Dick Allen’s death on Monday is just the latest failure of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Allen had become a popular candidate in recent years, as the sabermetrics movement showed what a powerful and impactful hitter he was. His raw statistics alone — 351 home runs, a .292 career average — are impressive. But they’re even better when you consider the pitcher-friendly conditions he played under. He’s 19th all-time in career OPS+ and 56th all-time in career batting runs.
There’s also greater nationwide awareness of systemic racism in America, and perhaps no player who had a full career in the majors was subject to as much racially charged treatment from teammates, fans, and press, as Allen.
The Hall of Fame had its chance to right these wrongs in Allen’s lifetime, but failed him time and time again.
Mark “Frog” Carfagno, a former groundskeeper for the Phillies who befriended Allen and his family, has for years been at the forefront of a campaign to get Allen into the Hall. Carfagno recruited former players like Goose Gossage — who called Allen the greatest player he’d ever played with — as well as Tony Perez, Mike Schmidt, and more.
Schmidt, in a letter to Carfagno, expressed his disappointment that the Hall wouldn’t honor Allen during his lifetime:
It’s so sad we couldn’t see his smile on the stage at Cooperstown. We did all that we could do to make that happen. Something in me hopes that the powers that be in Cooperstown feel the same sorrow we do, as we warned them this was a concern.
It’s not the first time Cooperstown has missed its chance to honor a deserving player while he was still alive. Ron Santo stood out as the best player not in the Hall for years, and was known to be in failing health. He died in 2010, a year before the Golden Days Era Committee finally elected him.
Santo’s wife, Linda, said what had been on the minds of many in an interview with Sports Illustrated’s Stephanie Apstein.
“Can they find a process to put these older guys at the front of the line?” she asked. “I mean, the ones who should’ve been in during the sportswriters’ [vote]. I’m not talking about, ‘Oh, he was a nice guy.’ I’m talking about that group — and Dick and my dad were in that group — the guys who have the numbers and should be in. Why does it take so long? I don’t know.”
When the Golden Days group convened again in 2014, Allen was considered a likely candidate to make it, but he and Tony Oliva fell one vote short of election. Allen’s former teammate and committee member Jim Bunning, a former U.S. Senator, spoke bitterly of the process.
“I felt useless,” Bunning said. “It was the most disappointing three days I’ve ever spent in my life! “
Baseball writer Joe Posnanski pointed out a flaw in the selection process that makes it extremely unlikely anyone could get elected. Bunning himself died in 2017, and two other members of the committee, Al Kaline and Joe Morgan, died this year.
There remains intrigue about the process, as Bob Watson, believed to be an Allen supporter, got sick and was replaced by Dave Dombrowski.
Carfagno and others blame Dombrowski, and his connection to White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, for Allen not getting in.
After the vote, Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune wrote that Reinsdorf was upset about former Sox not making the Hall of Fame. The players he named were Minnie Minoso, Billy Pierce, and Jim Kaat. When asked about Allen, Reinsdorf said, “Dick Allen had a checkered career. If I had a vote, I wouldn’t have voted for him either.”
“That man was on the Board of Governors and made a statement like that? That’s a disgrace in my opinion,” said Carfagno.
It’s especially ironic considering that Allen was widely credited with saving the White Sox when he joined the team in 1972. The White Sox barely averaged 10,000 fans a game in 1971, and there was talk of relocating the team to Seattle or St. Petersburg, Fla. Allen put the team in contention and helped them sell 1.18 million tickets in 1972.
Allen could have been elected this year as the Golden Days committee was set to vote again, but the election was postponed due to COVID-19.
“The United Nations can meet on Zoom but you’re telling me these guys can’t?” said Carfagno.
Since 2001, when Bill Mazeroski was elected, the various forms of the Veterans Committee have not elected a living player other than Harold Baines in 2019. In making elderly men wait six years between elections, they risk another Santo or Allen. Ultimately, the Hall is not only there for fans and historians, but as a hallowed place for the greats of the game and their families. Give them their day in the sun before it’s too late.