Every year there are two big parades in Philadelphia. One is the Mummers' extravaganza on New Year's Day, when men wearing spangled costumes and feathers atop their heads strum banjos and weave all over Broad Street. The other is the one to third base in Connie Mack Stadium.
Since 1959 nearly four million people have sat in pained fascination and watched 25 different and generally incompetent souls trot out to third for the Phillies, some even weaving from side to side themselves before falling flat on their faces. This week, as the baseball season begins, No. 26 trots out. His name is Richie Allen, and he just might be capable of turning Philadelphia back into a one-parade town.
Allen is only one of 16 rookies who will be in the starting lineups this week, and he is one of four in the National League who will begin the season at third base for contending clubs. The others are John Werhas of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Jim Ray Hart of the San Francisco Giants and Hiraldo Sablon (Chico) Ruiz of the Cincinnati Reds.
The season offers a baseball fan his choice of rookies in all sizes, shapes, colors and languages, as well as with nearly every conceivable background. A wealthy man, for instance, might settle on Maurice Wesley Parker III, a switch-hitting outfielder-first baseman for the Los Angeles Dodgers who took no bonus money for signing because his dad is loaded—industrial real-estate developing, big home in Brentwood, swimming pool, guest house, membership in the exclusive Los Angeles Country Club and all that. A poor man might choose Out-fielder Tony Oliva of the Minnesota Twins, whose sole possessions appear to be four suitcases and a record player. There are aging rookies like 27-year-old Don Buford of the Chicago White Sox and young ones like "just turned 19-year-old" Tony Conigliaro of the Boston Red Sox, tall ones like Dick Simpson, a 6-foot 4-inch centerfielder for the Los Angeles Angels, and short ones like 5-foot 8-inch Pitcher Fred Norman of the Chicago Cubs.
There are rookies with problems like Jim Ray Hart of the Giants, who can't seem to keep his head out of the way of baseballs. Although he appeared in only seven games last year he was hit twice and was out for three months. When Hart managed to get himself hit twice in spring training this year, Manager Alvin Dark kept him after practice and began pitching 45 feet from home plate straight at Jim Ray's chin. "It sure is a funny game up here," said Jim. "Things were never this way down in the minors." Bob Chance of the Cleveland Indians has a problem that will endear him to calorie-counters everywhere. Chance's weight fluctuates between 225 and 250 and naturally, he is called "Fat" Chance.
Of all these rookies, however, Richie Allen is the one whose performance will be the most significant. He represents probably the biggest single gamble that the changing and growing Phillies have ever made—and since 1959 the Phillies have taken a lot of risks, more, in fact, than any other team in the majors. With the arrival of General Manager John Quinn in 1959 and Manager Gene Mauch in 1960, the Phils began ripping and rebuilding. The process was so drastic that only two players—Outfielder John Callison and Catcher Clay Dalrymple—remain from the roster that began the 1960 season.
In November 1962 the Phils traded for Don Hoak from the Pittsburgh Pirates, but after Hoak went through a bad season (.231), Mauch and Quinn decided that Allen, only 22, would be their third baseman for 1964. Richie went through three good seasons in the minors after he was signed for a $50,000 bonus by the Phils in 1960. Although Allen played shortstop, second and the outfield, Mauch wanted to convert him to third for two reasons. The first is that while many consider the Dodgers to hold the record for inability to develop a third baseman, the Phillies actually have been even more remiss. The second is that Allen hits right-handed; though the Phillies hit well against right-handers last year, they had trouble with the lefties.
"Third base," says Mauch, "is not as demanding a position as short or second, and while I know that Allen was not considered a big league prospect at either short or second when he was in the minors, that certainly doesn't mean he can't play third. Take a look at the Yankees. They had five guys in their starting lineup who actually started out as shortstops—Mickey Mantle, Tony Kubek, Cletis Boyer, Bobby Richardson and Tom Tresh. Only Kubek still plays short, and they have a guy on the bench named Phil Linz who started out at short, too, and he can play anywhere. Why not Allen?"
This spring Allen was told that the third-base job was his unless he played his way out of it. He hit more home runs in spring training than anyone else in the majors, one more than Orlando Cepeda of the Giants, and Cepeda played in five more games. "I saw Richie hit one this spring," says Quinn, "that was as long as any I've ever seen hit. When he played at Little Rock last year he hit 33, and we kept getting reports that some were terrific. On March 24 in Tampa I saw him hit one that I will always remember. It came off Mike Fornieles of the Reds. Richie's best power is supposed to be to right center, but he pulled this one. Right above the sign that says 360 feet in Al Lopez field there is a light pole, and on top of the pole are the lamps. The ball hit in the middle of the lamps, and I'd guess that that pole is between 80 feet and 100 feet up. The ball actually was still rising when it hit."
Allen has the same type of wrist snap as Henry Aaron of the Braves. Not unlike Aaron, he gets the tremendous power to right center that causes people to whistle. He has handled his switch to third capably this spring, causing Mauch to say, "The kid has real good feet. No, I'm not kidding. Good feet! An infielder has to have good feet before he can have good hands, because he can only field with his hands what his feet put him in position to field. Allen has good feet."