The mid- and late-60s were many things. The new Deadball Era in baseball (or at least it seemed like the ball was dead, there was so little scoring). A time when many young people marched to the beat of a different drum. A time close enough to the Age of Purple Prose in Sportswriting that a young power hitter from Wampum, Pennsylvania, could be nicknamed The Wampum Walloper. And a time close enough to the integration of major league baseball (the Red Sox became the last team to integrate in 1959) that life was not necessarily a bowl of cherries for young African American players, especially if they came up through the minors in the South, and were playing for a team with little experience in integration.
And thereby hangs the tale of Richard Anthony Allen, originally known as Richie, (mercifully) briefly as The Wampum Walloper, and later as Dick or Crash. (Happy 64th, Crash.) The first black star to play baseball in Philadelphia, Allen broke into the major leagues on September 3, 1963, after having suffered through a season with the Phillies' Triple A farm club in Little Rock… a bastion of segregation that achieved a dark fame along with Montgomery, Selma, Birmingham, Memphis and, ironically, Philadelphia, Mississippi, in the Civil Rights movement. Life in the minors was not fun for the supremely-gifted young athlete (if anything, he was a better high school basketball player than baseball player) with a set of wrists that would put Henry Aaron to shame. Still, he played in a total of 15 major league seasons, hitting 351 home runs with a .912 OPS.
Thanks in part to the scarring of his baseball youth, thanks in part to a fight in 1965 with Frank "The Donkey" Thomas (a nickname so noted by Jim Brosnan in The Long Season), and, thanks in part to being a person who did indeed march to the beat of his own drummer, Allen routinely got some of the worst press imaginable during his initial years with the Phillies. In a town notorious for booing, he heard as many as anyone, and was routinely labeled, at best, controversial. And, he did miss games, write word "BOO" in the dirt around first with his spikes, and drive managers Gene Mauch and Bob Skinner to distraction. Allen was maybe the ultimate non-conformist in baseball in the 60s, as were so many of his peers outside of the National Pastime. However, as another author/ballplayer who also marched to the beat of his own drum, Jim Bouton (today is his birthday too, by the way…happy 67th, Bulldog), has noted, baseball in the 60s could not stand non-conformists. And, according to author Bob Gordon, who has written several books on the Phillies, Allen to this day is a non-conformist, one who "does his own thing." However, the Philly sportswriters (some of whom probably weren't born when Allen broke into the majors) have finally, after 40 years, decided to let bygones be bygones, voting Allen the "Living Legend" award at their recent annual banquet.
None of which has much if anything to do with his baseball ability. In a similar fashion, none of the baggage toted around by Albert Belle, whose most-descriptive adjective tended to be "surly," has anything to do with his baseball ability. Now, as to whether that has anything to do with these two quite similar individuals' ability to get into the Hall of Fame, well, that may be another story. In the recent Hall of Fame election, Albert Belle received just 40 votes, 7.7 percent, making him the last man before the cutoff point wherein non-vote getters are summarily dismissed from the ballot. As noted previously one of the great charms of the Hall of Fame is the hue and cry raised when seemingly deserving individuals fail to make the grade, i.e., they don't get elected. The current vote was Belle's first time on the ballot, and almost his last, and it seems as if not a voice was raised in protest to the dismal showing of a player who could well be considered the best major league hitter of the 1990s.
H 2B 3B HR
RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1539 5853 974 1726 389 21 381 1239 88 683 961 .295 .369 .564 .933
Now, compare that to Allen's career numbers.
R H 2B
3B HR RBI SB BB
SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1749 6332 1099 1848 320 79 351 1119 133 894 1556 .292 .378 .534 .912
In case you're keeping score, they match up to an 867 Similarity Score on the 1000-point scale. Neither player had a very long career (Belle's was 12 years) and, as a result, their counting numbers don't blow you away. In addition, Allen averaged just 117 games per season, due to injuries and suspensions, Belle just 128 games per year, due to suspensions, alcohol and the 1994 strike. But, they could hit. Although Belle's plate discipline was better and he had more extra base hits, Allen had a better Isolated Discipline. They also score out almost exactly the same on the Black Ink Test, Belle having 28 points and Allen 27 (exactly the average for the present corps of Hall of Fame hitters).
Another similarity – neither was exactly famous for his leather, and yet, their numbers don't paint a horrible picture. Belle, who only played the outfield, actually had a range factor better than the league average, 2.08 to 1.89, although his fielding percentage was below average, .976 to .982. Allen's problems were almost entirely a function of his throwing. A serious shoulder injury, incurred while sliding in April 1966 affected his arm for the rest of his career, as did severe lacerations to his right wrist, caused when he put his hand through the headlight of an old car he was pushing up the Wissahickon Avenue hill near his home in Germantown in August 1967. Even before these two accidents, he had trouble making the transition from minor league shortstop to major league third baseman… a move made at the major league level in 1964, as if he didn't have enough to deal with. Still, his fielding numbers at third (where he made 40 errors as a rookie, unquestionably most of them on the longer throw) and first (where he was pretty decent) tell essentially the same story as Belle, good range, but a lot of errors. (Allen wasn't a good outfielder, any way you look at it.)
1st Base Fielding
.989 .991 8.88 8.40
Base Fielding League 1st Base
.927 .948 2.77 2.58
It has been said by Bill James, and this is paraphrased, that a player with a relatively short career must put up extraordinary numbers during those years to be worthy of the Hall. Albert Belle played 10 full seasons, and parts of two others, before a degenerative hip injury ended his career at the age of 34 in 2000. He was an absolute terror (at the plate) for the Indians in 1994, 1995 and 1996, posting Adjusted OPS figures of 192, 178 and 157. And, about that bat corking incident in 1994… first of all, as Rob Neyer has pointed out, it has never been scientifically proven that corking a bat helps the hitter at all. Second, when Belle came back from his suspension, he hit even better for the remainder of 1994. Albert Belle's career Adjusted OPS was 143, making him, if you wish to use this measure, the 60th best hitter in baseball history. By the Black Ink Test, he was an average Hall of Famer. Did he have problems outside of the batter's box? Yes. Problems with alcohol and anger management. His bio on the Baseball Library website (www.BaseballLibrary.com) makes the comment about, "his surly nature and frequent run-ins with the press and other intruders to his universe…" But, could not that same comment also have been made about Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby and even Ted Williams, for goodness sakes? And, it didn't keep them out of the Hall of Fame. To so severely snub someone who was the best hitter in baseball for three consecutive years would be unprecedented. No one that good has been left out of the Hall (although a case could be made for 1880s American Association superstar Harry Stovey).
Unless maybe it's Dick Allen, whose career ended just past his 35th birthday, when he could no longer whip his huge bat around on the fast ball. Dick Allen…simply the most powerful slugger this writer has ever seen play baseball. At 5-11, 190 pounds, and swinging a 42 ounce club that belonged back in the 1890s, Allen hit moon shots. Blasts over the Coke billboard atop the roof of the two-decked grandstand at Connie Mack Stadium. Although I saw him hit a monster in June 1964, his longest was said to be (who knows what his longest really was – it wasn't exactly safe to go measure home runs outside of Connie Mack Stadium at night during the 60s) a titanic 529 foot blow off the Cubs' Larry Jackson on May 29, 1965 – about six weeks before his run-in with Thomas. Like Belle, Allen was the best player in the American League for the White Sox for three years, 1972 to 1974, with Adjusted OPS figures of 200, 177 and 165. And that's not taking into account his early Phillies years, when he made Adjusted OPS figures of 162 (his Rookie of the Year year, which was comparable to Joe DiMaggio's rookie year), 181, 174 and 166.
Remarkably enough, Dick Allen was a better hitter than Albert Belle. Although Belle's career OPS is 21 points higher than Allen's, during Belle's playing career scoring averaged 4.85 runs per team per game, as opposed to 4.01 runs per team per game in Allen's years. That's a big difference, 17.3 percent. Increase some of Allen's key numbers by 17.3 percent (in effect putting him into Belle's era of play), and he would have hit 412 home runs, driven in 1313 runs, scored 1289, drawn 1049 walks. How good is that? Let's compare Allen's thus adjusted numbers to another big hitter from Belle's era, and the current era…
2B 3B HR
RBI BB* BA
Allen+ 1749 6332 1289 1848 375 93 411 1313 911 .292
Player X 1898 6621 1364 1917 403 63 412 1216 1068 .290
*Not including intentional walks
Allen is an excellent match… to the first 13 years of Barry Bonds' career, or up until the start of Bonds' own personal Juiced Era, 1999. Maybe this comparison isn't quite as statistically relevant as you'd like, but, do you think Barry would have made the Hall of Fame (a now iffy proposition) if he'd quit baseball after the 1998 season?
The final argument for Crash comes from OPS. If you increased his career OPS by the same 17.3 percent, you get a whopping 1.070 career OPS that would put him fourth (just behind Lou Gehrig) on the career list. Still, Allen, unlike some other players, has no cause to apologize. As it is, his career Adjusted OPS of 156 is 21st all-time. If there are any apologies due from outside the playing field, it is from the voters for the Hall of Fame.
A native Philadelphian who moved to Georgia in 1994, John Shiffert has had two baseball history books published, "Baseball: 1862 to 2003" and "Baseball… Then and Now." Both are derived from his now four-year old baseball history e-zine, "19 to 21" and compare past players and events in the game with current players and events. His third book, a history of baseball in Philadelphia in the 19th Century, will be published by McFarland & Company later this year. The 2004 and 2005 versions of "19 to 21" are still awaiting a publisher, and he is also partway through writing a history of the Philadelphia Athletics' first dynasty from 1901 to 1914.
A member of the Society for American Baseball Research, Shiffert's background includes serving as a sportswriter, as sports information director for Earlham College and Drexel University, and as publisher of the Philadelphia Baseball File. He's been director of University Relations at Clayton State University since August 1995.