June 12, 1972
One habit Dick Allen—the chain-smoking, hard-drinking, horseplaying, perpetually late bad boy of the 1960s—can't seem to break is baseball. At 57, long after a 15-year big league career during which he changed teams five times and retired twice, Allen is back as a roving minor league instructor with the Philadelphia Phillies, the team he signed with in 1960 and spent the next decade trying to escape. Of his new job with the Phillies, the Wampum, Pa., native laughs and, paraphrasing a state slogan, says, "I think I've finally found a friend in Pennsylvania."
Thirty years ago Dick Allen was not enamored of the City of Brotherly Love. His Edwardian suits and luxuriant Afro didn't fit in with white, working-class Phillies fans, and the press kept a tally of his every misstep. The fans booed him mercilessly, called him the n word (which upset him) and Richie (which infuriated him), and threw loose change and fried-chicken bones at him. Allen, who protested passively by wearing a batting helmet in the field, had learned early in his career, as the first black with the Phillies' Little Rock affiliate, that fans can also be your enemies.
The best weapon Allen had against his critics was a 42-ounce bat, with which he smacked Ruthian homers. In 1964 Allen won the National League Rookie of the Year and was called a sure bet for the Triple Crown by Philadelphia manager Gene Mauch. Allen came within 10 batting average points of that accomplishment with the White Sox in '72, when he hit .308 with 37 homers and 113 RBIs and won the American League MVP award. Since retiring in 1977 (with 351 home runs and a .292 average), Allen has dabbled in horse racing.
In his new position he is less a coach than a mentor to those Phillies farmhands who are still adjusting to the life of professional baseball. Says Allen, "I look at some of these young men and see myself. The thing is, young players on their way up are like children on a high chair: You must tell them to watch out because they have no idea what it's like to fall."
Crash, as the nonconformist came to be known, spends most of the off-season with his second wife, Willa, and his two grown sons, relaxing in the farmhouse he had built for his late mother with his $70,000 signing bonus. Family life allows him to watch over the career of a most promising young player: three-year-old Dickie Allen III, who, according to his grandpa, "swings the bat from side to side like you wouldn't believe. He might really amount to something." But, adds Allen, ever unhurried, "There's no rush."