Cooperstown Chances examines the Baseball Hall of Fame case of one candidate each week. This week: Dick Allen.Who he is: There’s this popular narrative about Dick Allen, shaped by people like baseball historian Bill James and other writers. The narrative goes something like this: Embittered by his experiences with racism as a minor leaguer in Little Rock, Ark., and breaking in with the Phillies in the early 1960s, Dick Allen became standoffish, selfish and alcoholic. He clashed with a number of managers. He missed his full potential, finishing his career at age 35 with 351 home runs. That’s the narrative on Dick Allen, or at least what I understand it to be. MORE: Every team's most beloved player | Curt Schilling deserves to be in the Hall of FameJames has been a particularly vocal critic, writing in his book “The Politics of Glory” in 1994, “Allen never did anything to help his teams win, and in fact spent his entire career doing everything he possibly could to keep his teams from winning.” James made a number of outrageous claims over the space of a couple of pages, such as that every team Allen played for eventually devolved into pro-Dick Allen and anti-Dick Allen factions. James’ assessment reads as if it was made without talking to any of Allen’s teammates. I like James, and he has inspired me as a baseball historian and researcher, though I have to be honest: His work sometimes reads as if it was hastily done to meet book deadlines. It’s not that difficult to find retired ballplayers, many of whom have listed phone numbers and enjoy talking about the old days. All it takes is time and a willingness to listen.I say this as someone who spent several hours over the past few days locating a number of Allen’s teammates to see how many of James’ criticisms held water. The short answer: Not very many. If Allen’s teammates are right and James is wrong, Allen might be the most maligned player in baseball history.Cooperstown chances: 65 percentWhy: By various measures, Allen rates as one of the best players not in the Hall of Fame. While he never came close to
Cooperstown with the Baseball Writers' Association of America, he missed enshrinement by one vote last year with the Golden Era Committee. Asked if he thought Allen was a Hall of Famer, former White Sox teammate Wilbur Wood told me, “There’s no question about it. It was a shame he didn’t get in last year.”John Herrnstein played with Allen in 1963, when Allen was the first black player for Triple-A Little Rock in the International League. Though Allen hit 33 home runs for Little Rock and would earn a September call-up to Philadelphia, he told Herrnstein he worried about his safety at times. Allen and Herrnstein went on to play together for three years with the Phillies. “He was, I think, very often misunderstood,” Herrnstein said. “But he was a great team player. He would play hurt. He would come to the ballpark every day and give it his all.”VOTE: Who are the 25 best players not in the Hall of Fame?Some of Allen’s bad reputation dates to his fight with Phillies teammate Frank Thomas before a game on July 3, 1965. The Phillies famously lost the National League pennant the last week of the 1964 season, and James implied that the fight helped spoil the team’s chances the following year. He gave no motive for the fight.Relief pitcher Ed Roebuck told me he was in the outfield at the time of the fight and that Allen came to the defense of another black teammate John Briggs, who the white Thomas was deriding. “I guess Richie told him to stop it,” Roebuck said, referring to Allen by his nickname early in his career. “The next thing you know, Thomas picked up a bat.” I asked Roebuck if Allen came to the defense of teammates other times. “I didn’t see other times, but I imagine he would,” Roebuck said. “He was a good guy.”I asked center fielder Don Lock, who played with Allen in 1967 and 1968 in Philadelphia, about James’ contention that Allen’s teams were divided into camps of teammates for and against him. “Not that I know of,” Lock said. “But if it was, I was in Dick Allen’s camp.” Lock said he liked Allen and that he didn’t know of him having any enemies on the Phillies. Wood echoed similar sentiments. "He had no enemies in Chicago, I can guarantee that," Wood said.Was Allen perfect? Certainly not. He had chronic issues throughout his career with lateness, often passing up batting practice before games. “A lot of times, he’d get there, there was just time to get dressed and play,” Lock said. It’s part of the reason perhaps that while four of the six players I interviewed for this piece said Allen was a Hall of Famer, and the other teammate said he would at least vote for Allen, Lock offered the sharpest criticism. “If he’d have applied himself and gone about things a little different, he’d be up there with 500, 520 home runs,” Lock said.Bill Melton witnessed Allen’s tardiness, too, when they were teammates in Chicago from 1972 through 1974. Melton said Allen would arrive 30 minutes before a game in fine clothes and a cape and loosen up by boxing with teammate Pat Kelly. He didn’t take batting practice his first six weeks with the White Sox and wasn’t around for the start of spring training before that. “He didn’t show up to spring training, nor did we care,” Melton said. “We knew at the very end, he’d be there.” Allen did his own thing. “He didn’t give a s—,” White Sox teammate and close friend Carlos May said. “He danced by his own song.”MORE: By any measure, Tim Raines belongs in the Hall of FameEvery player I talked to for this piece praised Allen’s hitting abilities, with some teammates remembering Allen’s 40 3/4-ounce bat, heaviest of its time. But there was a softer side to Allen, too. Wood said Allen never wanted to hit balls back through the middle for fear of hurting someone. One time a ball Allen hit knocked the brim of Tigers pitcher Mickey Lolich’s hat. “I’ve never seen a man feel so bad for doing something like that in my whole career,” Wood said.A lot has been made of Allen’s drinking, by various writers, and several teammates confirmed Allen as a drinker to me. “He wasn’t a drunk,” Carlos May said. “I’d put it like that.” There’s another side with Allen’s drinking as well, though. Melton told me Allen lived far out in the suburbs of Chicago during his time there and kept to himself when the White Sox were at home. But on the road, manager Chuck Tanner allowed the team to drink in the hotel bar, the first manager Wood had that allowed this. Tanner’s reason for doing this? “He knew where everyone was,” Wood said. Thus, the team would gather together in the bar, drinking and talking baseball. Allen was there. “Did Dick hold court?” Wood said. “He didn’t hold court more than anyone else.”Interestingly, some of Allen’s teammates were quicker to defend his personality than emphatically push for him as a Hall of Famer. “For the Hall of Fame, you need numbers,” Melton said. “Dick was not around long enough to have those numbers.” Lock said the same, and while Roebuck said Allen belonged, it was because he finished his career with close to a .300 batting average. Herrnstein also played with Hank Aaron and Ernie Banks and said he couldn’t put Allen in their class, though he added, “Dick was one heck of a good ballplayer, and I hope he gets in. I do.”I think this hints at the real reason Allen hasn’t been enshrined, particularly last year with the Expansion Era Committee, which is staffed with veteran baseball people and writers. Allen is most impressive as a candidate when allowances are made for the shortness of his career and the outstanding pitching era in which he played. For instance, among all non-Hall of Famers since 1901 with at least 3,000 plate appearances, Allen’s adjusted offensive production is tied for fifth-best with Joey Votto. Only Barry Bonds, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Mark McGwire and Albert Pujols are better. Votto and Pujols could both fall below Allen by the end of their careers, too. I doubt many Golden Era Committee members rely on this sort of information to make decisions, though.But I doubt it’s personality that is keeping Allen out of the Hall of Fame. To some of the people who knew him best during his career, he was a good teammate.Cooperstown Chances examines the Baseball Hall of Fame case of one candidate each week. Series author and Sporting News contributor Graham Womack writes regularly about the Hall of Fame and other topics related to baseball history at his website, Baseball: Past and Present . Follow him on Twitter: @grahamdude.