The last time Dick Allen was considered for the Baseball Hall of Fame, he fell a single vote short of election. So he was considered a cinch when the committee got around to meeting again six years later during the 2020 Winter Baseball Meetings.
But COVID-19 got in the way, causing the meetings to be canceled and the Golden Days Committee meeting with it. No problem. We’ll reschedule for next fall, the proprietors of the Hall said. Be patient.
Patience and time ran out for Allen, who died last week, one day after the meeting was postponed. Timing never was one of Allen’s best attributes.
It never should have come to this. Allen could flat out hit. He had Hall of Fame credentials when he retired with a .292 career batting average, 1,848 hits including 351 home runs, an MVP trophy, a Rookie of the Year award and a reputation as the one guy you didn’t want to face with the game on the line.
But he played under a cloud. He had a reputation as a clubhouse lawyer, who marched to his own drummer. He was not popular with fans, who taunted him relentlessly. He played at a nasty time in America when racism was an issue and outspoken Black players often faced the wrath of fans. It got so bad that he played the field wearing his batting helmet in case things got thrown at him.
This, remember, is called America’s Pastime.
Allen was not a fan of spring training, when baseball rubs winter out of its eyes and begins anew. So he frequently wasn’t there when it started every March, busy attending to other matters.
Batting practice was an annoyance because Dick Allen was one of those guys who could climb out of bed at midnight in the middle of winter and hit line drives.
There was an All-Star Game when he was elected to start but failed to show up for the workout day before the game. Baseball was disappointed that he passed the promotional warmups and it was downright alarmed when he was nowhere to be found on game day. Then, 20 minutes before the first pitch, Allen surfaced. As he suited up, he was asked where he had been. He looked up, smiled and said quietly. “Game time is on time.’’
Chuck Tanner managed him for a time with the White Sox and was in awe of him. “He’s the best ballplayer I’ve ever seen in the big leagues,’’ he said.
But there was Allen’s issue with time. Once he was late for the team bus after a road game. Teammates grew impatient and one shouted from the back of the bus, “Let’s get out of here. Let him get a cab.’’
From the front of the bus, Tanner shouted back, “You can get a cab. I’m waiting for Dick Allen.’’
Photo: Gavin Baker/Icon Sportswire