Today marks the 70th birthday for one of the most iconic and controversial players of the 1960s: Dick Allen.
Few players have had as much talent, and even fewer found themselves in as much controversy. I have neither the time nor inclination to recount all of Allen’s episodes. He just had the knack for getting in controversy.
One thing interesting about Allen was that he was genuinely controversial. By that I mean it wasn’t that he did something that everyone hated. No, that would make him merely widely maligned. To be controversial, you need a split of opinion—not only vehement opponents, but also passionate detractors. Throughout Allen’s career, he had plenty of both. Many considered him to be a pure clubhouse cancer while others thought he was a good man, just misunderstood.
His controversies ran the gamut. Sometimes, it’s very easy to feel sorry for Allen, as he was put in rotten situations beyond his control. For instance, the Phillies made him the first black player on their southern minor league teams. This was in the early 1960s, during the peak of the civil rights movement, so things could be quite rough for Allen. It could be even rougher because he was from Pennsylvania, and while the north was certainly not a wonderland of racial utopia, it would make the transition to Jim Crow-era southern life that much trickier.
While there are times you can see it’s easy to feel bad for Allen; there are other time it’s hard to feel so bad for him. For example, towards the end of his career Allen played for the White Sox and, as a cost of keeping him (and his majestic bat) on the roster, he made the team keep his brother on the roster as well, to help him earn a pension. That’s being a nice brother, but it’s also leaving the team short-handed by one roster spot.
At other times, Allen was simply along for the ride in controversies. For instance, in October 1969 the Phillies made Allen the key part of a multi-player trade to the Cardinals. The big name going to Philadelphia in return was veteran center-fielder Curt Flood. However, instead of reporting, Flood opted to fight baseball and the reserve clause in court. Thus the first serious threat to the old labor arrangement came out of a trade involving Dick Allen.
In some ways Allen’s controversies reflected the times. That was certainly the case of his minor league experiences, where he helped integrate the minors. It was also true of perhaps the most memorable controversy of his career.
On July 3, 1965, Allen got in a pre-game, on-field fight with teammate Frank Thomas. The incident between the black Allen and white Thomas had racial overtones, as Allen didn’t like the way Thomas treated some of the black players and Thomas muttered that Allen was trying to be another Muhammad Ali.
The fight came just as the Selma voting rights campaign, arguably the peak of the civil rights movement, was in full force. Also, it came just one day after the 1964 Civil Rights Act’s fair employment provision took effect. As Thomas and Allen went at, lawsuits began across the country to protest discrimination in the job market.
There are many other things about Allen, but one thing they all have in common is creating the image of a supremely talented young athlete. It’s hard to envision Allen as anything else. But today that is the case, as he’s now 70 years old. He’s older than Babe Ruth ever was. He’s as old now as George Steinbrenner was when the Yankees won the 2000 World Series, completing a three-peat. Allen is older than Bud Selig was at the tied All-Star Game in Milwaukee.
Aside from that, many other baseball events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which occurs X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you prefer to just skim the lists.
2,000 days since Chone Figgins hits for the cycle.
2,000 days since Derek Jeter gets a hit for the 25th consecutive game, the longest such streak of his career. His line is .377/.432/.538 during this streak.
5,000 days since Mark McGwire hits his 37th home run of the 1998 campaign, tying Reggie Jackson with the most home runs hit before the All-Star break. No. 37 is a 472-foot bomb against Kansas City’s Glendon Rusch.
5,000 days since Sammy Sosa belts his 20th home run of the month, an all-time record. (It’s June 1998).
5,000 days since Alex Rodriguez experiences the worst game of his career according to WPA. He goes 0-for-5 with a pair of GIDP that results in a –0.486 WPA. The Rockies top A-Rod’s Mariners 6-4. The big hurt comes in the ninth inning when he comes up with runners on first and second and no one out and hits into a GIDP.
6,000 days since a big day in the 1995 LDS. Most notably, the Yankees top the Mariners 7-5 in 15 innings in Game Two of their series. Both teams scored once in the 12th frame. In the NL, the Reds top the Dodgers, 5-4. Both teams score twice in the ninth, but the lead never changed hand as the Reds batted in the top of ninth.
7,000 days since the Twins sign free agent pitcher Bert Blyleven.
20,000 days since Red Schoendienst, who only launches 84 homers in his entire career, has his third and final multi-home run game.
1889 The Louisville Colonels big league team purchase pitcher Red Ehret from Kansas City for $500.
1913 The Federal League announces it’ll set up in 1914.
1918 The New York Yankees purchase George Burns from Detroit.
1922 Carl Furillo, rifle-armed Dodger rightfielder, is born.
1923 Boston signs free agent Stuffy McInnis.
1939 Jim Bouton, pitcher/author, is born.
1941 Hugh Mulcahy becomes the first big leaguer drafted into the military service since World War I.
1953 Jim Rice, fearsome Hall of Fame left-fielder, is born.
1994 The Reds sign free agent shortstop Tony Fernandez.
1996 Boston signs free agent slugger Kevin Mitchell.
1999 Joe DiMaggio dies at age 84.
2001 Baltimore gives a press release stating that Albert Belle will be unable to perform due to a degenerative right hip.
2009 Milwaukee releases one-time Dodger relief ace Eric Gagne.
2011 Kim Ng is named senior vice president of baseball operations for MLB.