But to the chagrin of some of his greatest supporters, the Hall stood by its decision to postpone the meeting of the Golden Days Committee for a year because of the coronavirus. It’s at the meeting of that committee many hoped Allen finally would be elected to the Hall.
The announcement could have come Sunday at the now canceled in-person Winter Meetings in Dallas, the day before Allen died.
“It stinks, it just stinks,” said Mark Carfagno, a former member of the grounds crew during Allen’s second tour with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1975-76 who has helped keep the Hall light burning for his dear friend. “We pleaded with them to change it. They didn’t do it. Dick passed, hopefully they’ll reconsider for the other guys.”
That’s not going to happen.
The Golden Days and Early Baseball Committees were scheduled to vote this year. Back in August after the annual induction ceremony was postponed and the Hall was closed because of COVID for four months, both meetings were pushed back. This, despite the age of Allen, who was 78, and many of the other potential candidates on the Golden Days ballot, all of whom had careers that began or spanned 1950-69.
Allen played for the Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago White Sox and Oakland A’s from 1963-77. So much focus was placed on Allen because he missed election by one vote on what was then called the Golden Era Committee ballot back in 2014.
“Look, a decision was made earlier this year to postpone because of the uncertainty of COVID, and it is a process that needs to be done in person,” Tim Mead, the Hall’s president, said in an exclusive interview. “We’ve heard from various supporters of potential candidates to do it in a Zoom call. But unless you sat in on that process to see the required undivided attention necessary, it’s important to do it live in fairness to everybody.”
Allen, an incessant smoker, died of lung cancer, and he tried to keep his deteriorating condition private. But his closest ex-teammates, like Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt, knew about it when Allen had his famous No. 15 retired by the Phillies this past season at Citizens Bank Park. And they petitioned the Hall to virtually stage the Golden Days Committee meeting. It was also pointed out that other potential candidates like Tony Oliva (82), Jim Kaat (82) and Luis Tiant (80) are at perilous ages.
That request was turned down by the Hall of Fame’s board of directors, of which Jane Forbes Clark is the chair. Her grandfather founded the Hall in Cooperstown, N.Y., during the 1930s, and it’s now a non-profit organization controlled by Forbes and her family.
“I can’t get into different conversations,” said Mead, who was the long-time head of communications for the Los Angeles Angels before replacing Jeff Idelson as president of the Hall last year. “But certainly people along the way talked to us about potential candidates because they are older. Every former player who merits Hall of Fame discussion should be so fortunate to have Dick Allen’s kind of backing.”
A special historical review committee selects the 10 names that appear on the Era committee ballots, and a different 16-person panel made up of Hall of Fame players, executives, historians and members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America are selected for each committee.
Aside from players shunned by the BBWAA on its ballot, the committees vote for managers, umpires and executives from their particular era. That’s the only route for those latter three groups to get in.
As in any Hall election, a candidate’s name must appear on 75% of the Era committee ballots, which in this case is 12 of the 16. Each voting member can only vote for four candidates, which puts a premium on each vote.
There’s no guarantee that Allen, or any of the other forementioned candidates, will have their names on the ballot when the committees do hope to vote next year. But since Allen missed by a single vote, the assumption is he will be on it. Oliva also missed by one and Kaat by two.
“The ballot hasn’t been publicly released yet,” Mead said. “I haven’t even seen it.”
Allen was a controversial figure, the first black superstar in Phillies history. He came up amid racism in Philadelphia, and because of his stubborn personality and the climate in which he tried to play, the first six years of his career were chaotic to say the least.
To illustrate the reputation Philadelphia had among black players at the time, Allen was traded to the Cardinals after the 1969 season in a deal that included Curt Flood, who refused to report to the Phillies. The trade led to Flood challenging the reserve clause that once bound players in perpetuity to their teams. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court before it was denied.
Players ultimately earned the right to free agency and the reserve clause was abolished through arbitration just as Allen’s career neared its end.
Allen marched to the beat of his own drummer, at times skipping batting practice, arriving late to or missing games. He had a cantankerous relationship with the media, which may or may not explain why eligible members of the BBWAA never gave him any higher than 18.9% of the vote in his 14 years on their ballot.
Certainly, the Philadelphia press of that era never took any prisoners. And the fans hounded Allen incessantly, as they did Schmidt even in the years afterward.
Allen’s counting stats of a .292 lifetime batting average, 351 homers, 1,848 hits and 1,119 RBIs were considered by many marginal for the Hall. Plus, he was moved from the outfield to third base to first base during his career as the managers he played for tried to find a suitable defensive position.
Decades later, as modern analytics began to be applied, his OPS of .912 was measured higher than other Hall of Famers at his various positions such as Schmidt (.908), Ken Griffey Jr. (.907), Willie McCovey (.889) and Willie Stargell (.889).
His OPS+ of 156 is tied with Willie Mays for 19th on the all-time list and a tick ahead of Hank Aaron.
Thus, as the 2014 vote approached, Allen stood a good chance. Even the Hall of Fame on its own website touted Allen’s candidacy, saying, “Dick Allen fashioned numbers that left him with a permanent place in the game’s record book. Now Allen stands on the verge of a permanent place in Cooperstown.”
The committee was comprised of pro-Allen stalwarts: Jim Bunning, the former pitcher and U.S. Senator, Roland Hemond, the general manager who obtained him for the White Sox, and Bob Watson, a former outfielder and MLB executive.
But at the last minute, Watson became ill and couldn’t travel to San Diego for the meeting. As a foreshadow of the present, he wasn’t telephonically allowed to participate. Watson was replaced on the committee by then Detroit Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski.
Whether Watson would’ve been the deciding vote in Allen’s favor will never be known. Like the BBWAA election, ballots are coded and secret, although in the case of members of the Era committees, each of them is sworn not to divulge their choices. That 2014 vote has never been made public, leading to a lot of conjecture and conspiracy theories that endure to this day.
At the time, Hemond was broken-hearted and Bunning was particularly livid. Carfagno, who was also there, was in tears.
“I’m just completely disappointed,” the late Bunning said after it was announced that his 2014 committee had failed to vote in a single candidate. “That’s all I can say.”
Imagine how they’d all react with Allen now gone. Mead certainly feels bad about it.
“It’s a very unfortunate set of circumstances, a tragedy,” Mead said. “But it’s 2020, and that’s the way this year has been.”