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Dick Allen remembered …

Our all-time great slugger is feted by the White Sox who played with him

Chicago White Sox

He was our “Mr. Cool.” He was the White Sox version of Steve McQueen, Paul Newman or Frank Sinatra.

Maybe it was the batting helmet, the glasses, the pork-chop sideburns, the goatee, the long-sleeve undershirt that he wore even when it was 90 degrees out, or the 40-ounce bat.

Maybe it was the big Cadillac, or the fact that he was the highest-paid player in the game.

Whatever it was, Dick Allen had it and a certain generation of Sox fans loved it. Of course they loved it even more when Allen started hitting baseball to the farthest reaches of Comiskey Park.

I was 17 in the summer of 1972, a magical summer for me. I spent many days and nights out at Comiskey Park watching Dick do his incredible thing. It was a time that stays fresh and clear in my mind even though 48 years have passed.

When Dick passed away Monday from cancer, it hit me like a hammer blow. It was the same feeling as when my good friend, Sox star left-handed pitcher Billy Pierce, left us.

You think your heroes are going to stay around forever, which they’ll always be as you remember them in your mind’s eye. Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way.

But it was a special time in my life, and in the franchise’s as well — remember, then-director of player personnel Roland Hemond said Allen, “saved the franchise,” and he was right. Just look at the attendance figures.

In June 2012, the Chicago Baseball Museum invited me back to Chicago to co-host, with Richard Roeper, the 40th anniversary of that 1972 club. Dick was there, along with his brother Hank, as well as Tom Bradley, Bart Johnson, Ed Spiezio, “Goose” Gossage, Carlos May, Bill Melton, Hemond and Nancy Faust.

For three days a number of fans celebrated that club, culminating with a dinner at U.S. Cellular Field. My part of the dinner was giving a 25-minute speech on the history of that team and how its success did “save” the franchise. Spending time with Dick was remarkable, as well as the other guys off of that squad, and like the memories of the 1972 season (I was in college for 1973 and 1974 and didn’t get to see the Sox much at all) are forever etched in my mind.

So, how to pay tribute to Dick?

The best way to do it is to let those who knew him best — his teammates — talk about him and tell their stories. Then I’ll toss in a few personal memories that I have, memories of when I actually saw him play either live or on TV, and from the 40th anniversary celebration.

So with that as the backdrop, we begin.

Carlos May (White Sox outfielder, played three seasons with Allen):

We knew each other from spring training, and from my brother (Lee). Dick was the best player that I ever saw. I tried to emulate the way he set pitchers up, the way he ran the bases. He’d be out at the park at 6 a.m in spring training, hitting. He knew the game and he was a leader ... guys didn’t slough off when he was around. In the years that I played with him, I saw him get angry twice — and they were both because of things that he thought weren’t right as far as playing the game.

The first time I think we were in Cleveland, and Pat Kelly was having a bad day. He struck out three times. The next time up he hit a foul pop that the third baseman was chasing and Pat was yelling, “catch it, catch it ...” He was mad, and he didn’t want to strike out a fourth time. When he got back to the dugout, Dick let him have it. He called him a lot of things and I remember him saying that what Pat did was not professional.

The other time was when we got Ron Santo. He was our DH that year. We were in Chicago, and it was cold and wet. Dick was hitting third, Bill [Melton] fourth and Santo fifth. Ron was back in the clubhouse, I don’t know if he was getting loose or doing something, but Dick made an out and went back to the dugout.

As Dick was sitting down, Ron came out of the tunnel and asked him what the pitcher was throwing. Dick exploded and basically said if he wanted to know what the pitcher was throwing he should have his ass on the bench watching with the rest of us. Dick was very big when it came to the team, and that everyone should be doing everything they can to win games.

Chuck Tanner and Dick Allen

Chuck Tanner (White Sox manager for Allen’s three years)

Roland Hemond and I talked about anything that we were going to do. He came up to me and said, “I think we can get Dick Allen in a deal, what do you think?” I said, “Shit, I’d take him in a second. He’s a good person and a great player. Do the deal.” And we did. Really it wasn’t a gamble at all.

I knew Dick and his family from when he and his younger brothers were little kids. I played ball against his older brother, who was a great athlete. The Allen family only lived about 20 minutes from where I lived. I had known Dick for years.

I got along well with his family, and maybe that helped, but the biggest reason we worked well together was because I respected him and his ability. One example was that when we were demonstrating how to get a proper lead off first base I’d say to Dick, “You show ’em how to take the right lead,” and he did. Dick was a natural leader ... he knew exactly how to get the right lead, he never made a mistake on the bases, he played almost every game and had the greatest individual year I ever saw out of any player I ever managed. And all of the young guys that we had on the team respected him and watched every move he made, kids like [Bucky] Dent and [Brian] Downing and [Rich] Gossage.

Dick was our leader, and I remember that [famous “Chili Dog” game] very well. Mike Andrews told me what he said to Sparky Lyle as he was crossing the infield coming in to pitch. Mike and Sparky were roommates with the Red Sox. Mike said to Sparky, “You’re in deep shit now.”

After the game, after the home run, the fans were so loud, so excited, that you could feel the locker room shake from the vibrations. I’ve never seen that before in my life. When I was in the locker room I looked at Dick and got chills. I still do, thinking about it. He was at his locker undressing, and to him it was just another day. He did some amazing things.

People don’t know how good of a leader Dick was. We decided to send down Jorge Orta for a few weeks that season, because we needed help in another area. Jorge was young, spoke very little English and was devastated because he thought he wasn’t going to be brought back up. He was crying, saying in broken English, “But I have no money. What will I do?” Dick walked over to him, gave him $1,500 right there, and consoled him. The other players were stunned just watching it. That’s what Dick Allen was all about.

I’d never try to talk a player out of [retiring], and no, I didn’t know ahead of time he was leaving. He just came into my office with his spikes tied together and hung over his shoulder like you used to do as a kid and said, “Lefty, that’s it, I’m done.” I told him that I appreciated how hard he played for me and that I thought he had the greatest year anyone that I managed ever had. I knew he was really hurting. Dick had a very bad shoulder, he was coming off that broken leg, and he was tired. He was just tired of dealing with things like the media. There were a number of games where he shouldn’t even have been playing, but he was out there anyway.

I can’t say enough about the things he did for me and for the team. If ever I got back into managing, I was going to call Dick and ask him to be one of my coaches. He understood the game and the way it’s supposed to be played.

Ed Herrmann (White Sox catcher, played with Dick for three seasons)

The Sox traded Tommy John for Dick, and that was hard for me because I was good friends with Tommy. It was tough — until the first day. Bill [Melton] and I came in early, and Dick was already in the batting cage. All he was doing was standing in his stance and getting hit by pitches! Bill and I asked what he was doing, and Dick said, “I’m getting used to getting pitched inside.” Right then I knew this man was serious about winning.

He was one of the best teammates I ever had. He was always there for you. The other 24 guys looked at him as the guy who was going to take us to where we wanted to go. No one on the Sox hated him or didn’t get along with him. I sat with him many times on airplanes and he was always great.

Dick took some criticism because he didn’t always take batting practice. He took it the first month of the season and the last month. The rest of the time, he was saving his strength. He also told me that the reason he didn’t usually take BP was because he wanted to come back [to the park] remembering the pitches that he saw when he left it.

Dick might have been one of the top four players I ever saw play the game and I saw [Mickey] Mantle, Frank Robinson and those guys. He could run, hit for average, hit for power. The only thing he really couldn’t do well was throwing, and that was because he had a bad hand.

Mike Andrews (White Sox second baseman, was Dick’s teammate for two years)

Dick was as good if not better than anybody I ever saw. As a pure hitter, his 1972 season was as dominant a performance as I’ve ever seen. I played with Carl Yastrzemski in ’67 and I know the kind of year he had, but part of it was that pitchers were actually giving him good pitches to hit, which I didn’t understand. With Dick, very early in the season, pitchers were saying, “We’re not going to let him beat us.” They weren’t pitching to him, and he still had a great season! I saw many times where Dick would swing at a lot of outside pitches and hit them a long way.

Dick could run, he had tremendous baseball instincts and he stole 19 bases that year. I had been around Yaz, who worked harder than anybody I ever saw, but Dick was a natural athlete. One time, the Sox were getting criticized because Allen was showing up almost right before game time. It might have been a newspaper guy. [Chuck] Tanner said to him, “If a guy can hit 40 homers, drive in over a hundred runs and hit over .300, he can show up right before game time!”

I remember reading in The Sporting News when Dick was still in Philly that he hit like 18 of his 20 home runs between the 380 foot signs at Shibe Park. He could hit balls a long way. Dick was such a great player but I always feared that he would lose interest, and that’s what happened. He loved to play the game, but he wasn’t really comfortable with some of the peripheral things associated with baseball, like having to deal with the media.

Nancy Faust (White Sox organist, and friend of Allen’s for more than 40 years)

Some of the last messages that Dick exchanged with Nancy:

“Hi Nance, That song sure brings back a lot of good memories. Can you do it again sometime? “(Nancy had played “Jesus Christ Superstar,” Allen’s “walk-up” music, before the Phillies retired his No. 15 this past September.)

“Wow! Nancy Faust playing that organ is about the only thing you need this morning to transport you back to old Sox Park! Thanks @played41!”

Roland Hemond (White Sox executive who made the trade for Allen)

Acquiring Dick was a daring move. I felt, though, that Chuck Tanner would be the right manager for him. Chuck is from New Castle, Pa. and Allen was from Wampum, Pa. Chuck had known Dick and Dick’s mom for years. Allen was one of the most talented players to have ever played the game. We felt he could help us. Then we acquired Stan Bahnsen within a half-hour of completing the Allen trade. Those two transactions made a big difference in strengthening the Sox for 1972. If Bill Melton hadn’t suffered a herniated disk operation in mid-season, I believe we would have won the pennant in 1972.

Stan Bahnsen (White Sox pitcher, teammate of Allen for two-and-a-half seasons)

I actually thought that Dick was better than his stats. Every time we needed a clutch hit, he got it. He got along great with his teammates and he was very knowledgeable about the game. He was the ultimate team guy.

The only folks who seemed to have some issues with Dick were the media. There were times when Dick wouldn’t show up for batting practice and things like that and folks wondered why. Well. I asked Dick about that one time, and he was right in his reasoning. Dick told me that when he was in a groove, when he was really seeing the ball well, he didn’t want his timing disrupted by seeing 55 mph batting practice pitches … it’s not like you’re going to see that in a game. When Dick was having trouble or wanted to work on something, then he’d take BP.

Walt Williams (White Sox outfielder, played with Allen during the 1972 season)

Dick and I spent a lot of time together. I think he liked the fact that I always played hard and always tried to have a smile on my face. He was a great player, he had a lot of talent and I admired him. He could be a little moody at times, and I know some folks didn’t like him, but he knew baseball.

Dick sort of took me under his wing, and we’d talk a lot of baseball. He had a low voice, and when he’d tell you something it was short and to the point. When he spoke, you listened to him.

One story I remember involved Milt Wilcox. He was pitching against us and he threw one high and tight to Dick and hit him. Dick picked up the baseball and sort of walked it out to Milt as he was heading down the line and quietly said to him, “I know you have to pitch inside, but you better not hit me again.”

Now, some of my personal memories:

June 4, 1972, Game 1, White Sox 6, Yankees 1. A “Bat Day” crowd of more than 50,000 saw the Sox in control, but in the 8th inning the Sox pulled off a double steal and Allen stole home! Bill Melton started it by breaking for second, then hesitating as the throw went through. When he paused, Allen broke for the plate and scored sliding in.

June 4, 1972, Game 2, White Sox 5, Yankees 4. The famous “Chili Dog” game. I was sitting in the lower deck in right field. After the first game, Chuck Tanner joked to the media that even though he was resting Dick in the second game, “He’ll hit a pinch hit home run for us.” Chuck should have bought a lottery ticket that day! Sure enough, with two on in the last of the 9th inning and the Sox losing, 4-2, Tanner called on Allen. At the time, he was eating a chili dog and had to quickly finish it, getting chili all over the uniform top. Clubhouse boys quickly gave him a new one, but he didn’t have time to put on the long-sleeve undershirt.

When he walked out to the on-deck circle you could feel the excitement. Sparky Lyle, at that time the best relief pitcher in the league, was on the mound in a high-leverage situation. On the third pitch, Lyle hung a slider and Allen ripped it on a low line towards the left-field seats.

One amazing thing about this was, because I was sitting about 365 feet away and light travels faster than sound, you saw Allen’s swing and the ball starting to head out towards the seats, then a second later you heard the crack of the bat!

The ball landed in the first few rows in left, and Comiskey Park exploded. Allen was mobbed by his teammates when he hit home plate, and fans refused to leave the ballpark. It was simply a magical moment.

June 7, 1972, White Sox 2, Boston 1. I sat almost behind home plate to watch Luis Tiant face Stan Bahnsen. In the first inning, Mike Andrews walked. Allen came up and Tiant threw him a pitch that looked to be a foot high and outside … no matter. Dick went the other way and smashed it off the right-center field wall for an RBI triple … on a pitch he probably shouldn’t have even swung at.

June 11, 1972, Game 1, White Sox 6, Milwaukee 4. A high school friend and I sat in the upper deck near the left-field line for this one, about halfway up the section. In the third inning of Game 1 with Jim Lonborg on the mound, Luis Alvarado homered, then after a single and the second out in the inning, Mike Andrews homered. Allen then stepped up and hit a towering drive down the left-field line. The ball appeared to be coming right towards me but fell a few rows in front. Three home runs in an inning, and the closest I ever came to getting a ball at Comiskey Park. And the Sox won the second game as well!

July 31, 1972, White Sox 8, Minnesota 1. I was actually scrubbing the kitchen floor (yes kids … we actually had to do chores!) with the TV on watching the Sox face Bert Blyleven. But when Allen came up, you stopped scrubbing, and watched.

Allen cranked out a blast to right-center in the first inning that saw outfielder Bobby Darwin charge in, then slip and fall; incredibly, the ball hit a divot and bounced completely over his head, rolling to the wall while Allen rounded the bases as the Sox scored three runs.

Then, amazingly, it happened again!

In the fifth inning Dick hit another shot, this time to left-center, Darwin raced over and in but mistimed his dive and missed the ball, which again rolled all the way to the wall, as Allen rounded the bases for a second time. He’d drive in five RBIs that day on two inside-the-park home runs.

Aug. 23, 1972, White Sox 5, Yankees 2. Two days before my birthday, I was sitting in the center-field bleachers near Harry Caray. Back then, for every Wednesday afternoon home game Caray would be sitting in the bleachers broadcasting. In the seventh inning with the Sox ahead, 3-2, Allen took a pitch from Lindy McDaniel and drilled it on a line almost directly towards Caray and myself. I’ll never forget Bobby Murcer, the Yankees center fielder, going back to the chain-link fence at the 400-foot mark, looking up and watching the ball, still arching upwards! The ball landed about five yards from Caray and his net, as Dick became the first Sox player to ever hit a home run into the original center-field bleachers. It was a two-run shot and made the final score 5-2.

June 2012. It was the 40th anniversary celebration of the 1972 club put on by the Chicago Baseball Museum and the White Sox. For three days we swapped stories, watched the Sox beat Milwaukee 1-0 from a luxury suite, and then that Monday night had the big dinner in the banquet room overlooking the right-field bleachers. A few things about Dick stood out. He was genuinely moved by the fact that fans turned out to honor him and his teammates; you could tell it in his voice when he got up to speak. During the evening’s festivities there was a break as Nancy Faust played “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Dick asked me for the microphone as Nancy started playing, and joined in with the fans, singing with a big smile on his face.

Finally when it was all over, we were back at the Drake Hotel gathered around the bar for one last round. I was in the corner talking pitching with Gossage and Bradley when all of a sudden I was enclosed in a bear hug that nearly broke my ribs. I turned around and it was Dick. Smiling, he thanked me for my help in putting on the event.

Dick Allen belongs in the Hall of Fame, and I get the sense now that it will happen the next time the Golden Era committee meets. Allen missed out by one vote the last time. It’s a shame that when it happens he won’t be around to see it.

Dick also has told close friends that if he ever did get in he wanted his plaque to have him wearing a White Sox hat. As he told Paul Sullivan of the Tribune in the last interview that he did, he was never treated better than he was in Chicago and he wished he could have played his whole career for the White Sox.

Dick Allen, three times an All-Star with the White Sox, two-time American League home run champion and the 1972 Most Valuable Player. Rest in peace … and thank you.