2020 has been a challenging year for just about everybody. Those who follow baseball closely have been saddened on far too many occasions to hear of the passing of all-time greats, including Don Larsen, Tony Fernandez, Al Kaline, Tom Seaver, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Whitey Ford, and Joe Morgan. On December 7th, Dick Allen‘s name was added to that list. His untimely and unfortunate passing reignited conversations and debates as to whether his play on the field should have garnered more Hall of Fame consideration. I’m going to contend that this is absolutely the case.
Dick Allen debuted with the Phillies in September of 1963 but didn’t make a real name for himself until 1964, where he appeared in all 162 games for a 92-win Phillies team. Allen slashed .318/.382/.557, homered 29 times, scored a league-leading 125 runs, and ran away with the NL Rookie of the Year award. But his rookie campaign turned out to be one of the greatest in baseball history. His 8.8 bWAR was the greatest by a rookie hitter of all time, a number that has since been surpassed only by Mike Trout.
Allen would never again match that 8.8 bWAR figure, but he was by no means a one-hit-wonder. He would go on to post five seasons of at least 5.0 WAR, including each of the three seasons immediately following his rookie year. In 1966, Allen only played in 141 games, yet managed to set career-highs with 40 home runs, a .632 SLG, and a 1.027 OPS, but that was not quite enough to claim the NL MVP trophy thanks to Roberto Clemente.
After the 1969 season, Allen was traded by the Phillies to the Cardinals, where he spent one season before being traded to the Dodgers, where he spent one season before being traded to the White Sox. His first season with the White Sox was when he upped his game to another level. He hit .308/.420/.603, led the American League in HR, RBI, BB, OBP, SLG, OPS, and OPS+ en route to his lone MVP award. He joined Minnie Minoso and Hall of Famer Eddie Collins as the only members of the South Siders to ever post a season of at least 8.0 bWAR at the plate.
After a reunion in Philadelphia and a cup of coffee in Oakland, Allen retired following the 1977 season. He was one of the game’s best sluggers in an era that featured some of the best hitters to ever live. His career stats stack up favorably against some Hall of Famers who played during the same time frame:
There is a compelling case for Allen’s Hall of Fame induction by other metrics as well. By both Bill James’ black ink (leading league in certain statistics) and gray ink (finishing top-10) methods, Allen is almost perfectly in line with the average Hall of Famer. His 45.9 7 year-peak WAR is also higher than the average Hall of Fame first baseman and third baseman, the two positions where Allen played the majority of his games. His career accolades more than speak for themselves. Yet, after 15 years on the BBWAA ballot, he never garnered more than 18.9% of the vote and fizzled out without much of a trace. So why did he get so little credit for such an accomplished and decorated career?
Allen was a very controversial figure throughout his playing career, particularly during his earlier days as a member of the Phillies. He dealt with a substantial amount of racial tension as a young player in Philadelphia, which ultimately came to a head in 1965 when a pre-game brawl between Allen and teammate Frank Thomas led to the veteran Thomas being cut, which left a very sour taste in the mouths of many fans. Phillies players, including Allen, were ordered not to speak publicly about the incident, and with Thomas no longer being on the team, he was able to say his piece, which only villainized Allen even more. His displeasure would eventually become so evident that the Phillies finally agreed to trade Allen for Tim McCarver in October 1969. It wasn’t until well after his playing days that Allen was able to shake his image as a clubhouse cancer, but it wasn’t enough for him to see his potential Hall of Fame induction before his death.
There is still a chance that Dick Allen will one day, albeit posthumously, be enshrined in Cooperstown. He has received some consideration since falling off of the BBWAA ballot in 1997, by way of the Veterans Committee. Allen was featured on the Golden Days ballot (a subcommittee focused primarily on the era of 1950-1969) in 2007, 2009, and 2015, where he fell just a single vote shy of induction. The Veterans Committee has inducted a player into the Hall of Fame every year since 2017 but had this year’s voting postponed due to COVID-19. The Golden Days committee only meets every five years, so should Allen not be inducted in 2022, he would not be eligible to appear on another Veterans Committee ballot until 2026 (for 2027 induction).
Dick Allen was already done a great disservice by constantly being snubbed on the Hall of Fame ballot for fifteen years. It would be criminal for him to not get in at all. As one of baseball’s greatest sluggers in an era that was much more favorable to pitchers, he made his mark as exactly that – one of baseball’s greatest sluggers. Dick Allen deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, and fortunately, there’s still light at the end of the tunnel to get him there.