History-making music group for UMM - morris mn

History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).

Monday, November 16, 2015

Dick Allen's career echoed Jackie Robinson

I still think of him as "Richie."
The 1964 season showcased rookies in a memorable way. My Minnesota Twins had Tony Oliva. In the National League, the accolades streamed for Richie Allen. The "Richie" name would be phased out. It was never his first choice. He went by "Dick" in his youth. Apparently it was media deciding he should be "Richie" upon his arrival in Philadelphia. Baseball historians cannot trace the exact source of this. One theory is that Richie Ashburn had been a long-time star in Philadelphia.
Allen himself sniffed at the "Richie" name, saying it smacked of a little boy's name. Thus we open the door to possible racism as the source. Allen was a notable African-American star in an organization that had hardly been progressive. Philadelphia's reputation was one reason Curt Flood didn't want to go there. Flood turned the screws on baseball with his earthshaking legal case. Technically Flood lost but he helped build a rising tidal wave.
It was no secret the Phillies had a poor history with race relations. Allen stepped into the vortex of that and had his monstrous rookie campaign of 1964. It paralleled what we saw with the great Cuban Tony Oliva in Minnesota.
I can speak with firsthand knowledge about the benign racial situation in Minnesota. Boomer boys like me had zero problem with players of color being our favorite players. Maybe if our team had been nearly 100 percent black, we might have been a little chagrined. That's only because we would have wanted our team to reflect our population.
A generous proportion of non-white stars didn't bother us at all.
Navigating through Deep South
Philadelphia was not Minnesota. But Dick Allen had seen worse. In 1963 the Phillies relocated their AAA farm club from Buffalo NY to Little Rock AR. Little Rock! We're talking Deep South with the kind of racial uneasiness we saw in the movie about Jackie Robinson's life, "42."
Allen might have been thrown off his game by going to Little Rock. His youth had not been in the South, rather he grew up in Wampum PA, a place with no racial tension. Sorry, Dick, America had its share of warts in the early '60s, even with Robinson's era having passed. Little Rock!
The governor was Orval Faubus. Faubus had refused to integrate Little Rock's Central High School in 1957. Allen was the first black to play in Little Rock. The racial pressures were heavy on him. Governor Faubus was present for the season opener. The opening night crowd was a template for the ugly and festering racial hatred still alive in that part of the country. Placards were displayed: "Let's not negro-ize our baseball." Taunts floated over the field. Allen would say in 1964: "I didn't want to be a crusader."
Little Rock was a test for the supremely talented young man. His talent rescued him from that stew of conflict and put him in the big leagues, where presumably he would at least be protected more (than in a jerkwater place). But Philadelphia was hardly a model. Philadelphia had led the way making life miserable for Jackie Robinson in 1947. Philadelphia gave us the "Whiz Kids" team in 1950: the last National League champion without a player of color.
Philadelphia remained in the past while everyone else moved forward. Not until 1957 were there signs of integration in the "City of Brotherly Love." Many of the early non-white players with Philly were not African-American, rather they were Cuban, Mexican or Panamanian. Our Tony Oliva was Cuban, not that us fans could care less about such a detail. Honestly we didn't, not at all, and we would've wrinkled our foreheads if told about the distinction. Rod Carew was Panamanian. Who cares? Camilo Pascual was Cuban but he didn't look black.
Not until Wes Covington came along in 1961 did Philadelphia have an African-American impact player. Welcome to civilization, Philadelphia.
Little Rock might have chased Allen out of the game. He became discouraged and fearful. But when his brother reminded him what the option would be, to baseball - it was "work" - Dick stuck it out with the national pastime. We're glad he did.
Stellar rookies burst onto scene
Allen and Oliva attracted masses of fans to the game in 1964. Allen led the National League in runs scored, triples, extra-base hits and total bases. His batting average was a sizzling .318. He surpassed 200 hits.
Allen was a major reason the Phillies flirted with the pennant in 1964. The Phillies had a lead of six and a half games with 12 games left. What unfolded after that is recorded most prominently in baseball history. It was the fabled "choke" under manager Gene Mauch. Mauch would later come to Minnesota and irritate me tremendously with his tendency to "platoon." In '64 Mauch just couldn't find a solution over that last stretch of games. The team lost ten straight. In an age when young fans had an emotional attachment to their team - we sure did in Minnesota - the skid caused hair-pulling and tears. The first game of that loss streak saw Chico Ruiz of Cincinnati famously steal home.
Allen for his part did not collapse in that closing stretch. He hit .438 over the last 12 games with three home runs and eleven RBIs. Allen played third base in 1964, not ideal for him. He booted the ball around some. His offensive talent kept making waves through the mid-1960s. That period was during a time that has been called "baseball's second dead-ball era." When arguments are made for Allen to be in the Hall of Fame, this is an observation often made. Ditto with Oliva, whose .289 average in 1968 was actually good for third in league! Allen and Oliva should both be in the Hall.
Allen was an All-Star in 1965 through '67. He topped the league in extra-base hits in 1966. He left the Phillies and asked thereafter to be called "Dick," not "Richie."
Boys can find a name change disrupting. We had gotten familiar with "Richie." The "Dick" name was so abrupt and pedestrian. But there's a third dimension here. He was willing to answer to "Rich." Being reminded of this, my memory banks turned up an old supplementary type of baseball card, a small black and white photo card - one in a pack - that had the player's signature on it. Allen signed his name "Rich." Amazing how I can remember that after so many years. Says something for the value that baseball had in my youth.
In Allen's dual career as a rhythm and blues singer, the label on his records with "Groovy Grooves" had him identified as "Rich" Allen.
Dick, Rich or Richie? Reminds me of when Chuck Barris, host of the Gong Show on TV, sang "Why does everybody call me Chuckie, when they know my name is Chuck."
Some abuse from fans caused Allen to begin wearing his batting helmet when in the field.
Departing from Phillies
Allen became a St. Louis Cardinal in 1970. This is the trade that involved Curt Flood and Flood's refusal to play there. Cardinals broadcasters firmly established the "Dick" name. Things seemed to go well in St. Louis, but Allen moved on to the Los Angeles Dodgers for 1971. Again Allen did well, batting .295, and there was no extracurricular volatility. But his scenery changed again for 1972. Now he was with the Chicago White Sox. Manager Chuck Tanner did Allen the favor of playing just one position: first base. Allen was superb with his bat - a key factor in the White Sox's second place finish. He was MVP in a spectacular campaign, but Oakland surpassed the Sox. No wild cards then. The White Sox had been rumored as expansion team candidate for St. Petersburg or Seattle. Allen's magnetic performance helped ensure the Sox would remain an institution on Chicago's south side.
All through his career, he opened eyes wide with tape measure shots. He reached the distant center field bleachers (445 feet) at Chicago's Comiskey Park. He hit two inside the park home runs against the Twins on July 31, 1972, in an 8-1 victory. Both of those were off Bert Blyleven, today a household name in Minnesota as a Twins broadcaster. "Circle me, Bert."
Maybe Allen's especially heavy bat was a factor in the very long home runs. Tim McCarver in his book about baseball suggested that Allen might have done better had he not used quite such a heavy bat. But Allen hit prodigious home runs.
Allen was willing to wind down his career in Philadelphia despite the bumps in the road there. At the very end he played one season with Oakland. All kinds of journeymen seemed to pull on a uniform with Oakland at that time. Don Mincher et. al.
Allen's music was in a high, delicate tenor. In the '60s he sang doo-wop as a member of the Ebonics.
Allen and Oliva seem like kindred spirits. They appeared on the Hall of Fame's 2014 Golden Era Committee ballot of ten selected candidates. Both were one vote shy of the required 12 votes. None of the candidates got in.
Orlando Cepeda said "Dick Allen played with fire in his eyes."
Click on the link below to watch Dick Allen's home run in the 1967 all-star game, a grand blast off Dean Chance. This is a YouTube link. I hadn't seen a video of Chance's distinctive pitching motion in eons. As a lifelong Twins fan, I got a little misty. Chance could have had one or two more great seasons for Minny, but he held out against Calvin Griffith in 1969, reported late, rushed his body into shape and got hurt. He was never the same. I invite you to watch Chance vs. Allen:
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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