I was in the womb on December 7, 1941 so have no above-ground memories of that day in infamy. But while preparing dinner on December 7, 2020 I learned on the internet that Dick Allen, the great slugger primarily for the Phillies and White Sox, had died at age 78.
What a tough year it has been for losing baseball Hall of Famers. Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, and Joe Morgan within days of each other. Then significant contributors Jay Johnstone, Lou Johnson, Ron Perranoski gone similarly. And now Dick Allen.
Allen's career numbers and accomplishments suggest possible Hall of Fame status: 15 seasons, .292 BA, .534 slugging average, 351 HR, 1119 RBI, 1964 NL Rookie of the Year, 1972 AL MVP, 7 All-Star Games.
From 1964-1973 his numbers were up there with future Hall of Famers Hank Aaron, Harmon Killebrew, and Willie McCovey.
But Allen was fated to come into the major leagues in early Sept. 1963 less than three months before the JFK assassination. Playing in Philadelphia - sometimes called the northern-most southern city in the U. S. - was no picnic for a sensitive Black man, one of nine children raised in Wampum, Pa. 40 miles north of Pittsburgh.
Dubbed Richie by the Philadelphia press, Dick Allen didn't like the nickname - it reminded him of being a 10-year old, Richard Goldstein noted in his NY Times obit. Allen produced as a Phillie but he followed the beat of his own drummer.
Love of horses was a family tradition. Dick's father owned working horses, and Dick's brother Hank, a major leaguer for seven seasons, trained them. One of them, Northern Wolf, finished sixth in the 1989 Kentucky Derby, the first Black-trained horse to make the "Run for the Roses" in 78 years.
The end of Dick Allen's time in Philly was precipitated by his missing a 1969 Mets-Phillies doubleheader - he went instead to Monmouth track race in New Jersey.
By the end of the season, first baseman Allen responded to Philly fan heckling by scribbling with his feet the words "Boo" and "Oct 2", the day the season ended.
He was traded to St. Louis in the Curt Flood deal - Flood of course didn't report and sued baseball instead. After the 1970 season with Cardinalsi, he was traded to the Dodgers for one season.
Starting in 1972 he played three solid seasons for an understanding manager Chuck Tanner who was from New Castle near Wampum in western Pennsylvania. The White Sox press guide started listing him as Dick Allen.
He was traded back to Philly in 1975 and welcomed as a hero by the younger generation. Future Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt and other teammates lauded him then and again this week.
Schmidt called him a first-class guy who wouldn't be treated as "a second-class citizen." In a ceremony this September the Phillies retired Allen's #15.
I never talked to Dick Allen but my most vivid memory as a fan was when he was with the White Sox and he came into Baltimore around 1974. In those days you could come early for batting practice and I saw him belt some long home runs LEFTHANDED into the shrubbery beyond the right-center field fence at Memorial Stadium.
I did meet his brother Hank Allen when he was scouting for the Astros. As
gregarious as his brother was shy and wary, Hank has an ingratiating manner
and silver-white hair that reminds me of Buck O'Neil.
In a May 2017 interview with Peter Schmuck of the Baltimore Sun, Hank Allen explained the similarities between horse training and baseball scouting: "You have to find athletes and you have to find a good mind."
Which leads me to my QUOTES OF THE MONTH SO FAR:
**Actress Candice "Murphy Brown" Bergen in an interview with Maureen Dowd that I saw online and was in the NY Times Sunday Style section on December 6th. It deals with how to maneuver through celebrity and I think it applies as well to idolized athletes:
"You're semi-glorified but you're also negated. You really have to make an effort to become someone more than what your presentation is."
**Retired future Hall of Fame right fielder Ichiro Suzuki will be coaching high school baseball in Japan. Michael Clair on mlb.com last week quoted Ichiro this way:
"High school baseball is 'baseball'. . . . Major league baseball is a 'contest'. . . .It's mainly how far you can hit a baseball and that is hardly baseball."
Finally, please remember Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) on Dec. 16, his 250th birthday. He once said, "Those who understand my music can know no unhappiness." Not sure it is true, but his music is certainly consoling in this time of great sickness and uncertainty.
WQXR-FM 105.9 and wqxr.org plan a lot of Beethoven programming beginning on Dec. 12 through Dec. 16.
And always remember: Take it easy but take it.