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SWINGING IN HIS OWN GROOVE
Roy Blount Jr.
September 10, 1973
When Dick Allen crashed, so did the White Sox, which tells a lot about this talented eccentric who says only his image has changed
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September 10, 1973

Swinging In His Own Groove

When Dick Allen crashed, so did the White Sox, which tells a lot about this talented eccentric who says only his image has changed

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Those radical notions began to develop in Wampum, Pa., pop. 1,189, where Allen was born and grew up with four brothers and four sisters in a house with no father or plumbing. "We had air conditioning," says Allen. "It was the kind that comes in through the walls. We had a garden outside with beans and okra, corn, rutabagas and potatoes. My mom could cook that stuff. She could get down. Reach in there with a little smothered steak every now and then. Come in with that fried chicken on Sunday. Biscuits, greens, mashed potatoes...."

Mrs. Era Allen also washed, sewed and cleaned house for other Wampum families to support her children, and she kept her kids in line. "I was always in the most devilishment," says Allen. "One of my brothers, he'd get up in the pear tree and get a licking once. I'd keep on doing it. And I'd be batting stones—cut the handle off Mom's old broom and throw 'em up and hit 'em—till all the windows would be broken out. I've hit stones all my life. It's still fun every now and then."

Allen cannot remember when his father was not separated from the family. "I don't have anything against the cat," he says. "We used to go work with him. I talked to him on the phone the other night. He's 70, still driving trucks out of Coraopolis, Pa. He was always interested in horses, like I am. I used to have a stable of sticks, all of 'em with names. I've got five thoroughbreds now."

How much of Allen's character traces to his having, like a good many geniuses in other fields, a distant father and a powerful mother? It is interesting that he has no use for managers, but he loves and never argues with umpires, whose full-throated, essentially self-abnegating decisions help define his game. For her part Mrs. Allen, who talks by phone to Dick two or three times a week, declines to be interviewed. "It's too hot to have company," she says.

Mrs. Allen did not care anything about sports herself, but after her boys had done their homework and the housework at her iron behest, and when they were not working in the steel mill or the vegetable fields or throwing paper routes, she would sit on the porch sewing and watching them play ball on the WPA-built diamond a few feet from the house.

They also played basketball, Dick becoming a high school All-America who could touch a spot 16 inches above the hoop. He led Wampum to 82 straight wins and two state championships.

"We had only one policeman in Wampum," says Allen, who once in Philadelphia was pulled from a car and blackjacked by an officer. "If he caught you running a stop sign he'd say, 'If you do that again I'll tell your mother.' Nothing bad ever happened in Wampum."

Hank Allen, two years older than Dick, is assumed to be serving the White Sox not only as a utility player but also as what is known as a "steadying influence" on his brother. Hank remembers Wampum as fondly as Dick does.

"There were only 15 black families in town," Hank says. "You'd learn to say a few swearwords in Polish, a few in Italian. You'd go with somebody to visit their grandparents and they'd serve you their homemade wine. You knew they liked you then. It'd kill you, it was awful, but you knew they liked you."

If the world were more like Wampum, Allen's career would have been simpler. But he never doubted he was bound for bigger places. "My brothers were always into business. Those guys been in colleges! I didn't have time for that mess," he says. "I've got about an eighth-grade education. I figured I could count well enough to tell who won the game.

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