Allen was one of the coolest to ever play

March 8th, 2022

A version of this story was originally published following Dick Allen's death in December 2020. We are re-publishing it today, on what would have been his 80th birthday.

In the long history of Major League Baseball, there’s not another player who was like Dick Allen. The slugger -- who played for the Phillies, Cardinals, Dodgers, White Sox, and A’s -- had a swing like no one else. His bat was like nobody's either. He carried a 40-and-change-ounce bat, one of the heaviest to ever be used (Babe Ruth swung a 42-ouncer early in his career). When Allen swung that massive lumber, he'd smash legendary home runs -- ones that might still be orbiting the planet as we speak.

His most famous came on May 29, 1965, when he launched a home run an estimated 525 feet, over the Coke sign at Connie Mack Stadium.

Pirates slugger Willie Stargell -- who knew a few things about prodigious blasts -- said, “Now I know why they boo Richie all the time. When he hits a home run, there's no souvenir.”

He was once caught mid-meal when White Sox manager Chuck Tanner needed a pinch-hitter on July 4, 1972.

"I was eating a chili dog when I heard Chuck wanted me to hit," Allen said. "I had chili all over my shirt so I put on a new one and a pair of pants with no underclothes."

What did he do after that?

"Sparky Lyle threw me a slider and it wound up in the seats."

The stories are endless and Allen's numbers were solid -- he hit .292/.378/.534 and he bashed 351 home runs. He was one of the most feared sluggers ever to step to the plate.

But Allen was so much more than the stats on the back of a baseball card. He was also one of the coolest ever to play the game.

His look is iconic -- the large glasses, the mustache and sideburns, the nonchalance -- all combined to make him a symbol of '70s cool.

Allen could simply stand in the dugout and look like a star. He exuded charisma:

But he had to endure challenges. He faced a tremendous amount of racist abuse when he first began playing in the Minor Leagues. Racial epithets were hurled his way and he even received death threats. It continued when he reached Philadelphia, a city not yet willing to accept an outspoken Black star. Against his wishes, sportswriters still referred to him as Richie even when he asked to be called Dick. He was embroiled in controversies and was routinely booed at his home ballpark. A rock was thrown through his living room window, nearly hitting his sister.

Through all the adversity, he remained true to himself, a once-in-a-lifetime star whose brilliance didn't stop when he stepped in the batter's box.

He responded to the fans by scratching "Boo" in the dirt in front of first base. When an umpire told him to cut it out, he wrote "Mom," because she was "the only one that could tell me what to do..." Today, those moments would be endlessly GIF'd and shared on social media. Instead, Allen was vilified.

Blessed not just with a ferocious swing, but some amazing pipes, too, Allen organized the Ebonistics, a doo-wop group that became popular in the Philadelphia area, notching a minor hit with "Echoes of November."

The group performed before a 76ers game, and Allen -- a rock star of a baseball player -- dressed the part. The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote:

“Here came Rich Allen. Flowered shirt. Tie six-inches (152 mm) wide. Hiphugger bell-bottomed pants. A microphone in his hands. Rich Allen the most booed man in Philadelphia from April to October, when Eagles coach Joe Kuharich takes over, walked out in front of 9,557 people at the Spectrum last night to sing with his group, The Ebonistics, and a most predictable thing happened. He was booed. Two songs later though, a most unpredictable thing happened. They cheered Rich Allen. They cheered him as warmly as they have ever cheered him for a game winning home run."

Allen loved horses, too, and owned thoroughbreds while playing in Chicago. He famously said of Astroturf, "If a horse won't eat it, I don't want to play on it." (You can get that quote on a shirt from Dick Allen's website.)

A part of him wished he could get away from the big leagues and pursue the life of a jockey, once saying, “I’m one of those guys who would like to weigh about 115 pounds for a couple of hours in the afternoon and then go back to my own size about 5 o’clock.”

Near the end of his career, when he was dealt from the White Sox to the Braves -- before eventually being sent to the Phillies -- Braves GM Eddie Robinson went to visit Allen and convince him to play in Atlanta. Instead, Allen made Robinson follow him around while he took care of his horses. Allen simply wasn't interested in doing what he was "supposed" to do.

In recent years, the baseball world has learned to appreciate Allen for who he was. The Phillies broke with team policy and retired his number in September 2020. He became the first player in team history to have his number retired before reaching Cooperstown.

He was on the brink of induction, though. The Golden Days Era Committee was expected to vote on Allen once again before the pandemic postponed those plans until 2021. Then, with Allen a posthumous candidate, he fell just one vote shy, while four other Golden Days Era candidates made it into Cooperstown.

Through it all, Allen loved baseball -- more than it probably loved him while he was playing. Back with the Phillies in his second-to-last season in 1976, Allen gave a young and struggling Mike Schmidt some much-needed advice:

"Mike, you've got to relax," Allen said. "You've got to have some fun. Remember when you were just a kid and you'd skip supper to play ball? You were having fun. Hey, with all the talent you've got, baseball ought to be fun. Enjoy it. Be a kid again."

It's a quote that's so made-for-movie perfect, it must be fake. But no, it's real. Schmidt hit four home runs that night.