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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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"I was the Dodgers—either I'd put myself in their lineup or I'd go through it being each one of them. Gilliam left-handed, Robinson right.... I'd be daydreaming a scout'd come out of the woods. I didn't know how he was going to find Wampum, but then one day a guy in a big hat pulled up in a car...."

The Phillies signed Allen for $70,000, at that time the biggest bonus ever paid to a black athlete. And Allen's troubles began.

First thing, his name got changed. Back home everybody called him Dick, or Sleepy, because of the droop of his eyes. But the Phillies had Richie Ashburn at the time, Allen was listed as Richard, and somehow he became Richie, too.

Allen says too much has been made of his objections to that name. Many players still call him Richie, and he wears a bracelet with RICHIE on it. But Allen has a jealous sense of his own identity, and he did not care to be issued a new name by an organization.

If being renamed only mildly irritated Dick, having his batting stroke tampered with struck at his heart. "They sent me to Elmira and the manager tried to change the way I hit. My oldest brother Sonny played semipro ball. He used the big bat, too, and he told me, 'That ball in on you, don't pull it. Fight that hard stuff to right.' But this man wanted me to pull the ball more. He was the first man I ever heard curse at me in my life. My first year away from home."

Allen persisted in hitting his own way—.281, .317 and .329 at Elmira, Twin Falls and Williamsport. In 1963 he was sent to Little Rock to become that city's first black player.

"I thought I was going to stay with the Phillies that spring. They said they'd just send me to Little Rock for 30 days," he remembers. But he went there for the whole season, and when he got off the plane a man was carrying a sign that said LET'S NOT NEGRO-IZE OUR BASEBALL.

It happened that the leading elements of Little Rock had mounted a civic campaign to welcome Allen, so the town could join the International League. Governor Orval Faubus threw out the first ball, and the stands, the leading hotel and three leading restaurants were desegregated. "Richie was upset one night because one person said, 'Come on, Chocolate Drop, hit one out,' " his manager, Frank Lucchesi, said that season. "That's not in taste but the fan didn't realize it. They say worse things to white ballplayers. Richie is sensitive and he is self-centered. He is not concerned about what town we're in, or what park, or what team we're playing. He's interested in Richie, and hitting."

In fact Allen became a local favorite in Little Rock, as well he might have with 33 home runs and 97 RBIs. From white Little Rock's standpoint the experiment was a success. Allen had no particular reason to be gratified by Governor Faubus' endorsement. He did not see the sense in being barred from any hotels or restaurants. And especially, he says, "It was not knowing what could happen. In Wampum we were welcome anywhere. I had heard about all that stuff, like the sign in the airport, but I never dreamed I'd be involved in it. I was scared."

At the end of the Little Rock season Allen, already feeling betrayed by the Phillies, was called up. "I saw my name in the lineup and I walked out there and hit a double. My first big-league game. Some guys get all worked up, but I had this feeling like: 'I should've been here long ago. Here, let's do it.' "

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