WILLIAM C. KASHATUS
FROM THE DAYS of the Negro Leagues up to the present battles over merit-based excuses for the absence of blacks in management positions, baseball has long served as a barometer of the nation's racial climate. Nowhere is this more true than in Philadelphia, where the Phillies have suffered for their reputation as a racially segregated team in a racially segregated city. The case of Dick Allen is most often cited as the prime example of this inglorious history of race relations.
Allen, the first African-American superstar to don the red pinstripes, was at the center of controversy in the 1960s and mid-1970s when he played in Philadelphia. He exploded onto the scene in 1964, winning the NL Rookie of the Year Award for his.318 average, 29 homers, and 94 RBIS. It was a performance that kept the Phillies in the pennant race for most of the summer until their infamous collapse in the final two weeks of the season. Over the next seven years Allen established himself among the ranks of the game's superstars, becoming a consistent.300 hitter and averaging 30 homers and 90 RBIS a season. Those statistics, along with a 1972 mvp performance with the Chicago White Sox, earned him a hero's welcome when Allen returned to Philadelphia in 1975. Phillies management and the fans were convinced that his time away from the city had given him the maturity and experience needed to win the pennant for a budding contender. They were wrong.
While Allen's tape-measure home runs and exceptional speed gained for him the tremendous admiration of fellow players, his unexcused absences, candid opinions, and pregame beer drinking earned him some of the harshest press in the city's sports history. Through it all the specter of racial prejudice hung over Allen's relationship with the owners, the team, the press, and the city's fans. For some he was the quintessential rebel who did as he pleased when he pleased, with little regard for team rules or his teammates. For others he exemplified the emerging independence of Major League players as well as growing black consciousness in the game.