As we continue to make preparations for heading to Clearwater Beach, envisioning a Spring Training that is going to be quite different from any before, I was touched by a social media posting attributed to Dick Allen Jr. His father, who came up to the Phillies as a walloping rookie from Wampum, PA, was a fixture with the club in later years, making appearances at Alumni Day in the spring to which we always looked forward.
I will miss not seeing Dick Allen at Spring Training this year. A controversial figure during his playing days in Philly in the 1960s, Dick’s #15 was finally retired by the Phillies in a Wall of Fame ceremony. Though he never made it into the Hall of Fame during his lfetime, he at least got to experience his Phils’ WoF induction last year before he died of cancer in December.
On a social media site this morning, the following post attributed to his son, Dick Allen, Jr. appeared. It is entitled: Why My Father is My Hero, and is a touching tribute to The Man’s memory.
“Jackie Robinson made it possible for African Americans to play the game of baseball professionally by breaking the color barrier in 1947. Two decades later, my father became the ‘Jackie Robinson of the Philadelphia Phillies’ by challenging the racism that existed in a segregated city. My father, Dick Allen, grew up in rural western Pennsylvania.
He and his brothers were extremely talented basketball players, winning two state championships for Wampum High School. Although all five of the Allen brothers went on to become All-State athletes in basketball, my father knew from a young age that he wanted to play baseball. Like Jackie Robinson, Dad broke color barriers of his own.
When he left home, at age 18 in 1960, to play for the Philadelphia Phillies, Dad had never experienced segregation or racial discrimination. But four years later, when the Phillies assigned him to their Triple -A club, the Arkansas Travelers, he became the very first African American ballplayer on the team. During his time in Little Rock, Dad experienced both segregation and racial discrimination. He could not stay in the same hotel with his white teammates, or eat at the same restaurants. There were nights when he feared for his life going out on to the playing field because of the jeers he received from the fans. He even received death threats simply because he was black. But Dad persevered. By the end of the 1963 season he had won over the fans because of his exceptional talent, being voted the International League’s Most Valuable Player.
In 1964 my father was promoted to the Major Leagues, becoming the Phillies’ regular third baseman. He performed so well that he was voted Rookie of the Year. Over the next five years, Dad would become the Phillies’ first African American superstar, averaging 20 home runs and 90 RBI a season. But he was never really accepted by the Philadelphia fans because of his race. Dick Allen, Jr. (2)When Dad began to speak out against the racism he experienced at the ballpark and in the City of Philadelphia, his situation became worse. Our family was subjected to some pretty unfortunate things, too, like having trash thrown on our front lawn, or having to hear the nasty boos when we went to the ballpark to watch Dad play. Although he pleaded with the Phillies to trade him to another team, they refused because Dad was the best player they had. The longer he stayed with the Phillies, the more he spoke out against the racism he experienced.
Finally, in 1969, my father got his wish – he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals, where he was appreciated much more by the city and its baseball fans. He went on to play for the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Oakland A’s, too. But the most enjoyable years of his career were spent with the Chicago White Sox, where he was accepted for the person he was instead of the color of his skin. In 1972, Dad was voted the American League MVP and he made the All Star team all three years he played in Chicago. Growing up, I admired many athletes in many different sports, but none of them were my hero. I was fortunate to have a father who was my hero. Sure, I admire Dad for what he achieved on the playing field as well as for what he endured off of it. But he is my hero because he was the best Dad any kid could have. He cared about me and made the time to spend with me in spite of a very busy schedule and the many problems he had to face during his playing career. He taught me to respect myself, to respect other people regardless of their skin color, and to dedicate myself to my family. Dad used his life as an example to shape me, and the person I have become. Today, I try to live up to his example by passing those same lessons on to my own son.”