America expects every star first baseman to be a Figure, a man whose nature lodges firmly in the mind of the fan. The Iron Horse. Stretch McCovey. Bubbly Ernie Banks. Crazy Joe Pepitone. Chicago White Sox First Baseman Dick (or Richie) Allen's public image, currently in a state of transition, might comprise all four of the above—with overtones of Duane Thomas for inscrutability, Bill (or Willie) Hartack for first-name sensitivity, Jim Brown for not taking anything off anybody, and Will Rogers for homespun quotes. (Of artificial turf Allen once said, "If a horse can't eat it, I don't want to play on it.")
This season Allen might have clarified that confusing picture. With the Sox he was free to do things his way and he was leading them toward a championship in the American League West. Then in June he broke his leg while giving beyond the call of duty on the field. Allen brooded, circulated gimpily on high heels and played Willie Ball with his agent. The Sox collapsed. Two weeks ago it was announced that Allen definitely would play no more this season. It was as painful a turn for the Sox as it was for their first baseman. At the same time, it marked a rare moment of quiet in Allen's stormy career, a good occasion to examine the phenomenon.
He is a triangular-torsoed, naturally heavy-lidded, deep-eyed, preternaturally strong man with an Afro, muttonchops and a mustache. Allen wears gold-rimmed glasses, which he says is the main reason people recognize him around Chicago. "Don't you know all us brothers look alike?" he says. "Why you think it's so hard for a black man to get a credit card?" He sometimes breaks into a dramatic wide-mouthed smile and a laugh that is a cross between a sigh and a rumble, but he smokes too much and often appears pent-up and too intense.
Allen is a man who would like to pare life down to certain essentials but finds it hard. His financial adviser, Mel Leshinsky, is determined to "get an organizational structure around Dick that we can work with and try to control." There are easier projects; Allen is not a great one for getting to business meetings on time. One thing Leshinsky has in the works is a series of furniture-store ads posing Allen in a "Room of Fame" surrounded by the d�cor of his choice.
Allen will get to keep the furniture, which is fortunate since the two-bedroom Chicago apartment that he calls "the flat," and where he and his team-mate-brother Hank are living while Dick's three-story brick town house is under construction, is almost devoid of it. The flat is currently fitted out with a couch, a waterbed, a quadraphonic sound system and a refrigerator with its freezing compartment so heavily frosted over that it will not close. There is one tremendous lamp, the base of which is a bronze-colored crumpled-looking maiden in long robes, and a smaller table model with a girl on it whose clothes disappear when the lamp is turned on. Thumbtacked to one wall is a sequence of pictures of Allen hitting a home run and another of his mother watching him do it.
"I don't need much," Allen says. "A bed to lay my head on. Something to feed my belly. A nice bathroom. And maybe a mirror to comb my hair. This place is close to the liquor store, the dry cleaners and the track and stables. The stables are my beach. My mother came to visit me and said she wanted to cry. She said I wasn't living."
Allen's marriage of 11 years is finished. "At least, it's through as far as I'm concerned, and that's what counts," he says. He only occasionally pops in on his sons Doobie and Buttons, his daughter Terri and their mother Barbara, who for the time being reside on the farm he owns near Allentown, Pa., where he plans to raise and train racehorses full time when he retires. He does not plan to live with a woman there, just horses. He does not see how a full-time woman can do him any good.
"Baseball wrecked my home," Allen says. "You don't get a chance to be at home. That can be grinding on a guy.
"I can't do anything domestically for myself. When I had a filly in the barn I'd eat twice a day. Shrimp or crab cocktail, soup, salad, large steak, glass of milk. Now I eat when I can. A whole year of sandwiches, sandwiches, sandwiches."
It is early in the season and Allen is relaxing in the flat, sharing some bottled sangr�a, winding down from a day game with the Angels, during which California fireballer Nolan Ryan vexed him by trying to "hide" behind breaking pitches. "Every time that sumbuck throws a curve I lose a little respect for him," says Allen. "He ought to go Smoke, Smoke, Smoke, Smoke; O.K. I got a good curve, here it is, ping; Smoke, Smoke, Smoke."