Remember When – Dick Allen’s $250K Highest in MLB, $15K Minimum Pay

Baseball Library records The 25th and 27th of February, 35 years ago, marked two groundbreaking events which have served to shape fiscal and economic reality in contemporary baseball. The former date being the root for the evolution of MLB salary arbitration and free agency.

Baseball Library records on February 25, 1973;

A new 3-year Basic Agreement is reached between players and owners… Among the provisions of the agreement are a $15’000 minimum salary’ salary arbitration’ and the “10 and 53 trade rule’ which permits a player with 10 years in the ML’ the last 5 of which are with his current team’ to veto any trade involving him.

The latter date in 1973 made Dick Allen baseball’s highest paid player having received a 3 year, $250,000 per year deal from the Chicago White Sox.

Allen burst onto the Phillies scene at the beginning of the 1964 season, a season memorable for Jim Bunnings’ Fathers Day perfect game against the Mets, rightfielder Johnny Callison’s All Star game 3 run walk-off homer and the club’s late-season collapse blowing a 6 game NL first place lead in the final 12 games of the season.

Allen’s rookie season reflected the same sort of promise of a great career as Ryan Howard’s rookie season did in 2005. But Howard hit his 22 homers with a .286 BA in 88 games where Allen’s 29 homers, 104 RBIs, 201 hits and .318 BA were full season stats. Although he committed 41 errors at 3rd base, having never played there previous to arriving in the big leagues, Allen wooed the baseball writers with his stats and was voted 1964’s NL Rookie of the Year.

While Howard also won rookie of the year honors in 2005 season, he also went on to garner a wall full of awards for his 58 homer, 149 RBI, .313 BA 2006 season which, by comparison, blew away Allen’s second season. Further, it took Allen 4 1/2 seasons to duplicate Howard’s 129 homers accomplished in less than 3 full seasons.

Although Allen would put together impressive numbers in 1965 before really blossoming for the Phils with a 40 homer, 110 RBI, .317 BA season in 1966, his off-field turmoil eventually spilled over onto the field.

A glimpse at the future disruptiveness which would dog Allen throughout his career was seen a year later in 1965 in his run-ins with veteran journeyman utility player Frank Thomas who was near the end of a 16 year career. Thomas, who packed some thump in his bat throughout his career, provided some clutch pinch homers for the Phils after his acquisition late in the 1964 season. But perhaps the turbulence that marked Allen’s career was rooted in his minor league experiences with the Phillies affiliate club in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Wikipedia records this regarding Allen’s minor league experiences;

His career got off to a turbulent start as he faced racial harassment while playing for the Phillies’ minor league affiliate in Little Rock; residents staged protest parades against Allen, the local team’s first black player. Nevertheless, he led the league in total bases.

My recollection is that the run-ins occurred when Allen took issue with alleged “racist” comments made by Thomas.

Wikipedia goes on to record some of Allen’s scrapes through his years with the Phillies;

He quickly wore out his welcome due to erratic behavior. He got in a fistfight with the popular Phillie Frank Thomas in July 1965, gashed his throwing hand by pushing it through a car headlight on August 24, 1967, and earned a 26-game suspension in June 1969 after being stopped by police for erratic driving, and showing up late to a doubleheader; he also began drinking heavily.

Even Allen’s name was a source of controversy: he had been known since his youth as “Dick” to family and friends, but for reasons which are somewhat obscure at this late date, the media referred to him upon his arrival in Philadelphia as “Richie,” possibly a conflation with the longtime Phillies star Richie Ashburn. After several years, he asked to be called “Dick,” saying Richie was a little boy’s name.

The Phillies’ Boo Bird fans, known for being tough on hometown players even in the best of times, exacerbated Allen’s problems. Initially the abuse was verbal, with obscenities and racial epithets. Eventually Allen was greeted with showers of fruit, ice, refuse, and even flashlight batteries as he took the field. He began wearing his batting helmet even while playing his defensive position in the field, which gave rise to another nickname, “Crash Helmet”, shortened to “Crash”.

One of Dick Allen’s most infuriating moments to fans was on June 24, 1969. Allen was fined $2,500 and suspended indefinitely when he failed to appear for the Phillies twi-night doubleheader game with the Mets. Allen had gone to New Jersey in the morning to see a horse race and got caught in traffic trying to return.

When the Phillies had finally had enough of Allen’s antics, they traded him to the St. Louis Cardinals before the 1970 season. But even that deal was wrapped in controversy, although not of Allen’s doing.

The Phillies had traded him to St. Louis in exchange for outfielder Curt Flood who wanted no part of playing in Philadelphia.

Wikipedia notes;

Flood refused to report to the Phillies as part of the trade. (Flood then sued baseball in an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the reserve clause and to be declared a free agent.)

Flood, it turned out, sat out the 1970 season before signing with the Washington Senators where he played 13 games before retiring. The Phillies, who sought Flood, were given young outfielder Willie Montanez instead.

Meanwhile Allen had a productive 1970 season of 34 HRs, 101 RBIs and .279 with the Cardinals. But in 1971, he was traded to the Dodgers and then to the White Sox where he played from 1972 through 1974.

In 1972, after Allen clubbed a White Sox club record and league-leading 34 HRs with a .316 BA, he reached the pinnacle of his career, winning the AL MVP award. In 1973 after receiving the 3 year deal from the White Sox, Allen broke his leg in a base-running collision at the end of June and missed the rest of the season. In 1974, he came back with 32 HRs and a .301 BA but quit the team, without giving a reason, in mid-September.

Former Phillies great centerfielder, Richie Ashburn, now doing play-by-play announcing for the team, coaxed Allen out of retirement to rejoin the Phils. But Allen had 2 disappointing seasons with the club.

Allen’s career came to an end in Philadelphia at the conclusion of the 1976 regular season in which the Phillies won the NL East championship. He jumped the club over their decision not to include veteran 2nd baseman Tony Taylor on their post-season roster for the upcoming NLCS with the Cincinnati Reds. Taylor had been a 2nd base fixture and a rock of consistency in the Phillies infield throughout all of the lean last-place finishes of the 1960s.

Allen may have had a point regarding loyalty to a player, but the Phils had to do what was best for the club and Taylor was an aging player visibly at the end of his career. And after the litany of all of his previous tumult, this was just the topping on a very tasteless cake.