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Former MVP Allen recalls memorable moments

Key figure in resurgence of White Sox baseball in 1970s

CHICAGO -- For the first time in 38 years, former White Sox first baseman Dick Allen returned to Chicago alongside members of the Chicago Baseball Museum to talk about his former 1972 team, which helped keep baseball on the South Side.

After brief stints with the Cardinals and Dodgers, Allen resurrected his career with the White Sox, batting over .300 in all three seasons with Chicago from 1972-74. He won the American League Most Valuable Player Award in 1972, and is still just one of three MVPs in White Sox history.

His 1972 season, when he led the league with 37 home runs and 113 RBIs, occurred amid speculation the White Sox would relocate. The White Sox contended for the American League Western Division title that year, finishing in second place at 87-67, ensuring the White Sox would stay where they were.

"I think that people actually came to grips that we actually might lose this franchise," Allen said. "We heard it was going to Phoenix, Ariz. I don't know the answer to that, but I think we put one or two million in the seats all the way from 400,000 the previous year."

It was a massive jump from where the club was two years prior. In 1970, the White Sox finished last in the division with the lowest attendance in the league. That was before general manager Roland Hemond turned the franchise around, hiring manager Chuck Tanner and making a trade in December 1971 to bring Allen to the White Sox for left-handed pitcher Tommy John.

"I really wish I could have started my career here and ended it here," Allen said. "It's the greatest sports town in the world."

Allen's unorthodox style worked for the first baseman. In Spring Training, he would purposely not swing at pitches until there were two strikes, so he could prepare himself when it really mattered. He would also hit batting practice at 6 a.m. every day through Spring Training, so nobody could distract him.

"You can keep your mind in that little box without all the camaraderie and laughing," Allen said.

For Allen, practice was different. He isn't fond of the saying, "practice makes perfect."

"I disagree with that," Allen said. "Just like our high-school coach used to say, 'Practice doesn't make perfect. The right kind of practice makes perfect.'"

Batting practice with his 36-inch, 42-ounce gigantic bat wasn't about just taking cuts. He said he took batting practice using game situations, where he'd have to hit in specific scenarios. Allen also refused to take batting practice from pitchers standing 40 feet away.

"I wouldn't swing at it," Allen said. " I want to take BP from 60 feet, 6 inches, the same place I'm going to see that pitch from the game."

Though Allen went against the grain, he performed admirably and quickly. In his first game with the White Sox, Allen hit a home run -- the first of many for the seven-time All-Star, who went to three Midsummer Classics with the White Sox. One of his many memories in three seasons in Chicago occurred in the second game of a doubleheader against the Yankees, when he was supposed to get the day off.

Allen said he'd already taken his uniform off and had to grab his pants and put a new shirt on when he was called upon to pinch-hit with two runners on in the bottom of the ninth against pitcher Sparky Lyle. His three-run home run would give the White Sox a sweep of the Yankees in front of Chicago's largest home crowd since 1954.

"It wound up in the seats, and it wound up a memorable moment today," Allen said.

Though he spent six full seasons with the Phillies to begin his career and made stops in St. Louis, Los Angeles and Oakland, Allen will always cherish his time with the White Sox and the 1972 club.

"They accepted me, and here's where I landed," Allen said. "I always wanted to be a Dodger because of Jackie Robinson. But at the very same time, this is where baseball should have started for me and ended with. I'm satisfied with the way things are."

Allen will be honored prior to the June 24 baseball game against Milwaukee, when he's scheduled to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. The following day, Allen and other members of the club will be honored by the Chicago Baseball Museum at a fundraising dinner at U.S. Cellular Field.

"This is a great, humbling time for me," Allen said.

Rowan Kavner is an associate reporter for
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