When former Phillies first baseman Dick Allen passed away at the age of 78 last Monday at his home in Wampum, Pennsylvania, the city of Philadelphia and its fanbase not only lost one of its greatest players. They lost one of the most important athletes to ever play for the city.
“In terms of importance, I put him pretty high up the list, because the Phillies’ history when it came to the integration of Major League Baseball starting in 1947 was not pretty,” Dr. Courtney Smith, a history and political science professor at Cabrini, said.
Smith is a researcher in the history of Black baseball players. She has given presentations for the Society of American Baseball Research and has served as an editor for Black Ball: A Negro Leagues Journal.
“The Phillies were the team that gave Jackie Robinson the worst treatment in his rookie season,” Smith said.
The franchise then became the last in the National League to integrate when John Kennedy made his debut in 1957. When Allen came around to play for the Phillies in 1963, many of the same racist attitudes in the city persisted.
Allen was a star with tremendous power on the field from the start of his first full season in the majors when he won the 1964 NL Rookie of the Year award, but faced racism from a fanbase and city that would not accept him.
“Allen had to face the scourge of racism and discrimination during his stay in Philadelphia,” Dr. James Hedtke, a history and political science professor and the instructor of Cabrini’s Baseball and the American Tradition course, said. “I would say in many aspects he was the Phillies’ Jackie Robinson.”
The first baseman had items thrown at him on the field, names and insults yelled at him and unfair coverage directed at him by reporters. Allen remained true to himself throughout it all.
The poor treatment Allen received helped drive him away from the city in 1970, although he did return in 1975 and 1976 to better reception.
Still, the the way Allen was received in his first stint in Philadelphia stuck, at least to an extent, and has contributed to harming his legacy. Despite having the fifth-best OPS+ of any player not in the Hall of Fame, an American League MVP award with the Chicago White Sox and a Rookie of the Year award, Allen has never been inducted to Cooperstown. He has been inducted to the Phillies Wall of Fame and had his No. 15 retired, but he did not get to see Hall of Fame enshrinement in his lifetime.
“Allen does not make the Hall of Fame because he was disliked by the media,” Hedtke said. “This was a result not only of the color of his skin, but because he was a free spirit, a rebel and sometimes a wild card. There is no doubt, however, that during the time he played in Philadelphia, he was villainized for his race.”
Even without election to the Hall of Fame, Allen’s place in baseball history and Philadelphia sports history cannot be denied. As one of the first Black baseball players in the Philadelphia spotlight, Allen was a true trailblazer whose impact can be seen years later.
“He really paved the way for players like Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, for players today like Andrew McCutchen,” Smith said. “He was part of this early wave of Black players that dealt with some very horrible experiences, but made it possible for the Major League Baseball that we see today that is more integrated than it was during his playing days.”