenhower sent the troops into. Wampum, PA did not have the racial divide that existed in Little Rock in 1963. So Phils management dumped an unsuspecting "Richie" Allen into that fray. Now, I’ve thought a long time about the unhappy fact of sending Allen there. But only in preparation for writing this post has it dawned on me that Phils management needlessly and incredibly unwisely kept him there for the whole season! How idiotic! Your best prospect in a generation being subject to harassment, and you do NOTHING? I mean, you had to know what was going on, didn’t you? The national news had long profiled the problems in Little Rock. And then your player endures racist parades? Carpenters, what were you thinking?

And so Dick Allen would not be "told what to do". His relationship with management, and of course the press corps, was thus prickly, and that led to bad relationships with the fans. It also led to bad decisions by Allen, including the mysterious wrist injury (supposedly?) caused by him crashing through the headlight as he pushed his 1950s era Ford up Washington Lane one rainy evening. That injury alone cost him time on the 1960s version of the disabled list, and also led to a suspension by management, one of many. The injuries and suspensions alone during his peak years led to a lower home run total than otherwise would have been achieved (and thus were achieved in my alternate universe).

But perhaps that relationship with superiors and the media would not have been so nasty had he simply never gone to Little Rock. It certainly isn’t beyond possibility. Wikipedia and Mike Schmidt suggest that Allen’s relationships with teammates of all races were superb. And had in turn the Phils won in 1964, with Allen possibly winning the MVP award, he surely would have been adored by fans as well as management.

Moreover, the 1964 (and 1963) debacle led to further bad decisions by management. Most notable was in 1966, when Allen had a great year. Baseball reference will tell you that Allen OPSd 1.027, OPS+ of 181; little Bud in TN remembers an amazing streak of power in June, hitting home runs over that 447 foot sign, and multiple doubles hitting the center field wall and left center power alley. But on April 21, 1966, spooked by 1964, management went all-in and traded Ferguson Jenkins for Larry Jackson and Bob Buhl. The Phils finished 8 back. Almost certainly, that deal does not get made if the Phils won in 1964.

Sigh.

But wait, you think this is all about Phils fumbling in years past? Ramblings by an old guy about some past stuff that can’t be changed? An homage to a great and misunderstood slugger? Well certainly all of this, but not mainly this. In part 2, (probably next week) I hope to talk about what this is really about: Ryan Howard, and Ruben Amaro, Jr. The controversial piece I've been promising.

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