Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Five Most Under Appreciated Athletes in Philadelphia History- Part 3

Part 3 of 6

4 Dick Allen

The prodigious slugger began his career in a Phillies uniform in 1963 with a proverbial "cup of coffee" as Richie Allen, turned in a half dozen stellar seasons, departed for several years and returned in the mid-70s as Dick Allen. One thing that remained constant was controversy that, combined with his undeniable talent, resulted in a classic love-hate relationship with everyone around him.

After Allen quickly established himself as one of the most talented players in baseball with a spectacular "National League Rookie of the Year" showing in 1964, his time in Philadelphia was increasingly marked with difficulties that drew fans' ire. His infamous fight with Frank Thomas, off the field injuries, late arrivals, and disappearances pulled attention away from his spectacular skills and made him the number one target of criticism amongst the media and fans.

"Crash", as he was nicknamed for the injuries that too often shortened his seasons, was eventually driven out of town by this derision and mutual agreement with the flustered Phillies brass. Allen endured racial prejudice in the minors as the only black player in a very segregated Little Rock, Arkansas that served to make him cynical and weary by the time he reached the big club.

Before being traded after the 1969 season, Allen averaged 30 home runs, 90 RBIs and a 300 batting average in his six full Phillies seasons. His raw power led to laserlike line drives and tape measure home runs that were legendary.

Allen continued his slugging on three different clubs, including an MVP season for the Chicago White Sox when he flirted with a Triple Crown. Despite the controversy and bitterness in his first tour of duty, GM Paul Owens reacquired him in 1975 to help complement a talented young team on the rise.

Injuries had depleted his skills, but he still contributed to the Phillies 1976 National League Eastern Division championship. The resulting three game sweep by the "Big Red Machine" turned out to be Allen's sole postseason appearance in an otherwise prolific career.

Because controversy was a constant companion, Allen's on the field contributions were often secondary. A chorus of boos often rang down from the stands to voice displeasure with the player's failures— be it a strikeout or a misplay in the field. Of course, then the slugger would launch an awe inspiring rocket over the "Coke" sign on the left field bleacher roof in old Connie Mack Stadium that would trigger a sudden rush of infatuation.

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