There has been considerable anxiety recently for Dick Allen and those closest to the 75-year-old Philadelphia Phillies great.
Last summer, the Baseball Hall of Fame tweaked its Veterans Committee process, dividing candidates into four subcommittees:
- Today’s Game Committee: considers players, managers, umpires and executives retired at least 15 years who made their greatest contributions after 1987;
- Modern Baseball Committee: looks at 1970-87;
- Golden Days Committee: looks at 1950-69;
- Early Days Committee: looks at everything prior to 1950.
Allen’s career, which spanned 1963 to 1977, divides fairly neatly between the Golden Days and Modern Baseball committees. On one hand, Allen put up 58 percent of his WAR prior to 1970. But he won his only MVP in 1972. A good case can be made for putting him on either ballot, and rumors have been flying for months about where Allen will wind up. We should know for sure by September.
Anxiety might center chiefly around one thing: The Golden Days and Modern Baseball committees don’t give Allen equal chances at induction. The Modern Baseball Committee is scheduled to meet twice every five years and will convene for the first time this fall. Meanwhile, the Golden Days Committee meets once every five years and will convene for the first time infall 2020.
If Allen can make the Modern Baseball Committee ballot this fall, there’s a chance he can build momentum on what happened the last time he was a Hall of Fame candidate. In December 2014, Allen and Tony Oliva each fell one vote short with what was then known as the Golden Era Baseball Committee, which considered players who made their greatest mark between 1947 and 1972. If Allen makes the Modern Baseball Committee ballot this fall, he’d have a chance again on the committee’s next ballot in fall2019. But if Allen has to wait until fall 2020 with the Golden Days Committee, all hope might be lost.
Allen might already have resigned himself. I regularly interview overlooked Hall of Fame candidates for Sporting News. Allen’s long been at the top of my list of people to talk to. He’s one of the best hitters in baseball history by OPS+ not in the Hall of Fame. But Allen’s case got hurt years ago by rumors of his clubhouse presence (which might be unfounded), perhaps some racism and other factors. Allen’s son, Richard Allen Jr., has been lobbying on my behalf for an interview. We’ve been messaging for months and recently, Dick Allen tentatively agreed to an interview. But he had second thoughts the next day.
“After missing from one vote, my father basically shut down,” Allen’s son had warned me in December. “Deep down I think he was disappointed.”
Allen’s son said something else that made me think after his father declined the interview.
“My father feels he won't be around to see 2020,” Allen’s son wrote. “I don't understand it all, but the HOF actually asked for a game used bat of his and now there's all these hoops he is going through. His bat is good enough but not him.”
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Why Cooperstown has reached this point: In announcing last summer’s rule changes, Hall of Fame chairwoman Jane Forbes Clark said that Cooperstown wanted to look to more recent players, an admirable goal. A considerable number of ‘70s and ‘80s greats are on the outside looking in with the Hall of Fame — from Dave Parker to Dale Murphy to Thurman Munson.
“There’s a lot of guys that I think should be in,” Murphy told Sporting News in February 2016. “There’s a lot of guys that a lot of people think should be in.”
Indeed. But when it revised its rules, the Hall of Fame did far from open the flood gates for induction. Before, it had players divided into eras that rotated on a three-year basis:
- An unfortunatelynamed Pre-Integration Era Committee that considered all Major League Baseball players prior to 1947 and wouldn’t consider Negro Leaguers;
- A Golden Era Baseball Committeethat looked at players who starred 1947-72;
- A Modern Era Baseball Committeethat looked at everyone since 1973.
Essentially, with the changes, candidates since 1970 went from being able to be considered five times every 15 years to six times every 15 years. It’s the kind of glacial change the Hall of Fame is known for, even if it wants to slap another label on it and proclaim that it’s placing greater emphasis on modern candidates. If the Hall of Fame really wanted to induct more candidates since the 1970s — particularly players from the underrepresented ‘70s and ‘80s — it’d make all veteran candidates eligible every year, regardless of era and have larger ballots. There were just five players on the Modern Baseball Committee ballot last fall.
The Veterans Committee, by whatever name the Hall of Fame wants to call it, hasn’t inducted a living player since 2001 and has never inducted an African-American player who played their entire career in the major leagues. This might not change anytime soon.
To play Devil’s Advocate for a moment, I think I understand why the Hall of Fame might resist insituting any sort of sweeping changes. The Baseball Writers' Association of America has inducted 12 players over the past four Hall of Fame elections, with more greats such as Chipper Jones, Jim Thome and Mariano Rivera due to become eligible in the next few years.
There’s no shortage of players who can fill the dais these days at summer induction ceremonies, though the Hall of Fame has a lot to lose if the honor begins to look diluted. So it makes sense that the Hall’s board of directors would do everything in its power to maintain as much exclusivity as it can without barring the doors outright to players such as Allen.
It’s unfortunate, though, that Allen and others get caught in the crossfire. There aren’t a ton of players left who made their greatest contribution to baseball between 1950 and ‘69 and might be worthy of Hall of Fame induction. That said, there are enough that the decision to arbitrarily relegate them to consideration just once every five years is slightly appalling.
Allen’s in a class by himself statistically. His 163 OPS+ through 1969 is best of any player between 1950 and 1969 not in the Hall of Fame, by a wide margin. Just two players did better than Allen for this stat in these years: Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle. A lot of unfavorable things have been said about Allen’s attitude, though the simple fact remains: The man could hitbetter than most people in baseball history.
Other players who made their greatest mark between 1950 and 1969 and might be worthy of more review: Oliva, Minnie Minoso, Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Curt Flood,Ken Boyer, Billy Pierce, Bill Freehan, Maury Wills, Don Newcombe, Harvey Kuenn and Rocky Colavito to name a few.
Here’s hoping these players come up for Hall of Fame consideration in the future more than one time every five years.