Why Dick Allen Never Reached the Hall

Last week, Ryne Sandberg and Wade Boggs joined the more than 180 players who have been inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame since 1936. Dick Allen, eligible since 1982, is still waiting for baseball immortality.

Allen, who starred for the Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago White Sox in the 1960s and ’70s, has been relegated to infamy by baseball writers such as Bill James who view him as a “malcontent” who “used racism as an explosive to blow his teams apart.”

But Allen’s statistics speak for themselves. During ten full seasons between 1963 and 1977, he led his league in home runs twice, RBIs once, on-base percentage twice, and slugging three times, and he won the 1964 Rookie of the Year Award as well as the 1972 American League Most Valuable Player Award. His lifetime batting average of .292, his 351 career home runs and his 1,119 RBIs place him in the same company as such Hall of Famers as Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, Orlando Cepeda, Roberto Clemente and Harmon Killebrew.

To be sure, Allen forced the white baseball establishment to come to terms with the racism that existed in the game in the Sixties. His example also earned him widespread enmity within the game. But he was more a victim than a manipulator of race.

In 1963, the Phillies sent their 21-year-old prospect to the minor leagues at Little Rock, making him the first African-American ballplayer in Arkansas history. There, Allen managed to survive nightmarish discrimination and was promoted to the majors the following year. He won the Rookie of the Year Award in 1964 for hitting .318 and collecting 29 home runs and 91 RBIs, while leading the Phillies in a season-long pennant race.

When Allen was involved in a brawl the following year with Frank Thomas, a popular white veteran, he was ordered by his manager not to discuss the incident with the press. The veteran was subsequently traded. Years later it was revealed that Thomas had been aiming racial slurs to many of his black teammates. But the Philadelphia fans blamed Allen for the incident.

They booed him every night, threw pennies, bolts and beer bottles at him, and sent him hate mail. Sportswriters launched their own assault, portraying the beleaguered star as a malcontent who expected special treatment.

When his repeated requests for a trade were rejected by the Phillies, Allen, who played in the days before free agency, tried to force a deal by resorting to unexcused absences, candid opinions and pre-game beer-drinking.

He succeeded after the 1969 season when the Phillies traded him to the St. Louis Cardinals. By that time, however, Allen exemplified the emerging independence of the players as well a growing black consciousness. Yet James and other sportswriters continue to accuse him of racism.

In fact, they fail to understand the important distinction between “racism” and “prejudice.” “Racial prejudice” refers to individual beliefs and attitudes that frequently manifest themselves in psychologically or physically abusive actions toward people of color. “Racism,” on the other hand, cannot be fully explained as an expression of prejudice alone. Racism is a much broader cultural phenomenon, encompassing institutional policies as well as the beliefs and actions of individuals. Thus, racism is best understood as a system of advantage based on race.

Whites such as James are uncomfortable with such a systematic definition because it contradicts the popular mainstream belief that success comes to those who earn it. This particular bias has too often influenced major league baseball, where color-blindness has become the convenient excuse for not promoting African Americans, whether in the ranks of the players or of management.

There’s nothing new here, though. Racist white players have always been forgiven by the sportswriters in the Hall of Fame voting. Cap Anson, one of the earliest inductees, was a major force in creating the “gentleman’s agreement,” the unwritten rule banning black players from the major leagues, which lasted until 1947. Ty Cobb, another early inductee, often used racist vocabulary in the presence of blacks to instigate fights.

Still others who were elected to the Hall of Fame actively opposed the breaking of the color barrier by Jackie Robinson in 1947. Herb Pennock, then general manager of the Phillies, threatened to boycott a game against the Brooklyn Dodgers if Robinson took the field. Enos Slaughter attempted to get his Cardinal teammates to do the same. When he failed, Slaughter spiked Robinson on the base paths and spit in his face.

According to the Hall’s “Rules for Election,” voting is based on a player’sÊ “record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.” The racist actions of Anson, Cobb, Pennock and Slaughter do not reflect well on their “integrity, sportsmanship or character,” yet they were still elected to the Hall of Fame. Why not Allen, whose rebellious behavior was not nearly as offensive?

Dick Allen may not have acted with the same self-discipline or tact as Jackie Robinson, but he forced the white baseball establishment to address the racism that existed in the game during the 1960s. That achievement, along with his remarkable playing record, should merit a bronze plaque at Cooperstown.

William C. Kashatus's is a writer for the History News Service. His most recent book is "Money Pitcher: The Tragedy of Indian Assimilation."

August, 2005