This Day in Transaction History: Phillies bring back Dick Allen

Dick Allen

On this day back in 1975, the Phillies acquired first baseman Dick Allen from the Braves, beginning Allen’s second tenure with the franchise. Allen was originally signed as an amateur free agent by the Phillies in 1960 as scouts drew comparisons between him and Babe Ruth.

Allen got to work right away, ascending through the Phillies’ minor league system quickly. In 1963, Allen played for the Phillies’ Triple-A affiliate in Little Rock, Arkansas. The fans treated him poorly as he was the first black player to play for the minor league team. Fans protested outside the stadium, both vocalizing and writing racial epithets.

Allen debuted for the Phillies in September of ‘63, then played a full season in ’64, earning the NL Rookie of the Year Award after batting .318/.382/.557 with 29 home runs, 91 RBI, and a major league-best 125 runs scored over 709 trips to the plate. The Phillies faded down the stretch, going on a 10-game losing streak, ultimately finishing tied for second place with the Reds as the Cardinals won the pennant.

As a 23-year-old in 1965, Allen got into a confrontation with Phillies 1B/OF Frank Thomas, not to be confused with the former White Sox slugger. Catcher Pat Corrales called Thomas a “tough bully type,” as Mitchell Nathanson detailed in the book God Almighty Hisself: The Life and Legacy of Dick Allen. While Thomas was in the batting cage before a game, he needled Allen, including with some racist comments. Eventually, Allen had enough and went after Thomas. Thomas swung his bat at Allen, hitting him in the shoulder.

At the time, the Philadelphia sports media was more sympathetic to Thomas – who was friendly to reporters and provided good quotes – than to Allen, a black ballplayer. The Phillies immediately released Thomas, but Allen was painted as having cost the Phillies a talented white player his job, so Phillies fans were not happy with him. Fans called the Phillies and wrote letters to complain about Allen, and some showed up at the ballpark to yell racial epithets at him. He was the target for objects thrown at him from the stands. According to Nathanson, fans even called Allen at home to threaten him and his family.

Despite the controversies, Allen continued to excel on the field. He finished fourth in NL MVP voting in 1966, leading the league in slugging percentage (.632), OPS (1.027), and adjusted OPS (181) while batting .317 with 40 home runs and 110 RBI. In ’67, he played in only 122 games, but led the league in on-base percentage (.404), OPS (.970), and adjusted OPS (.174) while smacking 23 home runs, knocking in 77 runs, and swiping 20 bases. Allen would continue to be productive through the end of his tenure with the Phillies following the 1969 season.

In October 1969, the Phillies agreed with the Cardinals on a trade that would become arguably the most important transaction in baseball history. The Phillies sent Allen, Cookie Rojas, and Jerry Johnson to the Cardinals in exchange for Byron Browne, Joe Hoerner, Tim McCarver, and Curt Flood. Flood refused to report to the Phillies, kicking off a years-long challenge to the reserve clause. Flood was ultimately unsuccessful, but he and MLBPA executive director Marvin Miller paved the way for the reserve clause to be overturned in 1975.

Allen excelled in his first and only season with the Cardinals in 1970, posting a .937 OPS with 34 home runs and 101 RBI. He was nominated to the NL All-Star team for the fourth time in his career. The Cardinals flipped him to the Dodgers for Ted Sizemore and Bob Stinson. The Dodgers then sent him to the White Sox after one season in exchange for Steve Huntz and Tommy John. Allen spent three seasons with the White Sox before they shipped him to the Braves ahead of the 1975 season. Allen, however, refused to report to the Braves, choosing to retire instead.

The Phillies talked Allen out of retirement, acquiring him and Johnny Oates from the Braves in exchange for cash, Barry Bonnell, and Jim Essian on this day 45 years ago. Now 33 years old and having sustained some injuries in recent years, Allen was near the end of his career. His second stint with the Phillies didn’t go as well. In 1975, he hit a meager .233/.327/.385 in 119 games. Though more productive in ’76, he appeared in only 85 games. Allen finished out his career in 1977 with Oakland, posting a career-low .681 OPS.

Allen finished his career with a batting line of .292/.378/.534 with 351 home runs, 1,119 RBI, 1,099 runs scored, and 133 stolen bases. Baseball Reference credits him with 58.8 WAR. Nevertheless, Allen fell off the Hall of Fame ballot after his first year of eligibility in 1983, receiving only 3.7 percent of the vote. He had another chance for enshrinement in 2014 when the Golden Era Committee voted, but he fell one vote short. Many regard him as one of the best players not in the Hall of Fame.