In a career full of highlights, returning to the site of some of his greatest professional moments topped the list for Chicago White Sox great Dick Allen.
Thirty-eight years after leaving Chicago, Allen made his homecoming on Monday as the Chicago Baseball Museum begins its tribute to the 1972 team, the year he won the MVP Award.
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Recounting what he called ”the best three years of his baseball life” Allen shared stories of mammoth home runs, a two inside-the-park home run game and stealing home plate 7/8- all in a White Sox uniform.
He was traded to the Atlanta Braves after the 1974 season.
”I really wish I could have started my career and ended it here,” Allen said. ”This is the most terrific sports town in America.”
”I’d like to think that the `72 club had a lot to do that because they maintained the tradition.”
Allen won the 1972 AL Most Valuable Player award, was credited with saving the White Sox franchise – then in peril of leaving Chicago.
The 1970 White Sox posted the worst record in the majors, as well as the lowest home attendance, starting speculation that the team could move on to greener pastures.
Then-general manager Roland Hemond brought in manager Chuck Tanner at the end of the 1970 season, and acquired Allen before the 1972 season, sending Tommy John to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Allen credited Tanner with turning a young, inexperienced club into a winner. But it was Allen and his 42-ounce bat who did the damage on the field.
He led the league with 37 homers, a career-high 113 RBI and 99 walks, earning his first and only MVP award. He led the league in batting average going into September, but finished third, barely missing the triple crown.
The team won 87 games in a strike-shortened season. They finished in second place in the AL West, 5 1-2 games behind the Oakland A’s, drawing considerably more fans to Comiskey Park.
”People actually game to grips that they might lose this franchise,” he said. ”I am glad that we put 1.2 million all the way from 400,000 from the previous year. That’s enough for me.”
The White Sox are honoring the 1972 team by wearing the team’s bright red, pinstriped throwback uniforms on Sunday home games this year.
Allen sees a lot of the `72 team in this year’s White Sox, who are atop the A.L. Central by a half game over the Cleveland Indians.
”I’m proud of is the way our Sox play the game right now,” he said. ”We set a precedent of how it’s played. We were offensively minded back then and very aggressive.”
Allen was the NL Rookie of the Year in 1964 with the Philadelphia Phillies, when he hit .318 with 29 home runs and 91 RBI. He led the league with 13 triples and 125 runs scored.
Allen amassed a .292 career average with 351 home runs and 1,119 RBI over his 15 seasons in the Majors.
He is the only player to win Rookie of the Year and MVP not to be enshrined in Cooperstown. Allen is 19th in career OPS – Mark McGwire is the only player who ranks higher and is not in the Hall of Fame.
”I’m sure my stats are as good as some of the others,” he said. ”Rightly so, there are some who had better stats. I’m satisfied because in my heart, there are a lot of players that I helped.”
Allen cited teaching Goose Gossage the perks of pitching inside without fear of hitting the batter. He also said he still enjoys working one-on-one with current players, such as Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard.
Allen and other members of the `72 team will be honored by the Chicago Baseball Museum on June 25 at a fundraising dinner at U.S. Cellular Field.
”The other places I did play, they were trying to find all the wrong things,” he said. ””This is a highlight here, being back over here where I was appreciated.”