The day begins brilliantly clear at Philadelphia Park racetrack, with a few soft clouds feathering the horizon along the backstretch. Dick Allen has come to the grandstand to bask in the sun like an old lion. "Racehorses and ballplayers," he says. "They're bought, they're sold, they're traded. Today in this barn; tomorrow in somebody else's."
Allen changed barns six times during a tumultuous 15-year career in which he batted .292 and hit 351 home runs. The blasts off his 42-ounce bat soared out of ballparks. "He could handle a high fastball," says Gene Mauch, his manager with the Phillies in the mid-'60s. "It was the fast highball that gave him trouble."
Fiercely independent, Allen used to show up for games hung over, smoke in the dugout and abandon his teams for days. "They called me a bad boy," he says, cackling. "But I was mild-mannered compared to players today. Maybe I was ahead of my time."
At 51, Allen has the look of a combat veteran who has been some places and done some things and come back feeling good about himself. "People said there was one set of rules for me and another for the rest of the team," he says. "When I was coming up, black players couldn't stay in the same hotel or eat in the same places as whites. Two sets of rules? Baseball set the tone."
Allen's memories of his playing days are tempered by a weary sadness that has replaced a more painful bitterness. In 1964, when he led Philadelphia to pennant contention, he was the National League Rookie of the Year; in 1969 he was booed out of the City of Brotherly Love. "I guess Philly wasn't ready for an outspoken black athlete," he says. Pelted with coins, chicken bones and beer bottles, he took to wearing a batting helmet when he played first base.
After the Phillies traded him, Allen lasted one year each in St. Louis and Los Angeles before landing with the White Sox, with whom he flourished. In 1972 he batted .308, led the American League with 113 RBIs and 37 homers and won the MVP award. He retired five years later and became a semirecluse, training thoroughbreds at a Maryland stable owned by his brothers Hank and Ron. Now and then he turns up at racetracks to shoot the breeze, but he is noncommittal about how he makes his living these days. "I plunk around from here to there," he says. "I do all right."
Allen says he never considered returning to baseball until May 1991, when his 27-year-old daughter, Terri, was murdered. "She was born while I was playing ball, and that's what fed her," Allen says, whispering. "I thought maybe I should get back into the game, if only to get my mind into something solid."
He approached several teams about jobs. "Hitting instructor, scout, anything," he says. "They told me to send a rèsumè. A rèsumè! All they had to do was look on the back of one of my bubble gum cards.
"I still love baseball, I do," Allen says. "But once you're done with the game, the game is done with you."
CHRIS COVATTA (NOW)
The 1972 MVP was a renowned free spirit; now the game doesn't want him back.
JOHN IACONO (THEN)
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