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Dick Allen and the Hall of Fame

December 4, 2008
 
People like to say that Jim Rice was the most feared hitter in baseball for an entire decade.
 
I don’t know what ‘most feared’ means, but Rice certainly wasn’t the best hitter during any ten-year stretch. He wasn’t close, either. Rice’s best run was 1975-1984. Here are the OPS+ for players who managed at least 1000 games over that stretch:
 
Name
OPS+
Mike Schmidt
155
George Brett
145
Eddie Murray
143
Dave Winfield
140
Gene Tenace
139
Rod Carew
138
Reggie Jackson
135
Fred Lynn
135
Ken Singleton
135
Jack Clark
134
George Foster
134
Jim Rice
134
Greg Luzinski
133
Keith Hernandez
132
Bob Watson
132
 
If Rice was the most feared hitter, it was only because pitchers had to pitch to him in Fenway Park. Outside those friendly confines he was no better a hitter than George Foster or Greg Luzinski, and I don’t hear anyone making too much noise about their Hall of Fame candidacy. All in all, Rice ranks behind six Hall of Famers and five guys who never came close to making it. Hell, Gene Tenace was a better hitter than Rice and he was a catcher. You want to argue someone interesting for the Hall of Fame, start with him.
 
I’m not trying to pick on Jim Rice (I’ll save that for the day he gets elected). What’s interesting is that the argument erroneously made for Jim Rice is actually valid in the case of Dick Allen. He really was the best hitter in baseball, for a span of ten years:
 
Name
OPS+
Dick Allen
165
Hank Aaron
161
Willie McCovey
161
Frank Robinson
161
Harmon Killebrew
152
Willie Stargell
152
Roberto Clemente
151
Willie Mays
148
Frank Howard
147
Carl Yastrzemski
145
Al Kaline
140
Boog Powell
140
Billy Williams
139
Tony Oliva
137
Ron Santo
136
 
 
Those are adjusted OPS numbers between 1964 and 1973. Seventeen Hall of Famers played 1000 or more games during those ten years. Dick Allen had a better OPS+ than all of them.
 
Dick Allen, The Player
 
Looking only at his record, it is a little surprising that Dick Allen hasn’t been elected to the Hall of Fame. He won the 1964 Rookie of the Year and the 1972 AL MVP. He was a seven-time All-Star, a high .300 hitter with remarkable power. His career numbers suffer slightly because his prime years took place in an era of low offense, but by any reasonable measure Dick Allen was a great hitter.   
 
For that, his career was somewhat unique: the few players who can boast peak ability similar to Allen generally have much better career lines than he did. Only Johnny Mize is a fair comparison to Allen: both players had brief but brilliant careers:
 
 
G
HR
RBI
BA
OBP
SLG
OPS+
Dick Allen
1749
351
1119
.292
.378
.534
156
Johnny Mize
1884
359
1337
.312
.397
.562
158
 
And to be clear: Dick Allen’s career was short, but it wasn’t that short. Chuck Klein played fewer games than Allen. So did Joe DiMaggio and Tony Lazzarri and Earle Combs and Lou Boudreau and Hank Greenberg and Ralph Kiner and Kirby Puckett.
 
Conservatively, Dick Allen was one of the top forty hitters of all-time. And that’s very conservative. He averaged 31.68 Win Shares per 162 games, which is higher than any first baseman except Lou Gehrig. Dick Allen won a few major awards and was the best offensive player in the game for ten years. His career line is a little low, but his peak is remarkable. His statistical record is the record of a Hall of Fame player.
 
Dick Allen, the Man
 
So we come to Dick Allen, the man. The debate about whether or not Dick Allen should be in the baseball Hall of Fame rests entirely on our interpretation of his personality, and how that personality influenced the teams he played on.
 
Bill James once wrote that Dick Allen “did more to keep his teams from winning than anyone else who ever played major league baseball.” In his Historical Abstract, Bill added that Dick Allen was the second most controversial player in baseball history, behind Rogers Hornsby.
 
Think about that for a moment: Dick Allen was the second most controversial player in history.
 
Here’s an exercise: write down a list of the most controversial players in baseball history. Ty Cobb would be on the list. Joe Jackson created a fair bit of controversy. Hal Chase: he was the Devil in a uniform. Babe Ruth generated a little bit of press, I suppose, and though it's forgotten now, Ted Williams was about as disliked as any player ever was. Joe Medwick almost caused a riot in the 1934 World Series and was nearly killed by a teammate. Reggie Jackson and Pete Rose had their moments. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are our current lightning rods.
 
I wasn’t around to follow Dick Allen’s career, but I have little reason to contradict Bill’s comments. And wherever Allen ranks among the most controversial players, there is no doubt that Dick Allen had a career filled with controversy. And you know what? A lot of that controversy is sort of ignored right now. It sure seems that accounts about Allen have undergone a kind of historical revision.  
 
I’ll give you an example: the late Gene Mauch, Dick Allen’s former manager, was often asked about Allen. In those interviews Mauch made a concerted effort to describe Allen in a flattering light. He repeatedly called Allen the greatest player he ever managed, and when pressed to speak of Allen’s flaws, Mauch was quick to reject any suggestion that Allen wasn't a saint. If pressed hard, Mauch cites Allen’s chronic tardiness.

And you know what? Allen was chronically tardy. But saying so is a sort of half-truths: Allen was tardy because he was often stopping at bars before games to drink. And Mauch covered for Allen for years: time and time again Allen would miss games or get fined for causing trouble, and Mauch would explain everything away an innocuous excuse. Dick Allen has been fined for being late. Dick Allen isn’t playing because he has a sore body part. It wasn’t true. You get the sense, too, that Mauch wanted to be on the right side of history. He doesn’t want the teams he managed described as having any racial tensions. And to that end, he certainly wouldn’t want to voice any criticism of that team’s most visible black player.

Historical gerrymandering aside, I think Mauch’s motivations for making excuses for Dick Allen stemmed from the very best of human intentions: he wanted to protect Allen from fans who were exceedingly hard on Allen and a press that rode his ass from day one. It was an act of compassion for Mauch to say years later: “Dick Allen was always tardy,” when he really meant “Dick Allen had a serious drinking problem.” Compassion, sure, but it’s still a lie.
 
For those of us who didn’t follow Allen’s career, that sort of stuff is glossed over. How many of us know that Allen, eager to get out of Philly, started scratching notes in the on-deck circle. He wrote “Oct. 2” because it was the last day he’d have to wear the Philly uniform, and when the fans got on his case he wrote, “Boo.” It’s actually a little bit funny: he’d write stuff like “Mom” and “No,” and people in the stands would freak out. That’s hardly ever mentioned. He missed a doubleheader in 1969 because he was at the horse tracks, and then bitched and moaned when he was suspended. The suspension was lifted almost immediately, but Allen sat out 26 games, causing President Nixon to send Allen a message to start playing. When he came back, he insisted on his own private dressing room and made threats that ‘something would happen,’ if anyone complained. His manager quit in frustration when Allen refused to play an exhibition game against the Philly AA team.
 
All that crap is forgotten about. What is attended to, what is given weight in our considerations of Allen’s career, is the abuse he endured in 1963, as a member of the Phillies AAA team in Little Rock, Arkansas, and the similar abuse he endured from the Philadelphia fans and press. This stuff is brought up as a way to explain away Allen’s behavior, and to clarify the contexts of his times. The same holds true over Allen’s fight with teammate Frank Thomas: in the telling of the story, close attention is given to the racial overtones of the fight, to Thomas’s taunts about Cassius Clay and Malcolm X.
 
We strive, in this modern age, to understand contexts. We want to understand how Dick Allen became Dick Allen. It’s a reasonable aspiration, even a noble one. But it does Allen a disservice of sorts: by focusing on the circumstances that surrounded him, we deny the possibility that Allen had choices within those circumstances. He made the choice to be self-destructive. He made the choice to fight with Thomas, to chide Thomas and to rise to Thomas’s race-baiting. Allen had the talent to be an all-time great and he wasn’t. And as much as the world around him was set against him, he bears responsibilities for that failure.
 
I think Dick Allen is understood in two different ways, two conceptions that are separated by generational lines. Those of us who didn’t watch Allen, those of us who came along too late to see Allen and read the daily reports of his behavior, we grew up indoctrinated in the belief that context trumps character. That where we come from and what traumas we endure have a large role in shaping the kind of people we become. For this reason, we tend to think that Dick Allen’s failings are the failing of the larger society, while his successes are the triumphs of a courageous but flawed individual.
 
But those who did watch Allen, those who fought in a difficult war and endured the decade of social revolution that followed, they placed a greater burden on the actions of the individual. Life is hard, and the best we can do is use those hardships as motivations. Henry Aaron did that. Jackie Robinson did, too. So did Frank Robinson and Roberto Clemente and Larry Doby and Curt Flood and countless others. Dick Allen didn’t. Where the others strived for greatness, Dick Allen was content to sow discord and squander his ability. He should have been an all-time great, and he wasn’t. That was his choice.
 
I don’t know which interpretation is right, or if either one is completely fair.  But the question about Dick Allen and the Hall of Fame is a hard question to answer, because it extends beyond simply statistical analysis. It encroached on the terrain of how we imagine we should live our own lives, and by what measure we judge the lives of others.
 
Dave Fleming is excited that the Pittsburg Pirates are trying to tap into the great pitching resources of India. He welcomes comments, questions, and suggestions here and at dfleming1986@yahoo.com).
 
 

COMMENTS (41 Comments, most recent shown first)

CWright
This is from Craig Wright

In regard to the article I did, I was led to do it through getting to personally know Dick Allen, Roland Hemond, and Pat Corrales, and their memories of certain events were radically different from what was related by various published accounts. During the strike of 1994 I decided to invest my down time into trying to get a better understanding of Allen in regard to how he fit -- or did not fit -- into a team. I interviewed dozens of people associated with Allen during his career and especially focused on the men who were his big league managers, of which there were six who had him for at least a full season. I did a lengthy interview with each of them except Walt Alston, who had passed away. In his stead I interviewed two of Alston's coaches during the season that Dick was there.

I'm amazed at any characterization of Gene Mauch as covering for Allen. If I were asked to describe Mauch after our interview, it would be that he was a tough, hard-bitten straight-shooter. He had zero qualms about talking frankly about how often he had to fine Allen, especially in his first couple of years, for chronic lateness.

It is both depressing and disgusting to see how folks still cling to things that flatly are not true, or altered to make them something they were not. In a charge of "glossing over the historical record"we are told that among the facts being ignored is that Allen skipped a doubleheader against the Mets to hang out at a dog track. That is a gross mistatement of reality. Allen owned a race horse and had gone to see his horse run at Monmouth Park, thinking he would be able to get to Shea Stadium in time for the DH which he thought started at 6 pm but was moved up to 5 pm. Trying to get to the ballpark he got caught in rush hour traffic, realized he was going to be late and stopped and called the visiting clubhouse. Pitcher Dick Farrell answered the call, and Dick told him he needed to talk to manager Skinner. (Manager Skinner confirmed Farrell had come to tell him of the call from Allen.) But the call was cut off by the time Skinner got to the phone. Allen was back in his car trying to get to the ballpark when he heard on the radio he had been suspended, and in that season of his greatest misery and the Phillies refusing to honor his trade requests, he decided to just quit. With Allen agreeing that he needed to be more "professional" and the Phillies agreeing to trade him in the off-season, he met with Skinner and returned to the team with the manager's blessing. Skinner said he never had another problem with Allen, whom Skinner started every game for the remainder of his tenure.

And the stuff about Allen showing up drunk for games "that it really happened," and how the writer is "curious that Gene Mauch, for instance, never talked about it," -- well, how about considering that Mauch did not talk about it because it never happened? I don't know of a basis for saying "that it really happened,"and not a single person I interviewed -- teammates, managers, coaches, GMs -- ever mentioned anything like that.
3:31 PM Sep 24th
 
ventboys
I work in a bar, and I kind of think that Allen would be a cool guy to serve, or sit next to and buy him drinks and listen to his stories. Unfortunately, his type usually ends up in a drunken, bitter monologue and needs to be cut off and sent home, but at the same time he is always welcome again tomorrow, to tell more stories. We don't mind the ending, because the rest of the experience is so much fun.

It must be hard to be Dick Allen. He lost everything in a fire decades ago, and I have no idea what he is doing now. We got a lot from him, those of us that got to see him create drama on the playing field. I hope that he is ok.
12:35 AM Jun 9th
 
bswedroe
Great article. I for one grew up in NYC, but a Philly fan during the lean years of 1966 on. Watching Richie (sorry, i still have a hard time with Dick Allen, was an incredible experience from the simple perspective of watching offensive greatness. His Power and BA combination put fear into opposing pitchers and gave hope to all Philly fans. Watching the mammoth HRs go sailing majestically into the air was a pure thing of beauty.

One also must remember and consider how bad the Phils were during his tenure from 1966+. I don't specifically recall him being "pitched around", however nor do I remember anyone really being "pitched around" in that era. However, I am sure not having other stars around him didn't help his productivity.

His defense at 3rd was particularly painful to watch, especially after he cut his wrist in a car accident. He had trouble throwing accurately. As I remember, he was OK at first, but nothing special.

Not being a black person having to face the brutal racial hatred that he endured, especially at Little Rock, I can only imagine the impact. It is easy to say Jackie Robinson handled it, etc, but how many of us can truly say what their reaction would be having to come to the ballpark and hearing "BOOO" filled with hatred. Then leaving the ballpark and having no safe haven to escape. Just because he didn't handle the situation ideally and write-it off as simple as that is, a at best, doing Allen a great disservice by saying he has a character flaw.

How come you never heard anything about all the Yankee greats having character flaws that were probably worse than Allen as far as the drinking issue goes. People laugh and are amazed at the greatness of Mickey Mantle because was able to play games completely drunk. The media protected the Mickey Mantles and Whitey Fords; not so with Allen. He was a lightening rod for criticism by the media.

In my book, he is so deserving of the Hall of Fame that it is a shame to leave him standing on the outside looking in; ironically sort of a microcosm of his life.
3:16 AM Mar 14th
 
spira
I think Dick Allen should be in the Hall of Fame. Much of the bad stuff said about Dick Allen is true. But people seem to forget that there was a lot of good stuff said about Allen too - by his teammates. If you took a poll of Allen's teammates during his career of who their best teammate was, my guess would be that Allen's name would pop up more often than any other. (He very possibly might get the most mentions if you asked players who their worst teammate was, of course. So it's not just a generational thing.

Nut I'm really posting because of my frustration who post the ridiculous, absurd argument that "it's called the Hall of Famous, so we should be elect people who are Famous" People who are already famous don't need a Hall of Fame; everybody already recognizes their achievements. Halls of Fame have Fame in their name because it's the Hall of people who should be Famous as a result of their achievements. The whole idea of Halls of Fame is to recognize those who achieved important things but have not been properly recognized for it. The idea that the Hall of Fame exists to recognize those who are famous is one of the most nonsensical things I've ever heard. If it was true, we'd have a Hall of Fame full of people like Moe Berg, Pete Gray, and Eddie Gaedel - after all, they are more famous than half the members of the current Hall of Fame.

PS - The idea that Dick Allen is the second most controversial player of all-time is also silly, and I doubt James would agree with that statement today.
12:31 AM Jan 11th
 
ventboys
Re. Gene Tenace, calling him a catcher and comparing his numbers to other catchers is a red herring. He played 6678 career innings at catcher, 742 full games if you divide it by 9, roughly 5 150 game seasons. He caught over 100 games twice, 5 years apart, and 99 once. That's it, every other season he caught less than half of his team's game, his 5th busiest catching season was 65 games. Nobody at the time thought of him as much of a defensive catcher. He played almost as much at first base as he did behind the plate. The real catchers all played well over double that many innings.

I was there, and I always thought that Tenace was good, underrated, but his peers in my mind were players like John Wockenfuss, who had a career OPS+ of 115 (he didn't walk as much, career OBA of .349, almost the same career slugging) and played catcher as well as moving all over the field.

Mickey Tettleton is his closest comp on BBR.com, and that sounds about right. He was a bat that could catch without embarrassing you, but it's going to skew your ratings if you call him a catcher, and compare him to guys like Johnny Bench and Carlton Fisk.

Jim Rice, by pretty much every statistical system invented in the last 30 years, shows as vastly overrated. To compare him to Tenace is probably more about this than how great Tenace is. The tone is that "Rice isn't as good as Gene frigging Tenace, he must suck" on one hand, and "Gene Tenace is a better hitter than Jim Rice and he's a CATCHER!!!!' on the other.

Mickey Tettleton is eerily similar, really. The played almost the same number of innings at catcher, had almost the same number of career plate appearances. Both were passable as catchers, both took several years to get regular work. Tettleton didn't get his shot until he was 28 (Tenace was 26), but had a lower career OPS+ due to the higher run environment in his time. Overall, I'd call that pretty close, slight edge to Tenace.
2:44 PM Dec 19th
 
ventboys
A few years ago, on the SABR message boards, we did a "what if" Hall of Fame, choosing year by year, with the total players enshrined being just over 100. Allen was one of the hottest players debated. I was against his election, while a couple of other posters argued almost rabidly in his favor, citing his OPS+ and peak value.

The same posters that argued for Allen also argued for Joe Jackson and Al Rosen, citing their 5 year peak values. Allen was eventually voted in (as was Shoeless Joe, while Rosen was not). The entire exercise was a learning experience for me, one that makes me want to try it again, really. We had less than a dozen main posters, and we still split up into 3 distinctly separate camps.

I didn't learn that much about the Hall of Fame, but I got a good lesson in sociology and back room politics. It was fun...

Anyway, I wouldn't mind it if Dick Allen was elected to the Hall of Fame. Historically he's not that similar to anyone, but I could make a case for Chuck Klein. Klein waited about 40 years to get in. Your article illustrates extremely well the dynamics that will very possibly allow Allen to eventually get his plaque. I enjoyed it, and it made me think. Win, win.
2:00 PM Dec 19th
 
cunegonde
Dave, I agree with everything you say in response to my note. Where we might disagree is when you write in your article, "Where the others strived for greatness, Dick Allen was content to sow discord and squander his ability. He should have been an all-time great, and he wasn’t. That was his choice." My view, for what it's worth, is that the last two sentences are on the mark, but that the first one is debatable. Arriving at games drunk is why someone doesn't become as great as they could have been, and Dick Allen without doubt did not become as great as he could have been. Sowing discord, on the other hand...boy, a lot of players do that, and always have. Was he particularly "good" at that? Who knows.

Allen's peers might well discount his feats because his career was short for a Hall of Famer, and because the remarkable promise he showed in the mid-60s came to the fore only sporadically in the 70s. But, as you say, we're all well beyond data and into speculation. No matter how much slack I cut Allen, I would not put him in the Hall of Fame. But I'll add this: if he'd followed his phenomenal '72 season with three or four more like it, our discussion of this point would have become moot decades ago.

2:37 PM Dec 18th
 
DaveFleming
Dear David,

Thanks for bringing up the point about Allen's former managers and teammates. You're right to say that the vast majority of them are quick to dismiss any criticisms of Dick Allen as a teammate. I tried to make that clear, but perhaps I could touched on that note further.

But doesn't it seem that there's a fair bit of dishonesty abounding around people's recollections of Dick Allen. Not a mean kind of dishonesty, but a desire to gloss over the historical record. I mean, he really did skip a double-header against the Mets to hang out at a dog track, and he really did bitch and moan about getting suspended for it. He really did show up drunk to games. I'm not trying to characterize that: it really happened. And I think it's curious that Gene Mauch, for instance, never talked about that.

We can't know for sure what kind of teammate Allen was. And it sure does matter that his managers and teammates defend him. So what do we make of the fact that a group of his peers considered Allen's HOF candidacy this year, and that group decided he was the least deserving player on the ballot.
5:58 PM Dec 16th
 
cunegonde
I notice that no one has challenged Dave's characterization of Allen as a problem player and teammate. The negative aspects of Allen as posited in the article are very similar to, although not quite as harsh as, those about which Bill James has written over the years. About 10 years ago, Craig Wright authored an article in one of the SABR annuals disputing Bill's contentions. He did this point-by-point, analyzing the record and quoting extensively from Allen's teammates and managers. I gather Bill didn't buy Craig's analysis, and I certainly don't know how to judge this matter. Still, it seems to me that any serious discussion about Allen has to take into account the possibility, publicly stated by all Allen's managers (not only Gene Mauch), that he was not the divisive force and problem child that many believe he was.
8:32 PM Dec 11th
 
samjohnson
Dick Allen was an unusually great player. Could he have been greater? Sure--but which of us couldn't utilize our gifts more fully? Dr. Johnson, when his friends in the club were inculpating a friend for heavy drinking said "every man needs an anodyne to get through life". I hope Dick Allen gets into the Hall. Goose Gossage said: "Mays, Mantle and Maris...but I saw Dick Allen. He was the best, just unbelievable."
4:35 PM Dec 10th
 
DaveFleming
For those who haven't caught the news, Allen finished last on the Veterans' Committee ballot, garnering 11% of the vote and finishing last on the committee's ballot. It sure seems a long shot that Dick Allen makes the HOF.

I'm glad to see Gordon made it, though I sure wish the HOF did a better job of electing players when they are alive to enjoy it.


9:50 AM Dec 10th
 
studes
I'm someone who watched Richie "Call me Dick" Allen when he was active, and it's really important to note that his behavior occurred, and was interpreted, in the context of his time. Based on his autobiography, it seems to me he was a very sensitive kid who kind of lost his way (behaviorally) in the public cauldron of sports. It was the post-integration era, when black sprinters were raising their fists at the Olympics and black baseball players were angry and frustrated that, despite the gains that had been made, there was still a very strong level of segregation going on in the clubhouse and the game in general.

Certainly, Allen used that as a cover to excuse much of his behavior. But it's also true it was a very difficult time for blacks in America in general. I given him a partial "pass" for that, and I'd vote him into the Hall. He was such a good hitter.
5:00 PM Dec 8th
 
evanecurb
Dave: I will look forward to your article on this comparison. These two players have nearly identical career adjusted OPS+ and played in the same era. Both hit for power but that's about the only thing they have in common. I have seen comparisons of Dewey Evans, Fred Lynn, and Jim Rice, and Evans always rises in comparison to the other two when his walks and defense are taken into account. Lynn and Rice were both helped incredibly by Fenway, which makes me think that Lynn's career numbers would have mirrored Rice's (or been better) if he had stayed with the Red Sox.
7:40 PM Dec 7th
 
DaveFleming
What's interesting is that the suggestion that Tenace was better than Rice initially appears to be, as Evan points out, a 'preposterous assertion.'

But the closer one looks, the less preposterous it becomes. I originally made the comment that Tenace was better than Rice with a degree of glibness. Having given it a second and third look, I'm starting to think it's less preposterous than it originally appears.

Anyway, I'm about 90% sure I'll write an article about it, so we can debate and discuss it further.
1:39 PM Dec 7th
 
evanecurb
Richie / Dave: So, what you are saying is that Tenace's offensive performance over a replacement level catcher is greater than Rice's offensive performance over a replacement level outfielder / dh. The comparison of these two players is really a very good test case of the various components of offensive value. On the one hand, we have Rice, an outfielder/dh with a high batting average and high slugging percentage who played home games in a hitter's park, and didn't walk a lot. On the other hand, we have Tenace, a catcher/first baseman/DH who hit for a low batting average, hit home runs, walked more than anyone else in the game, and played home games in pitcher's parks. In order to compare their relative offensive value, the following factors need to be evaluated:
1. The park factor analysis as applied to Rice and Tenace is representative of the actual effects of ballparks on these two individual players. Rice played in a hitter friendly environment when at home. Tenace played home games in pitcher's parks. Rice was certainly helped by Fenway, but Tenace's numbers don't show that he was hurt by his home parks. His home/away splits are not dramatic. Rice and Tenace were both more valuable to their teams in home games than in road games.
2. Any difference in value between a walk and a hit is accurately captured by available data. Rice had a lot of hits, and more hits of all kinds than did Tenace. Tenace had a lot of walks and made fewer outs.
3. The differences in playing time (games played, plate appearances, and counting stats in general) are appropriately taken into account when performing the analysis.
3. Rice's numbers in his final three seasons (1987-89), when he racked up 1230 plate appearances as a DH with little value over a replacement level player.
4. Rice's three year peak in 1977-79, where he produced over 1100 total bases in 2000 plate appearances, is properly taken into consideration in the analysis.
5. Tenace's games at catcher vs. other positions are properly accounted for. His offensive production is more valuable when catching, but he played a lot of games at first base and DH.

On the surface, it looks like Rice's ability to hit the ball hard with great frequency served him very well in Fenway, but many of his singles, doubles, and a few HRs turned into outs on the road. Tenace's penchant for walks and home runs served him well in the pithcer's parks that he called home, and tended to neutralize his home/road splits. I don't think I have the ability to properly compare these factors, but I am hoping somebody will.
12:27 PM Dec 7th
 
Richie
Evan, you're totally ignoring the fact that Tenace played some catcher. Far, far more valuable than left field. Dave said 'player', not 'hitter'.
10:43 AM Dec 7th
 
evanecurb
correction: He is not close in walks. He is close in OBP and OPS+
11:09 PM Dec 6th
 
evanecurb
I'll take the bait regarding Jim Rice, Gene Tenace, and the Hall of Fame. Staying with the theme of how they were perceived at the time, I recall that during the period of 1975-1985, Jim Rice, Mike Schmidt, George Brett, and Eddie Murray were generally perceived to be the best hitters in baseball. A check into the record books shows that the difference between perception and the record books is that Rice really only belonged in this top flight group for three seasons: 1977-1979. After that, his key offensive stats dropped to a lower level. The other guys (Hall of Famers all) maintained peak performance levels for much longer periods of time. Make no mistake about it: from 1977 through 1979, Jim Rice was an awesome offensive force. He had over 80 extra base hits and a near .600 slugging pct. each of those years, and he averaged 385 total bases per year during that period. This was a very high total during that era. I know his stats were somewhat inflated by Fenway, but his OPS+ of 147, 157, and 154 were very solid. Rice was a Hall of Fame caliber hitter for those three years, and after that he was very good but not of Hall of Fame caliber.

I think the belief that Tenace was a more valuable offensive player than Rice stems from the belief that OPS+ is a very good gauge of offensive production. I think OPS+ doesn't properly value the relative worth of hits and walks. Singles are worth more than walks, and research has borne this out. Rice is clearly superior to Tenace in all offensive categories except OPS+, OBP, and walks, and he is close in those.

You probably didn't get any debate because it's a preposterous assertion.
11:08 PM Dec 6th
 
chisox
Dave,

Some assertions just have to be let go without comment. :)
10:47 PM Dec 6th
 
Richie
This is the wrong site for riling up Jim Rice fans. Don't know that there's one here.
10:36 PM Dec 6th
 
DaveFleming
Really interesting narrative, Evan, about the perception of Allen when he was a player. That's something that sort of falls through the cracks as the years go by: we lose sight of how a player is understood in his time, and are left with only the numbers.

It's interesting to debate whether our understanding of the player's career is better or worse with contextual elements. On the one hand, looking only at the numbers is looking at that which is quantifiable and known. On the other hand, we run the risk of glossing over important things like Allen's habitual unpreparedness for games.

There is a great article about Allen, "Dick Allen, The Phillies, and Racism," by William Kashatus. It's easy to find via google, and a comprehensive and thoughtful look into his career.

Just an aside: I'm impressed that no one's attacked my claim that Gene Tenace was a better player than Jim Rice. I was hoping to rile up a few Bostonians with that one.
8:10 PM Dec 6th
 
evanecurb
last sentence correction: I am not OBJECTIVE when it comes to Dick Allen
1:01 PM Dec 6th
 
evanecurb
When I was 15 years old, in 1972, Dick Allen was in his prime as a player. I remember the cover of SI that showed him juggling baseballs in his White Sox uniform while smoking a cigarette. My friends and I thought Dick Allen was 'cool.' We loved his buggy whip swing with that huge bat and marveled at how he did it (I still marvel at that). We liked how his hair stuck out from under the batting helmet that he always wore on the field. We liked how he thumbed his nose at convention and how he, Wilbur Wood led an otherwise mediocre team to the brink of a division title in '72. I chose number 15 (Dick Allen's number) on the high school team that year after 20 (Frank Robinson - still my all time favorite player) was taken by one of the seniors.

Mind you, my friends and I were anything but rebellious. We showed up for practice on time, went to school every day, and generally stayed out of trouble. I think maybe we were just trying to rebel vicariously. As I recall it, we were tired of hearing about Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, and the other conventional baseball hero-types and wanted somebody who was unconventional. We were kids. We thought it added to the entertainment value. We were silly.

I remember going to an O's-Chisox game in Baltimore in '74 specifically so that I could say that I had seen Dick Allen in person. He wasn't in the starting lineup. He entered the game in the fifth inning and played misearably. I thought it was funny at the time, 'ol Dick Allen thumbing his nose at authority again and presumably getting away with it.

I realizes later that Dick Allen probably was an alcoholic and was certainly a divisive force on most if not every team to which he belonged. I see him now as an immature narcissist who divided his teams' clubhouses, performed EXTREMELY well on the field, sometimes missed games or showed up late, and was traded several times during his peak seasons.

Were his behavioral problems brought on by racial prejudice? I don't know but I doubt it. Based on my experience as a teenage fan at the time, I think he had as many admirers as detractors. The other great minority players of the time (Gibson, Clemente, McCovey, Oliva, Morgan, Perez, Reggie, Stargell, and many more) presumably faced the same racial biases without any negative impact to their performance on the field, their behavior in the clubhouse, or their ability to maintain the level of self discipline required of a professional athlete.

I really like the way that Dave Fleming framed this discussion. I don't think it would be a bad thing if he were to go into the Hall of Fame. Other great players have been nacissists, alcoholics, and worse. But if I had a vote, I would vote "no" while acknowledging that I am not subjective when it comes to Dick Allen.
12:59 PM Dec 6th
 
THBR
chisox said: 'I think the obvious implication of this article and conversation is that it leads to a broader conversation about eligibility/election criteria for the HOF. Should there be more well-defined criteria? If so, should they include consideration of "citizenship" issues?'

THAT imho is a damn good question. It leads me to the question I've been asking for the past 20 years: If they can ban Charlie Hustle from the game for not paying his Federal income tax and allegedly (this was before he admitted it) betting on games, why can they let in a pitcher who not only admitted but BRAGGED about using a spitball?? One broke the rules, and the other broke the rules -- so why does the other get in the Hall?

If "citizenship" were an issue, two-thirds at least of the population of the U.S. would be in jail. Otoh, athletes, by virtue of their position, have extra obligations and it is past time those obligations were spelled out with particulars so that they can be recognized as obligations. I'm putting this badly, but -- in the same way that newscasters have extra obligations to speak grammatically (which most of them don't) -- athletes have extra obligations to be moral exemplars off the field as well as on. Honus Wagner versus ... well, versus Dick Allen.

Is it unfair to those born gifted with athletic ability? It sure is. But that's why dress codes exist, that's why curfews exist, that's why "There's no "I" in T-E-A-M", et cetera. It should be recognized and STATED, so that if you're Ted Williams and you spit at people, you don't get into the Hall of Outstanding Achievement.
12:50 PM Dec 6th
 
Richie
I just disagree with your premise, chisox. Hitting is only important in that it helps your team win ballgames. If you then give away those ballgames in other ways, then you weren't a great baseball player, and shouldn't go into the Hall.

In the 'dead ball' era, fielding was much more important than it is now. Hal Chase played then, may well have been the greatest defensive 1st baseman of all time. So does that mean we ignore how awful his teams' won-loss records were while Hal was organizing his teammates to help throw ballgames? Because he also helped win games with his historically great fielding?

I don't feel 'X' amount of Win Shares, OPS+, or whatever automatically qualifies you for the Hall. If behaviorally you were a bane to the team such that your manager quit in disgust over you, yes that counts as a big negative. Due to his career length and lack of defensive value, Dick Allen's Hall case is debatable. His execrability as a teammate drags that verdict well over onto the 'nay' side, in my absolutely subjective opinion.
11:42 AM Dec 6th
 
Richie
I recall hearing huge Frank Howard described as the 'most feared' hitter in baseball. But never, ever Mike Schmidt, despite his credentials. Nor Mark McGwire nor Jack Clark, once their careers were over. Whenever MSM writers talk about how 'Ralph was the most feared hitter back in the whatever days', Ralph's always a black guy. And these HoF discussions are focused on today's perceptions of back whenever.

One extra-racial thing that does matter is if you glowered alot when you played. And Rice sure did that. I think the MSM voters figure that made you scarier, too. Goodness knows they don't use walk rates as indicators of whether or not pitchers actually did much fear the particular hitter back then.
11:26 AM Dec 6th
 
chisox
Richie,

I interpret "historically great" to be a level or two above "great." In my opinion, someone who is an "historicaly great hitter" should be in the hall.

It appears to me that your criteria for election might be Win Shares. And that's fine. That can be the starting point for a discussion for HOF election criteria. If I am accurately reflecting your criteria, do you have a suggestion for what might be the least amount of win shares a player might need to have to be voted to the HOF?
11:01 AM Dec 6th
 
evanecurb
Richie said "one thing most feared stands for is black." I take issue with that. "Most feared" typically means big and strong. I recall the following white players as being described as the "most feared" hitter: Frank Howard, Mark McGwire, Mike Schmidt, and Jack Clark.
1:07 AM Dec 6th
 
Richie
I don't understand why you think great hitters automatically get into the Hall. The idea is to win ballgames. That's what they count up at the end of the year, not how many runs you scored.

Dick Allen helped his teams win ballgames in one way, and helped them lose ballgames in other ways. Like not showing up for work, for goodness' sake. That's why his drunkenness counts against his case for the Hall, not because drunkenness is an awful character trait or anything.
8:54 PM Dec 5th
 
chisox
Let me clarify something......I wasn't trying to say that one person's analysis should be sufficient for HOF election. What I should have said is that if there is general agreement based on sound analysis that a player was an historically great hitter, then that player should be in the HOF. IMHOP.
7:09 PM Dec 5th
 
chisox
Richie,

Call them personality flaws, character traits, whatever you think appropriate. I'm certainly not trying to defend Allen's behavior, and as I noted in a prior entry, I never considered him HOF fame material before Dave's article (and not sure that I do now).

My point, or opinion, is that if someone, let's say a writer named Dave Fleming--hypothetically speaking, of course--conducts a statistical analysis that reaches the conclusion that a player is/was an historically great hitter, then, that player should be elected to the HOF--in the absence of clearly defined eligibility/election criteria to the contrary. The fact that electors might not approve of some of that player's behavior should be irrelevant(again subject to clearly defined eligibility/election criteria). That seems especialy true to me when we stop to consider that there are other players in the HOF with less than savory histories of behavior.

To me it seems unfair to hold one qualified player to a different standard than was applied to other qualified players. Especially in Allen's case where it seems his race had such an effect on how people reacted to him (I'm looking forr a better way to say this and would appreciate some help on it).

Although I don't consider myself a stats geek, and I certainly am not a master of the statistical anlaysis thrown around on this site, I must admit this appears to make me a stats-centric kind of evaluator, at least for HOF issues. I don't know if that is a good or bad thing.

I think the obvious implication of this article and conversation is that it leads to a broader conversation about eligibility/election criteria for the HOF. Should there be more well-defined criteria? If so, should they include consideration of "citizenship" issues?

Thanks for hanging in there.
7:00 PM Dec 5th
 
Richie
Dick Allen didn't have "personality flaws". He had characteristics that hurt his teams. Showing up too drunk to play? That's just a 'personality flaw', for goodness' sake?!?

Behavior is contagious, chisox. Whitey Herzog knew that, Earl Weaver knew that. Stars get rewarded for being stars by getting paid the most money. If they also claim rights such as not showing up for work when they just don't want to cuz they're the star after all, such teams underachieve, then unravel. If the guy making the most money cuts corners, most everyone else making less money will start doing likewise.
4:40 PM Dec 5th
 
DaveFleming
Thanks again for writing, Chisox. I'm glad the article made you think. It's what I'm striving most for on this site: to generate ideas and articles that get folks thinking and talking.

It's interesting that you read this article as being an argument against Allen. Quiet as I kept it, I actually think Dick Allen should be in the Hall of Fame. That is, if I had a vote I'd cast one for him. But an article about how I'd vote seemed way less interesting than an article asking why it is Allen hasn't made the Hall.
4:31 PM Dec 5th
 
chisox
Dave,

I understand the distinction you are trying to draw between an All-Time Great, and an historically great hitter, but I think it’s a very minor distinction at best. I would imagine we could find worse fielders in the Hall—Teddy Ballgame for one—whom you would probably consider an All-Time Great, not just an historically great hitter. However, my purpose here is not to argue that point or claim Allen was as great a hitter as Williams, and I accept the distinction you make.

What I really want to get at is that it seems to me the crux of your argument against him going to The Hall is based on his personal flaws, which is an issue that seems to have been ignored by voters when considering other historically great hitters. Whether or not voters should consider personality flaws is open to debate. My position is that this is not the Boy Scout Hall of Fame; it’s the Baseball Hall of Fame. So, unless someone has engaged in conduct for which he has been banned from baseball or otherwise officially disqualified for election to The Hall, that should be a non-issue. To impose that consideration/burden on Allen and not others situated is wrong and unfair. And, although I don’t really want to go there, perhaps has some racial undertones. It just seems to me more was demanded from him in part because he was black, or at least he was a racially divisive kind of guy. To be absolutely clear, I’m not accusing you, or anyone else who wants to consider his personal flaws, of being a racist. I just think for some reason racial tension and Dick Allen have historically traveled together, and we need to be cognizant of that, much like we need to be cognizant of “…the correlation between ‘dangerous hitters’ and skin color.”

Thanks for the article; it’s really made me think a lot.

1:07 PM Dec 5th
 
DaveFleming
Dear Chisox - Thanks for writing in. I want to just clarify that my article states that Allen is a historically great HITTER, which is slightly different than an all-time great player. It's a minor difference, but one that is important: most of us can agree that Allen hit like a HOF'er. It's all the other stuff that blurs his candidacy.

Think about DH's: one of the reasons they never win MVP awards is because they never play in the field. It's held against them: how can you be an MVP if you're only job is to hit?

The same thing goes against Allen: he was a great hitter, sure. But he was an average (at best) fielder and a divisive and destructive force in the clubhouse. Whatever negitive impact Allen had on his teams can't be quantified, but it has to be considered.
11:15 AM Dec 5th
 
DaveFleming
Richie is wise to point out the correlation between 'dangerous hitters' and skin color. I would only add that a few of the players Richie mentions were, in fact, scary looking hitters. Allen swung a 44-ounce bat, which looks like a goddamn tree limb in the video clips. Jim Rice famously broke his bat on a check swing. And Gary Sheffield's batting stance is, well, unsettling to say the least.

What's interesting is that this 'dangerous' quality, whatever its roots, has really bolstered Rice's case against a bunch of players (Murphy, Evans, Lynn, Singleton) who have equal or better cases for the HOF than Rice does.
11:02 AM Dec 5th
 
chisox
Not sure why you state in your last paragraph that “But the question about Dick Allen and the Hall of Fame is a hard question to answer, because it extends beyond simply statistical analysis.” If, as you conclude in the first part of your article, he is among the All-Time Greats, then he belongs. Not to include him seems to change the rules of the game, unfairly so, just for this one person. Do we keep an All-Time Great out of The Hall just because he wasn’t an Even-Greater All-Time Great? Or because he had some fairly significant personal flaws? Or because those personal flaws kept him from being an Even-Greater All-Time Great?

If my understanding of some of the players in The Hall is correct, a few of them were considerably more flawed than Allen so that I see no reason to keep Allen out because of his flaws. It seems to me that keeping him out because of his flaws recreates some of the same circumstances you note he endured when he played for Philly.

I have to admit I never thought of him as Hall material because I didn’t think his record was good enough, regardless of his personal flaws. Or, probably more accurately, I thought the totality of his circumstances, flaws, etc., kept him from building a good enough record. What I especially like about your article is that it makes me rethink that position. Maybe he was an All-Time Great.

11:00 AM Dec 5th
 
DaveFleming
Interesting points THBR: I think the HOF painted itself in a corner when it called itself the Hall of FAME, instead of the Hall of Merit, or the Hall of Greats. It's similiar, in a way, to the MVP, as the term 'valuable' is open to various interpretations.

On Gene Tenace: I'll put it this way: if I were a GM and could choose either Tenace or Rice, I'd take Tenace in a heartbeat.

Gene Tenace is the kind of guy who is always underrated: a low average hitter who has power and draws a ton of walks. Because of that low average, he was a third-stringer for a long time, not getting a starting job until he was 26 years old.

Over his career, Tenace averaged 24.07 Win Shares per 162 games, which is higher than Jim Rice (21.86). Among catchers, it's higher than Fisk or Gary Carter or I-Rod or Ernie Lombardi or Joe Torre or Ted Simmons. He had a higher OPS+ than Rice(136 to 128).

Tenace's numbers are kept down because he played in the Oakland Coliseum, which was a lousy hitter's park, and because no one thought a .230 hitting catcher was worth a damn. He was. Gene Tenace was a better player than Jim Rice.
10:44 AM Dec 5th
 
Richie
Not to be intentionally provocative, but one thing "most feared" stands for is 'black'. I never see a white hitter called that when referring back in baseball history. It's always applied to Jim Rice, Richie Allen, Andre Dawson, Dave Parker, Gary Sheffield, Al Oliver. Never to Mike Schmidt, Harmon Killebrew, Dale Murphy, Jack Clark, George Brett, Ted Simmons. No reason it has to be a racial code phrase. But it sure is when and how MSM sportswriters use it.
11:11 PM Dec 4th
 
THBR
PS GENE TENACE was better than JIM RICE???? The fer sure he should go in the Hall. Can't wait to read your column on THAT! (:8-{D#>
8:28 PM Dec 4th
 
THBR
I think the lead sentence of your last paragraph hits the nail on the head. Not everyone can be a Jackie Robinson; not everyone can respond as well as a Hank Aaron. And we can't let "society" off the hook either by saying that Dick Allen was a spoiled brat. Sure, he made bad choices; sure, he wasn't cut out to be a "hero". But HE made the choice to go into baseball. Otoh, WE made the choice to criticize him rather than feel for him. And did Mauch do him any good by covering up for him? Otoh, how would it have helped to criticize him even more.

Difficult questions, which bring up the basic question: what exactly is the HoF FOR? Dick Allen was certainly famous -- and please note that it's not called the Hall of Outstanding Accomplishment, which is what we obviously think it should be called. If it's REALLY a Hall of FAME, put the guy in there: he certainly was famous!!
8:26 PM Dec 4th
 
 
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