Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Dick "Crash" Allen Crushes the Long Ball

Dick Allen might not be a name that immediately comes to mind when thinking of the game's power hitters. He's been shamefully neglected by the Hall of Fame. He earned a reputation (unfairly, many believe) for being a malcontent.
1973 Topps Dick Allen
1973 Topps Dick Allen
I, along with many others, think Allen's difficulties were spurred mostly by the anti-black sentiments of the 1960s. He was subjected to racial slurs and taunts from some Philadelphia fans while in the Phillies farm system, which only grew worse when he was called up to the Phillies. In fact, he earned his nickname, "Crash," because he wore his batting helmet - even when fielding - because some fans often pelted him with garbage during their ridiculous, racially-charged taunts. He even endured being called "Rich" and "Richie" instead of "Dick," as he preferred. Topps didn't get around to getting his name right on a baseball card until 1973.

Nevertheless, through all of that, Allen put up Hall of Fame numbers - better than those of some players already in Cooperstown. For reasons that escape me he has never taken his rightful place among the greats of the game.

1975 Topps Dick Allen, sporting his batting helmet on the field
1975 Topps Dick Allen

Crash is remembered for the booming - and I mean thunderous - shots he sent over fences around the league. Willie Mays even once remarked that Allen hit the ball harder than any other player he'd ever seen. Allen terrorized pitchers and made fans in the deep seats keep their eyes peeled when Allen stepped to the plate.

"Allen was scary at the plate," said Mickey Lolich, former Tigers and Mets pitcher. "When he came up there, he had your attention. I want to forget a couple of line drives he hit off me, but I can’t because they almost killed me."

Allen was a 7-time all-star, was the league's MVP in 1972 and and was the National League Rookie of the Year in 1964. He retired with 351 total home runs, 1,119 RBIs and a lifetime batting average of .292. He led the AL twice in slugging percentage; he led the NL once in slugging percentage.

The debate over whether Allen belongs in the HOF has gotten more heated as Allen's years of eligibility have piled up. In fact, one excellent blogger has devoted a blog to the enshrinement of Allen in the HOF. Check out Dick Allen Hall of Fame.

June 12, 1972 Sports Illustrated cover
June 12, 1972 Sports Illustrated cover
For fun, you should also check out the June 12, 1972 cover of Sports Illustrated. In it, Allen is smoking a cigarette while juggling baseballs near the team dugout. This cover certainly didn't help Allen's bad boy image. Seeing this cover made me laugh for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that it shows a professional athlete smoking on the field. We won't ever see that again.
Specific details about the cards featured here:

  • The 1973 Topps Dick Allen is #310 out of a set of 660 cards. Given Allen's snubbing by the HOF and his polarizing personality, his cards have never commanded high prices among collectors. This card books at best for $1.50. 
  • The 1975 Topps Dick Allen is #400 out of a set of 660 cards. It, too, has a paltry book value of just about 2 bucks.
Allen retired in 1977 after playing 15 seasons, the bulk of those with the Phillies (two stints) and with the White Sox. He also played for the Cards, Dodgers and A's before hanging up his cleats.