Dick Allen Swung to His Own Tune

MCCLATCHY NEWS SERVICE

His honor Richard J. Daley ran Chicago like a private kingdom from 1955 until he died, mayor for life, in 1976.

But there was one year when Daley did not rule Chicago. In 1972, that toddlin' town belonged to another King Richard.

Richard Anthony Allen, the former Richie transformed to the fearsome Dick Allen, had an unforgettable summer of '72. Run out of Philadelphia, forgotten in St. Louis, untamed by the civilized Dodgers in Angeles, Dick Allen was resurrected as a rollicking hero in Chicago.

Now 48 and a jockey agent from Hollywood Park out West and Aqueduct Park back East, Allen and some former baseball colleagues called the Equitable All-Stars will play a Northwest old-timers team Sunday in the Kingdome. The 1:35 p.m. exhibition, with $10,000 donated to a pension fund for retired ballplayers, precedes the Mariners-Red Sox game at 3:05.

Consider these numbers for Allen in 1972: a .308 batting average, 37 home runs, 113 RBI, 19 stolen bases and not one wayward incident. No fights with teammates. No hassles with management. Not only was Allen unanimously acclaimed the American League's Most Valuable Player, but he earned a three-year, $675,000 contract, the richest in the sport, and another MVP -- most vivid personality in Chicago.

Understand that Chicago, and maybe planet Earth, never had a ballplayer like Dick Allen. Ruffled shirts. Aviator shades. A Pall Mall in his mouth. Canadian Club on his breath. When Allen put that familiar No. 15 in the White Sox candy-apple red pinstripes on those wide shoulders, he was an undeniable presence.

Dick Allen was a walking headline. He strutted around the dugout, smoking cigarettes, shadow-boxing and juggling baseballs. He hit incomparable home runs. He answered to nobody.

Until 1972, black sporting heroes in Chicago were meek figures such as Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Gale Sayers. Walter Payton and Michael Jordan were in the future. Chicago blacks adored Allen because he bossed the bosses.

Meister Brau, a Chicago beer company, sponsored White Sox games on the radio. Meister Brau once threw a party for Allen at the Stockyards Inn, a steakhouse in a war zone near Comiskey Park. Allen drove up in a long, white Cadillac, dressed in a subdued outfit -- white lace shirt, black bell bottoms, red lizard-skin boots and a red cape.

Allen never made it to the party. Word spread through the South Side that Dick Allen was over on 42nd Street. He signed autographs, greeted the faithful and tweaked the hot-shots inside. They looked out the restaurant windows to see the guest of honor kissing women and drinking wine from a bottle.

"Man, that was a long, long time ago," Allen said in a telephone interview.

Allen is vague about his sensational summer. He remembers the adulation, the city inflamed with his name, that mustache, those muttonchops. He dismisses the memories by saying, "It gave me a tingle to drive through the South Side and have people run up to my car. I'll never forget the love they showed for a kid from Wampum, Pa."

The kid from Wampum walloped two memorable bolts July 31, 1972. In the past 58 years, only four players have hit two inside-the-park home runs in one game: the New York Yankees' Ben Chapman in 1932; the New York Giants' Henry Thompson in 1950; the Minnesota Twins' Greg Gagne in 1986; and Allen in old Metropolitan Stadium in Minnesota.

In the first inning, with Bert Blyleven pitching and two Sox on, Allen hit a line drive directly at center fielder Bobby Darwin. The ball sliced wickedly, so unnerving Darwin, he fell down. The ball rolled to the wall. Allen zipped around the bases.

In the fifth inning, with a man on, Allen lashed another Blyleven pitch at Darwin. Expecting another slice, Darwin lunged at the screamer. But it hooked. Allen again zoomed home.

"Never seen anything like it," Darwin said in the papers. "The man is so strong, he makes the ball do tricks."

Allen's explanation is brief.

"I put a charge into a lot of balls," he said. "Still can."

In the past seven years, Allen approached the White Sox and Texas Rangers about being their designated hitter. They were more interested in him coaching their young hitters.

To this day, Allen drives a baby-blue 1974 Lincoln Continental, bought for $10,000 in Chicago 17 years ago. He calls the car Big Blue. He talks to the car, asking, "Does the big fellow need a wash and wax today?"

Allen keeps a broom stick in the trunk of Big Blue. On mornings when Allen is not at the track, peddling the services of a Puerto Rican apprentice jockey named Johnny Velasquez, he drives to a Los Angeles-area state park named for another American original -- Will Rogers -- and bats stones into the Pacific.

"Nobody after me there," Allen said. "Just me and the ocean and the sun."

Long gone from the game, ignored by the owners, reviled and cherished by the fans, idolized by players who are fascinated by his persona and those whippet wrists, Dick Allen stories surface wherever baseball people gather. One good yarn concerns Jim Ray Hart, the hard third baseman for the Giants.

In 1962, Allen played for the Williamsport (Pa.) Phillies in the Class AA Eastern League. Hart toiled for the Springfield (Mass.) Giants. Going into the season finale, Springfield at Williamsport, Allen and Hart were two terrific young third basemen tied for the batting championship.

"I invited Crow (Hart) out to this little joint in Williamsport the night before the game," Allen said. "Figured I'd get him sauced so I had an edge. I threw a $20 bill on the bar and told the bartender to start pouring Old Grand Dad.

"Don't forget $20 bought a lot of drinks back then. We finally use up the twenty. We're both pretty lit. Time to split, right? Crow reaches in his pocket and throws down another twenty. He says, 'Let me return the favor.'

"The next day at the yard, I'm seeing nine infielders. Crow is taking BP (batting practice) and laughing. I know I have to have a good game.

"I go 4-for-6. Almost killed me. Crow, he goes 6-for-6 and wins the batting crown -- .331 to .329. Can you beat that?"

Cut to 1990. The Mariners are in their dugout before a game in the Kingdome. To pups such as Ken Griffey Jr. and Greg Briley, the name Dick Allen is a hazy memory, some guy who played in another place at a different time. For all they know, we could be discussing Dick Stuart.

Jeffrey Leonard is not only older and wiser, he grew up in Philadelphia. Leonard worships Dick Allen. At the mention of Allen's name, Leonard springs from the bench and grabs a bat.

Leonard assumes that sturdy stance. He lowers his left shoulder. He tugs at his shirt sleeves. He snorts through his nose. Dick Allen, to the life.

"Man, you guys never seen anything like him," Leonard tells Griffey and Briley. "The baddest (bleep-bleep) who ever lived.

"He could rake. He played the game the right way. Hard. Very hard. Oh man, I'm glad you brought him up. Nobody like Dick Allen. Nobody."

Leonard takes a ferocious cut, watching a distant ball leave the Kingdome, heading for the ocean.

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