Saturday, January 14, 2012

Will Door to Cooperstown Ever Open for Dick Allen?

Dick Allen is one of nine former major league players and one former executive eligible for Hall of Fame consideration - through the Veteran's Committee selection process.  The committee has the authority to elect as many as five of the following (along with Allen): Ken Boyer, Luis Tiant, Jim Kaat, Maury Wills, Billy Pierce, Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva, Gil Hodges and Bob Howsam (former general manager of both the Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds).

Dick Allen's Cooperstown Credentials:

His career spanned 15 seasons and two name changes.  As "Richie", he was the NL Rookie of the Year in 1964.  By the time he convinced most people he preferred to be called "Dick" (1972), he had become the American League's Most Valuable Player - and its most pre-Reggie Jackson-acclaimed slugger.

One thing is certain:  Richie-call me-Dick Allen could hit a baseball very hard.  So hard, in fact, it was almost beyond belief.  And he did it with a piece of lumber so big and heavy it looked more like a telephone pole than bat.

Swinging that big stick, Allen had the 19th highest OPS+ in MLB history:  156.  The eighteen players in front of him are either in the Hall of Fame or named Bonds or Pujols.  The three players immediately behind him with an OPS+ of 155 are named Aaron, DiMaggio, and Mays.  That's pretty impressive company.

However, the door to Cooperstown never opened for Dick Allen, who retired after the 1977 season with 351 home runs to his credit.  Although he twice led the American League in home runs, Allen's swing usually produced vicious line drives that simply weren't hit high enough to clear the fences.  Allen's specialty was denting the fences, which he did with eye-popping consistency during his career.

Still, this great slugger from Wampum, PA is not in the Hall of Fame.  Why not?   There are a few mitigating factors which may be working against him.  In this recently enlightened age of saber-metrics, the most obvious reason past voters ignored his accomplishments:  Nobody knew what OPS+ was thirty years ago, when Dick Allen's name first appeared on a Hall of Fame ballot.  Home runs mattered most - 500 was the magic number, and he didn't extend his career long enough to reach that plateau.

Hall of Fame voters have typically been enamored with the .300 batting average.  Case in point:  George Kell, who averaged .306 during his well-traveled (five different teams) Hall of Fame career, which featured 78 home runs in 15 nondescript American League seasons during the '40s and '50s.  Kell was a personable fellow - well-liked by just about everyone he knew, including the members of the Hall of Fame Veteran's Committee, who decided he was ready for Cooperstown membership in 1983.

Dick Allen "only" hit .292.  Not good enough, according to the voters, who also seemed to ignore his .378 OBP and his .534 SLG - both Hall of Fame caliber numbers.  How could this happen?

Unfortunately for Dick Allen, he was not universally admired by the "baseball establishment" - owners, front office executives, along with the media - were generally not enamored by the free-spirited antics of this enigmatic superstar.  Since Allen didn't fit the conventional mold of what was considered "acceptable behavior" for superstar ballplayers - he liked to play the horses and hit the nightclub scene from time to time - he wasn't so well-liked (in contrast to the less-skilled but personable Hall of Famer George Kell).

Cooperstown shouldn't be a popularity contest - but let's face it - for players considered to have "borderline" qualifications, they need to have a lot more friends than enemies with the voters who make the decisions on who gets in and who doesn't.  The truth of the matter is, Dick Allen's Hall of Fame credentials aren't "borderline".  They're exemplary.

It's time to open the door to Cooperstown and let Dick Allen in where he belongs.  Hopefully, the Veteran's Committee will get it right this time around.

The ballots will be cast by December 8.

Larry Underwood is a baseball historian - die-hard St Louis Cardinals fan - author:  St Louis Cardinals IQ - The Ultimate Test of True Fandom - Volumes 1 & 2

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