It was two hours after Richard Anthony Allen (see cover) had completed his first official day's work in the employ of the St. Louis National Baseball Club, Inc. Baseball's wandering man stood in the middle of the team's spring training clubhouse at Al Lang Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. with a benign smile on his face. "This is exactly what I wanted," he said. "To be here and be a part bf this team. I just want to play the game of baseball here as it is supposed to be played. If I were still with Philadelphia and training up the road in Clearwater I wouldn't be hanging around any clubhouse two hours after my work was done. As soon as I could get the uniform off my back up there I would be long gone and goodby. But I'm gonna like this. Um-huh!"
Is he? Will Richie Allen disappear in May or fail to catch the team plane in June? Will he be given a month's suspension in July for insubordination and cause his manager to be known throughout the sports world as Gray Schoendienst?
With the opening of the baseball season still three weeks away, there is already $1,830,000 worth of advance ticket money stashed away in a bank in St. Louis. Much of that was put there by people who want to know the answers to these and many other questions about Allen and the impact he will have on the already vastly changed (and changing every day) Cardinals of 1970.
No major league trade of recent years has caused as much speculation as the one that brings Allen to St. Louis after six controversial years with the Phillies. He is known as a man who hits a baseball even harder than he hits the bottle, and Allen shakes the game's Establishment and stirs up its followers as no other player can. Although his career has been interrupted by injuries and indiscretions on several occasions, in the four years he has managed to play most of the schedule Allen has averaged .301, with 31 homers a year, 94 runs batted in and 146 strikeouts. Not only does he hit tremendous home runs, he is one of the fastest runners in baseball. His power and speed are supposed to lift the Cards back to something more respectable than their shabby fourth-place finish in 1969.
But Allen is only one change the Cardinals have made. By the end of the first full week of exhibition games last Saturday some other innovations were beginning to look excellent. Carl Taylor, the hottest man between Florida and Arizona, was hitting .700 and raising eyebrows all over St. Petersburg as he shone at three different positions. Like Allen, Taylor was brought to St. Louis to help lift a team batting attack that produced only 595 runs in 1969. He hit .348 at Pittsburgh last season, impressive even though he appeared in just half the team's games.
Jose Cardenal, the man St. Louis hopes will be able to replace Curt Flood in center field, was playing well, stealing bases and, like Allen, maintaining that he was now ready to forget his temperamental past at California and Cleveland. George Culver, a pitcher picked up from Cincinnati, of all places, was throwing the ball hard and getting the hitters out. At one point late last week the Cards had gone through 18 innings of exhibition games without giving up an earned run. Repeatedly, they had generated early lightning by scoring in the first inning. They seldom did that last year.
From the moment St. Louis reported this spring, tension enveloped the team. For one thing, the Cards were bothered by the world-champion New York Mets, who had become the darlings of St. Petersburg following their remarkable upset of the National League and the Baltimore Orioles. The Cardinals had grown used to winning the publicity war in town, and nothing gets to a ballplayer like not being able to read about himself. Three times league champions in the past six years, the Cardinals smarted, particularly at a title on the Times that read THE METSVILLE TIMES.
But the most disturbed man in St. Pete all spring was Card Owner August A. (Gussie) Busch Jr. With spring training two weeks gone and contracts with Allen and Pitcher Steve Carlton still unsigned, Busch got hopping mad. He stood in front of the red door of the team's offices at Al Lang Field one morning and talked to General Manager Bing Devine while hitting his left hand with his right in chopping strokes. "I'm going into a meeting right now about that," he said in answer to a reporter's question about Allen. "We ain't going to give in. He is going to play at our figure or he's not going to play for the Cardinals."
Allen had a strange deal in Philadelphia that included a large payment to his mother. Devine, his assistant Jim Toomey and Busch had decided that Allen would receive no such benefit with St. Louis, where no other player had a similar deal. Allen's failures to return phone calls or answer letters and wires caused St. Louis to invoke paragraph 10 of the uniform player agreement (reserve clause) that states that a baseball team can force a player to report to the club at any salary it wants to write into the contract so long as that figure is not less than 80% of the previous season's contract. A letter was sent to Allen advising him of the action. Outrageously—or so it seemed in retrospect—an identical letter was sent to Carlton, who had been holding out for considerably less than Allen. Carlton came over to St. Pete from Miami almost immediately and got caught in the middle of Busch's wrath.
Originally, Carlton, who set a major league record last season by striking out 19 Mets in a game, asked for a raise from $26,000 to $50,000, but almost immediately he was trapped in the Allen brouhaha. Busch declared that he was disgusted with a lot of the problems now bothering baseball. "We have had the highest-priced team ever to be fielded," he said. "Last year our salaries came to slightly over a million and we are close to that now [$890,000]. I just can't see paying Allen a salary that's the same as some of my stars. I would then have to raise their salaries out of conscience."