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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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But the situation became more complicated than that. "There was a whole lot of stuff I didn't understand. The Phillies didn't really want me from the beginning. If they had, I'd've been content to play there. Could've built a dynasty there." In 1964 he had a tremendous season and was Rookie of the Year. But the Phillies blew a big lead in the stretch. That left the razor-toothed Philadelphia fans hungry for blood.

In '65 they fixed on Allen. He made a lot of throwing errors from third base, and since he was expressionless on the field he looked arrogant. Teammate Frank Thomas, who had won the fans' hearts in '64 but was benched and restive the next season, kept baiting Allen, allegedly saying things such as "Shine my shoes, boy." Allen warned Thomas several times. Thomas reportedly said, "You may get a meal out of me but I'll get a sandwich out of you." Allen knocked Thomas down. Thomas hit Allen in the shoulder with a bat. Thomas was released and made a bid for public sympathy. The Phillies forbade Allen from telling his side of the story.

"All they had to do was call a press conference and clear things up," says Allen. "They didn't. They had a losing team, they had to get people out to the park, so they said, 'Boo that black sum-buck. Go ahead, he won't say nothing.' "

Over the next five years they not only booed, they threw things. "Change, chicken bones, half-pints. That's when I started wearing a batting helmet in the field," says Allen. "Anyway, that cheap organization, they would only give you one hat, and by August it would smell like fish...."

He still wears his helmet throughout a game, one of the last vestiges of the shell he built around himself as people smeared paint on his car, threw rocks and shot BBs through his windows and booed his children in the street. "At contract time they would say to look at what baseball has done for me. I'd say, "Yeah, it's made a terrible guy out of me. People who don't even know me see me on the street and say they don't like me.' "

He would stay away from the park until the last moment. "Then my wife called my mom to try to get me to leave earlier. Mom said, 'I turned him over to you.' So my wife would run me out of the house in the afternoon and I'd go to a bar for a couple of hours." He missed a plane, was late for buses, was absent from a home game when he got caught in traffic, showed up at the park glassy-eyed (and hit home runs that way), was blamed for the departure of Managers Gene Mauch and Bob Skinner. Allen held out for a prettier and prettier dollar, was fined several times for missing batting practice, was suspended for 26 days, got into fights in a barroom and at a racetrack. Every time he did anything irregular it fit neatly into the sports-page saga in which Allen was always the Bad Boy.

He was still, indisputably, a natural, a steady .300 hitter with 20 to 40 homers a year. "My hands may be big and rough, but they're like a surgeon's hands," he says. "They know what they're doing." Then in August 1967 he was pushing a 1949 Ford up a hill with his right hand on a headlight. The headlight broke and severed the nerves and tendons leading to his ring and little fingers.

"Things were sticking out like spaghetti. In the emergency room while I was bleeding the doctor asked me for an autograph and another man tried to shake my hand. They operated, turned the nerves inside out like telephone wire and sewed together the cables inside. It didn't work. I couldn't move those fingers. They wanted to operate again. I said no. I thought I was done. I didn't move for four days, feeling sorry for myself.

"Then I went on maybe a 2�-month drunk. That didn't solve anything. Nobody could find me. I was driving. In Pittsburgh my oldest brother gave me some static. I woke up in Mexicali, Mexico once. In L. A. my sister gave me some static. I was out of it, I didn't know where I was. I talked to my friend Clem Capozzoli from Fairfield, Calif., wherever that is. He got me to come back to Philly. There they gave me a provisional contract. 'If you can't use your hand,' they said, 'you'll be sent home on a bus.'

"On my own I went to work on the two fingers. I took a construction job, no pay, throwing bricks until I got back some of the use of the fingers. I never got all the strength back. It didn't start returning until toward the end of '71. Part of my right palm is atrophied."

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