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Allen's life expertly examined by Kashatus

MLB.com

In December 2014, Dick Allen missed being elected to the Hall of Fame by one Veterans Committee vote. To his supporters, it was bittersweet result. To come so close and miss was disappointing. But it also was an impressive showing for a candidate who had never come close to the required 75 percent during his 15 years of eligibility for the Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot.

Allen's case has been championed for several years now by a vocal group of passionate supporters. And the latest public manifestation of that backing is "Dick Allen: The Life and Times of a Baseball Immortal."

In December 2014, Dick Allen missed being elected to the Hall of Fame by one Veterans Committee vote. To his supporters, it was bittersweet result. To come so close and miss was disappointing. But it also was an impressive showing for a candidate who had never come close to the required 75 percent during his 15 years of eligibility for the Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot.

Allen's case has been championed for several years now by a vocal group of passionate supporters. And the latest public manifestation of that backing is "Dick Allen: The Life and Times of a Baseball Immortal."

As the title implies, this is an unabashedly pro-Allen work. And to his credit, baseball historian William C. Kashatus is completely forthright about his point of view.

"I was in high school when Dick Allen returned to the Phillies in the mid-1970s," he writes in the foreword. "I adopted Allen as a personal hero. ... Every kid needs a hero. Heroes represent the values a young person aspires to in life."

And Kashatus finds much to admire in Allen, much of which is at odds with the slugger's controversial reputation.

This is actually the second book Kashatus has written about Allen, whose undeniable talent was often overshadowed by his refusal to be bound by the conventions of his times. The first, published in 2004, was "September Swoon: Richie Allen, the '64 Phillies and Racial Integration."

That turns out to strengthen the new volume rather than detract from it. Allen agreed to be interviewed for the first book but not the second. Kashatus, however, had hours of unused audio tape that helped inform the new project.

It allows Kashatus, for example, to write confidently about how Allen's upbringing by his loving but strict mother, Era, shaped his personality. And the interviews that covered his time after leaving the Phillies provide an insight into why he sometimes had a drink or two on his way to the ballpark, why he was often late, why he sometimes didn't show up at all.

One of the greatest pleasures of the book is foreshadowed in the subtitle: An Illustrated Biography. The pages are full of lush photos, illustrations and charts. Many of the pictures are courtesy of the Allen family and are published here for the first time.

Kashatus doesn't ignore Allen's transgressions. He does attempt to put them in context. At times, Allen was reacting to the racism he experienced for the first time in his life at Triple-A Arkansas. At times, playing in an era before free agency, he was trying to force a trade. At times, Allen was unfairly portrayed by the media. At times, he was, well, just ahead of his times.

It's probably not surprising that the reporting turned up a number of former teammates who openly marveled at Allen's skill and testified that he was a mentor and positive influence in the clubhouse.

What may be surprising is that not all were hitters. Some, like Larry Christenson with the Phillies and a young Goose Gossage with the White Sox, benefited from Allen's advice.

"He took me under his wing," the Hall of Fame reliever says in the book. "Dick taught me how to pitch. ... We'd talk for hours on end about pitching and how to make pitches and what the hitter's looking for."

The penultimate chapter is devoted largely to testimonials to Allen's character. The final chapter makes the case for Allen as a Hall of Famer. He'll be eligible for election again in 2020. Stay tuned.

Paul Hagen, a reporter for MLB.com, won the J.G. Taylor Spink Award in 2013 for a lifetime of excellence in baseball writing.

Chicago White Sox, Philadelphia Phillies