Monday, March 12, 2012

Dick Allen is Hall of Fame worthy

In honor of Matthew Berry's Draft Day Manifesto and Love/Hate, I submit to you a blind resume test:

Player A: 351 home runs.292/.378/.534 line 156 OPS+   61.2 bWAR Rookie of the Year, one AL MVP (1.62 career shares), seven All-Star selections

Player B: 342 home runs .277/.362/.464 line 125 OPS+   66.4 bWAR Nine All-Star selections, five Gold Gloves, 1.23 career MVP shares

Pretty interchangeable, right? Based on these numbers alone, Player A has to be considered the superior offensive performer, for he holds a sizable advantage in all three rate stats and a whopping 31 point advantage in OPS+.  Those 31 points represent the difference between George Brett and the average hitter, Ken Griffey Jr. and Ty Wigginton.  That's a pretty sizable chasm, so Player A is substantially better.  Case closed.  End of story.

But Player B was more durable and appeared in nearly 500 more games, had more than 2,000 additional plate appearances, so of course he has a slight edge in most of the counting categories (even so, Player A holds an advantage in triples, home runs, and stole nearly four times as many bases).  Player B was unquestionably a better all-around player by helping his case with some outstanding defense at third base (see the five Gold Gloves), which explains why he was worth more bWAR.  Player A was much more one-dimensional; he tried and failed at the corner infield positions and in left field, even though first base and left are the two easiest positions to play according to the Bill James scale.  Player B never got the chance to step up to the plate during the postseason, and Player A had just nine October at-bats in his penultimate season (with only two singles), so neither one holds an advantage there.  Player A won the 1972 American League Most Valuable Player award and probably deserved another while Player B didn't, but their MVP share totals are close enough so that argument is a virtual wash, especially when you remember that Dave Winfield, Eddie Murray, and Derek Jeter have combined to win zero MVP awards.

Both men battled through their fair share of adversity.  Player A was an outspoken African American man playing in Philadelphia, a city much like Boston in that it had earned a reputation as a hostile environment for black athletes.  His Wikipedia page acknowledges that "some of the Phillies' own fans, known for being tough on hometown players even in the best of times, exacerbated his problems. Initially the abuse was verbal, with obscenities and racial epithets. Eventually he was greeted with showers of fruit, ice, refuse, and even flashlight batteries as he took the field. He began wearing his batting helmet even while playing his position in the field..." and this was happening two decades after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier!  Admittedly the unlikable star made matters worse by fighting with teammates, mouthing off to the media and creating controversy.  He scowled more than he smiled, and definitely got jobbed out of multiple All-Star selections.  Ironically, it was the Phillies who were able to coax him out of retirement before the 1975 season, but by then the Phils were led by Steve Carlton, Mike Schmidt and Greg Luzinski.  Player B was fortunate enough to be a white star when the game was becoming dominated by blacks, so like Mickey Mantle and Al Kaline he was immensely popular (I call it the "Larry Bird" effect). However, he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 18 and played his entire career with the disease.  It would tragically cut his life short at the age of 70, but not before it robbed him of both his legs below the knees.

The manners in which they handled these challenges differed greatly.  Player A, one of the most controversial players of his time, got himself into trouble off the field by fighting fire with fire.  He fought back against racism and challenged authority, so he was never a fan favorite.  He suited up for five different teams in his career (before the dawn of free agency, this was almost unheard of for a player of his talents) and didn't have a great relationship with any one of those clubs. Player B, on the other hand, spent all of his playing days in the Windy City, where he was one of the more beloved and well respected players of his era. He kept his disease hidden from the public until later on in his career, suffering in silence for more than a decade.  As a result, he was glorified as a heroic warrior for it.

In addition, there was the nagging sense that Player A underachieved, that he could have accomplished so much more had he merely devoted more attention to the game of baseball. Ted Williams included him in his hit list as one player (along with Fred Lynn, Dave Parker, and Carl Yastrzemski, among others) who should have been better. His lack of focus prevented him from realizing his potential to be one of the best players of his generation.  The intensity and stress he created probably caused him to burn out, too.  After he turned 30 he just couldn't stay healthy, averaging 101 games played over his final half dozen seasons.  Like Manny Ramirez, he sabotaged himself because he didn't have the right mindset.  The same can not be said for Player B, who always gave 100 percent and maxed out his ability.  For a remarkable eleven year stretch from 1961 to 1971, he averaged 159 games played per season and led the majors twice in that category.  Like Cal Ripken Jr., he showed up to play everyday, even though he had diabetes and probably felt like crap every now and then.  His unwavering dedication was unparalleled, and it likely precipitated his early decline.  He was never the same after turning 30, either, and all the miles on his odometer probably played a role in that demise.

Player A is not in the Hall of Fame and never came close; he fell off the ballot after garnering just 3.7 percent of the vote and even though he made it back on, he failed to crack 19 percent in the BBWAA balloting.  Player B is in the Hall of Fame, but only after toiling on the ballot for all 15 years of eligibility (maxing out with 43.1 percent in his final year) and getting voted in by the Veteran's Committee posthumously.  Both players represent the injustice of a Hall of Fame that enshrined Ray Schalk (career 83 OPS+) and Bill Mazeroski (just a hair better with an 84 OPS+) long before them.

By now I'm sure you've solved the puzzle, but I'll tell you the answers anyways.

Player A is Dick Allen.

Player B is Ron Santo.

In December, Ron Santo finally received his long-deserved call to Cooperstown from the Veteran's Committe for the Golden Era.  He had always been one of the more underrated and underappreciated players in baseball, so it was nice to see him finally get his due.  At the time there was a lot of good sentiment for Santo, who many felt was the best player not already enshrined in the baseball Hall of Fame even though he really was a borderline case (you know who else has a career 125 OPS+?  J.D. Drew, Magglio Ordonez, and Jason Bay--think any of them are getting in?).  The induction of Santo, along with Jim Rice, should add some credibility to Allen's case.  At the very least he was their equal, and in many respects he was even better.

It's funny how the careers of Santo and Allen overlapped.  They both played 15 years, spending the majority of their careers in the Senior Circuit before jumping ship to the AL later on. These tremendous righthanded hitters established themselves as top players in the mid-1960s, enjoyed their best seasons in the late 60s and early 70s before burning out during their 30s.  Allen came up in 1963, Santo's breakout season, and burst onto the scene the following season with one of the best rookie seasons ever while Santos built on his previous success.  Santo finished up his career as a washed up veteran with the White Sox in 1974, and Dick Allen (enjoying his last great season) was his teammate.  After '74 Santo called it quits, and Allen retired as well before the Phillies brought him back.

Neither man put together a definitive career year, a signature season that stood out on the resume as head and shoulders above the rest.  They both had their numbers suppressed by the pitching dominated era in which they played, constantly going up against the likes of Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, and Juan Maricharl, but Allen suffered even more than Santo, who at least benefitted from playing half his games in Wrigley Field with Ernie Banks and Billy Williams in the same lineup.  That's why his numbers don't change much if you neutralize his statistics, but neutralizing Allen's gives him a robust .307/.395/.561 line, more or less Alex Rodriguez's triple slash stats. 

Some more similarities
-They both played 15 seasons and wore the number 15 for a time
-They have nearly identical player profiles; Santo was just one inch taller and three pounds heavier
-Allen scored 1099 runs, Santo scored 1138
-Allen totaled 351 home runs, while Santo finished with 342
-Allen made seven All-Star squads, Santo nine
-Allen won an MVP and finished in the top five one other time, Santo finished in the top five twice
-Allen totaled 61.2 bWAR, Santo was worth 66.4 bWAR.  Allen was such a liability in the field that his poor glove work cost him 10.6 WAR, which puts him in the same ballpark as Manny Ramirez in regards to defensive incompetence.
-They both spent a lot of time manning the hot corner.  Allen was more of a first baseman but played nearly as many games at third, even though he could muster only a .927 fielding percentage there.  Santo, on the other hand, had the reputation as a slick fielder and earned five straight Gold Gloves to validate the claim.
-They spent the majority of their careers in the National League, but defected to the American League late in their careers
-Both players were present for devastating pennant race meltdowns. Allen's '64 Phillies coughed up a 6.5 game lead to the St. Louis Cardinals with a dozen to play thanks to a crippling ten game losing streak (but like Jacoby Ellsbury in 2011, the MVP candidate swung a hot bat and did all he could to keep his team from collapsing).  Santo's Cubbies went 8-17 in September, 1969, watching a five game lead on September 2nd melt away into an eight game deficit by season's end and allowing the Miracle Mets to practically lap them down the stretch.  Santo's .244/.369/.341 production during the final month didn't help much.

So now that Santo is in, it's time to open the door for Allen.  He was better than Santo and a lot of other players already in the Hall.  Here's the case for Allen:

-His career OPS+ is 156, tied with Frank Thomas for 19th all-time.  Among active players, only Albert Pujols rates higher, and using this statistic he actually rates ahead of his more distinguished peers like Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Frank Robinson.  If you remove his ten game cup of coffee in 1963 along with the final three seasons of his career (after he turned 33, the same age at which Jimmie Foxx and Mickey Mantle fell apart), that figure increases to 165, which would rank eleventh all time and allow him to leapfrog immortal hitters such as Stan Musial, Mark McGwire and Foxx. 
-Over the same period of time (eleven seasons), his peak, he hit .299/.386/.554 while averaging 29 home runs, 89 RBI, 88 runs, and ten steals in 135 games per season.  Those numbers are nearly identical to the career averages of Chipper Jones, who many believe is Cooperstown bound
-His black ink score is 27.  An average Hall of Famer's black ink score is also 27.  Allen led the league in OPS four times, OPS+ and slugging three times, home runs and OBP twice, then walks, total bases, runs scored, triples, and RBI one time each despite facing stiff competition from Aaron, Mays, Robinson, Roberto Clemente, and Willie McCovey in their primes.
-His gray ink score is 159.  The average Hall of Famer's gray ink score is 144
-The Hall of Fame monitor rates him as a 99, with the average Hall of Famer rating as a 100

The new emphasis on sabermetrics helped get Bert Blyleven and Santo in, and I hope that some day it can do the same for Allen.  The main difference was that Santo was so beloved that many people campaigned for his induction because they wanted a Hall of Fame with Ron Santo in it.  He was attached at the hip with Chicago, a giant city, and therefore he had a lot of fans.  Allen made too many enemies, so the support for him just isn't there.  You won't find too many articles or blog posts supporting his candidacy, and I have the feeling that many feel he doesn't deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.

But I do.


  1. Dick Allen was great, and HoF-worthy, but he was not better than Santo, due to his terrible fielding.

  2. Yes it's too bad he only got to DH at the end of his career because he was a true butcher with the leather, but on the plus side he did have some range at third...