Dick Allen 'brought a flavor to the White Sox'

December 8th, 2020

CHICAGO -- shared engaging stories and moving tales of respect for , his longtime friend and White Sox teammate from 1972-74, who died Monday at the age of 78.

But at the end of a 20-minute conversation with the Chicago media, Melton summed up the essence of one of the most talented players to ever suit up on the South Side.

“We really lost a good individual and a great White Sox player,” Melton said. “He should be spoken about for many, many years in White Sox lore.”

Allen came to the White Sox on Dec. 2, 1971, in a trade that sent left-handed pitcher Tommy John to the Dodgers and produced a franchise-altering individual performance. The White Sox had not finished above .500 since 1967 and had drawn only 495,355 as recently as 1970.

The White Sox put up an 87-67 record and drew 1,177,318 in the debut season for Allen, whose third-place finish for the AL batting title prevented him from winning the Triple Crown. Allen hit .308 (behind Rod Carew’s .318 and Lou Piniella's .312) and topped the AL with 37 home runs, 113 RBIs, 99 walks, a .420 on-base percentage, a .603 slugging percentage, a 1.023 OPS and a 199 OPS+.

According to Melton, who won the AL home run title in ’71 but was limited to 57 games in ’72 due to two ruptured disks in his back, Allen was responsible for the renewed interest in the White Sox.

“It was just to watch him play,” Melton said. “We were a good ballclub, Bucky Dent, Jorge Orta up the middle, Pat Kelly, Carlos May and myself. But it was one of those things where the fans were kind of down in the dumps. Things were bad, the economy was bad. And I think Dick brought a flavor to the White Sox, and the flavor was this: national attention.

“We would go to New York and we would finally get writers. Not as much as today, but we were starting to draw attention, magazine covers. So we got magazine covers because Dick Allen was on the team. That’s how much he meant. He really did and he meant that much to [Rich] Gossage, [Terry] Forster, Bucky Dent, Carlos, all of us. We loved playing with him. We really enjoyed it every night.”

News of Allen’s White Sox arrival literally preceded him, as the slugger didn’t show up to 1972 Spring Training until the last few days. The team later found out Allen was taking batting practice every morning at Sarasota High School with coach Joe Lonnett.

Allen didn’t usually take pregame batting practice during his three seasons with the White Sox, showing up 45 minutes before first pitch and ready to go, according to Melton.

“He'd just get in and he'd walk in and smile,” Melton said. “So the players took to him right away. One, his personality, and two, he had a lot of achievements.”

Melton was in awe of the way Allen hit line drives all over the field and over the fence even without batting practice, but he did remember one day the right-handed hitter strolled to the cages and decided to take BP left-handed. Allen hit with the same authority as from his natural side.

“I'm thinking, 'My God, it's not easy to just hit left-handed when you want,'” Melton said. “There was a lot of unique things Dick Allen did, and he did it all with a laugh. He really did enjoy his time on the South Side, and I think [manager] Chuck Tanner was a reason for a lot of that, because him and Chuck were very close.

“Pat Kelly, Carlos May, myself, Rich Gossage, we all just admired him and loved the way he played. He said a lot in the clubhouse. He didn't say much on the field.”

Allen also used a 40 3/4-ounce bat, which Melton tried to swing one day during Spring Training. He quickly dropped it on the ground, adding with a laugh how it felt like he was picking up a tree.

“At 40 3/4 ounces, I said, 'How does a man swing this?'” Melton said. “After about 10 swings, my forearms started to swell up because of the weight of the bat. That was natural for him. I was thinking, 'My God, this guy has inner strength.'”

Although Allen was sick, the two were able to talk for 30 or 40 minutes about a week before his death. They had a few laughs and discussed old stories, including one about a full-length sealskin coat Melton received for doing a photo shoot and then gave to Allen after Allen admired the coat.

“And you know what?” Melton said. “When I talked to him a couple weeks ago, he remembered that coat and he still had it. That's Dick Allen.

“Dick never got in his locker and moped. He was always joking around, which we all liked. You can't say enough about Dick Allen.”