In light of the White Sox decision to have the team don 1972 throwback uniforms on Sunday home games, I figure it’s as good a time as any to take a look back to the year that Sox wore the red pinstripes all season long. Lead by skipper Chuck Tanner, the team finished 87-67 with a group of players that may not be familiar to the casual fan. Names like Dick Allen, Bill Melton and Carlos May stick out of course, and over the next few weeks I’d like to go through and highlight a few of those bigger name players.
Upon his arrival in Chicago he put his best John Cougar Mellencamp face on and demanded that he no longer be called Richie. We traded for Richie Allen and Dick Allen showed up. When Dick first arrived in Philadelphia as a rookie 9 years earlier, the press, in an apparent attempt to fill a void left by recently traded star Richie Ashburn, started referring to him as Richie and it stuck. It irritated Dick and he never really got over it. He wasn’t exactly a fan favorite in Philly and managed to pull another name there. Fans in Philadelphia, living up to a rather vicious reputation, let him know at every turn about their disdain for him. Not being the type to just put his head down, Allen would take small jabs back at the fans and eventually they took to throwing things at him on the field. As a result he began wearing a helmet out to the field to protect himself against the batteries, fruit and other assorted nonsense that would be hurled at him. So each time he took his place at first he also brought along his “crash helmet” which got shortened to just “crash.” Thus was born: Dick “Crash” Allen.
Let’s fast forward to 1972. Well, December ’71 first. The Sox traded for Allen from the Los Angeles Dodgers for Steve Huntz and Tommy John. Allen wasn’t completely on board with the location change. He didn’t want to find himself in another situation similar to Philadelphia, where he became whipping boy for both fans and media just to play on a last place team. According to a Craig R. Wright article in SABR Magazine:
Dick actually was there at the start of spring training, watching the team incognito for a couple days from beyond the center field fence. He wanted to see for himself how weak the team was. Roland Hemond confirmed this to some extent, remembering a rumor, “that Dick was in town watching the team.” Allen was discouraged by what he saw and went home with the intent of retiring. Ultimately it was his mother who convinced him to give it a try, to help out manager Chuck Tanner who had grown up as a neighbor of theirs.
His decision to help out Tanner lead to plenty of entertainment on the Southside. On his way to an MVP award Allen put up a .308/.420/.603 line with an OPS+ of 199. In other words, he was absolutely murderous. The Sox finished in 2nd place that summer behind a rather dominant Athletics team, perhaps you’ve heard of them. They would win the first of their three straight World Series that October.
Unfortunately the next season Dick would crack his fibula in the midst of the season, miss significant time and really never was able to regain the same dominance again.
It may seem like I’ve glossed over a large part of the story here. Depending on who you speak to, Dick Allen was an impossible jerk. A player that was unwilling to abide by any rules that weren’t his own. There might be a bit to that, but such an attitude may also have been what allowed him to play to the level he achieved in the summer of ’72. Chuck Tanner was a player’s manager and a friend on top of that. He gave Dick a different set of rules than everybody else, and it was under these conditions that he achieved a season that, if you remove Frank Thomas’ 1994 campaign is arguably the best offensive season of all time for a White Sox player. If he was handled differently, by managers, by media, by fans and front offices, there’s no telling what kind of feats he would have been able to achieve on a consistent basis. Stan Hochman, a Philadelphia reporter, once approached Dick Allen’s brother and said, “Look, Dick is hitting .311 right now. Do you think if he conformed, he could hit .411?” Dick’s brother replied, “If he conformed, he’d hit .211.”