Until March 27, we’ll be counting down the 50 greatest Phillies games of the last 50 years. This is 50 of 50.
And this is No. 49.
THE DATE: May 14, 1975
THE GAME: Phillies vs. Cincinnati Reds, Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia, Pa.
THE STAKES: A Phillie great returns
THE GREAT: Dick Allen had it rough in Philadelphia.
The mercurial slugger (side note: the most used word to describe Allen is “mercurial”) spent the first seven seasons of his major league career in Philly, primarily at the intersection of 21st and Lehigh, and generally at the intersection of racial tension and exceptional skill.
Everything in that is messy and sometimes unofficial history. He was a bad teammate, some say. He was a softie, some say. He was a primadonna, coming to work late and not giving a crap, some say. He was constantly on the defensive, a frequent subject of prejudice, some say.
But all will say that Allen was a force of nature at the plate. He was a slugger ahead of his time – about 30 years or so. And the statistics back that up: .300/.380/554 with 177 home runs and a 2:1 strikeout to walk ratio in nearly 3,700 plate appearances.
Allen left the Phils in 1969, the headline player in baseball’s most famous trade – the one that set free agency in motion as Curt Flood, another black star of the era, refused to report to Philadelphia. Allen went from St. Louis to Los Angeles to Chicago, having an exceptional, MVP season in 1972 with the White Sox.
Things went relatively well for Allen until, on Sept. 14, 1974, he left the White Sox. He blamed it on Ron Santo, who Allen feuded with and was – in many ways – his polar opposite. The White Sox responded by selling Allen’s contract to Atlanta. But Allen refused to play for the Braves, and retired.
Which makes May 14, 1975, one of the weirdest and most wonderful days in Phillies history.
The ‘75 Phillies were expected to be a decent team, thanks to sluggers Mike Schmidt and Greg Luzinski, and ace pitcher Steve Carlton. In the new Veterans Stadium and wearing peachy new uniforms with maroon pinstripes, the Phils were on the upswing.
And when Allen made it known he wanted to come back to baseball, the young Phils became an obvious potential suitor. They made it too obvious though, with Schmidt, Luzinski and Dave Cash making a covert trip to Allen’s farm to attempt to sway his interest. The problem was Allen was under contract with Atlanta despite his retirement. The Phils were accused of tampering.
But finally the Braves placed Allen on waivers, and the Phils scooped him up, adding him to the roster as everyday first baseman. His first game back home was against the 18-16 Reds, a team boasting Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench and Tony Perez at the top of the order. Phils manager Danny Ozark slotted Allen fifth behind Luzinski and ahead of Schmidt, and the move paid off immediately. In the first inning, after Luzinski singled home Garry Maddox, Allen took to the batter’s box with a standing ovation. He smacked a single into center field to raucous cheers.
The loudest ovation Allen received apparently came before the game, as Dan Baker announced his name to a huge cheer, so huge that Baker failed to finish reading the rest of the lineup.
So Allen’s first game back as a Phillie (1-for-3) was bound to overshadow anything else happening that evening at the Vet. Which was a shame, because the 30,908 that came out on that Wednesday night were also treated to one of Carlton’s finest hours.
“Lefty” went all nine that evening, surrendering just seven hits off the vaunted Cincinnati lineup (two to Morgan, who was hitting an all-universe .362/.510/.491 at the time) while walking three and striking out three. He played rope-a-dope that night, picking off Morgan to end a threat in the first (and Cesar Geronimo to squander a future double in the eighth), getting a ton of groundouts, and receiving a giant assist from Maddox, who started a relay to Larry Bowa, to Bob Boone, that nailed Dave Concepcion at the plate in the seventh inning of the 2-0 game.
The Phils would add two insurance runs in the eighth, as Tommy Hutton – stepping in for Allen later in the game – knocked an RBI single, and Carlton helped himself out with an RBI base knock of his own.
All of that was more than enough. Carlton locked down his first shutout of 1975 after getting George Foster to ground out in the ninth. Thirty-three batters faced and a 4-0 win over a good Cincinnati team.
But that night the crowd came for Dick Allen. The slugger would start the season slow but pick it up late, swatting eight of his 12 homers after August 1, finishing the year with a .233/.327/.385 line. The ‘76 season would be better, as Allen somewhat returned to form (.268/.346/.480), helping put the Phils in the playoffs for the first time since 1950, and getting the fans on board with their new maroon-pinstriped heroes.
Although the Philadelphia crowd would not again see the Allen that consistently swatted titanic blasts with a .300 batting average and keen eye at the plate, that night in 1975, they reveled in the presence one of the Phils’ greatest players. Maybe – in this new stadium, with these new uniforms, surrounded by this new talent – the fans were accepting Allen. Maybe it wouldn’t be so rough, that there could be a new chapter written about the “Wampum Walloper.”
It didn’t quite work out that way. There were more fights in 1976, leading to his release after that season (a playoff season, that said). But, hey, they had this night. And it just so happens that the team’s greatest pitcher was also performing at his best.