Put Them in the Hall of Fame: Part 7, Dick Allen (and a Recap)

Today, we reach the conclusion of the "Put Them In the Hall of Fame" series. I'll admit, this series was originally called "Fifteen to Fight For". But along the way, there were some casualties and we we ended up with twelve players. Again, the goal was to put forth the cases I feel simply can't be refuted (logically). There were a few other cases I intended to make, but there were enough holes that I just couldn't call them "bulletproof".

With that introduction, let me share with you the last player in the series:

Dick Allen

"[Allen] did more to keep his teams from winning than anyone else who ever played major league baseball. And if that's a Hall of Famer, I'm a lug nut."

When I read that Bill James passage about Dick Allen in Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame?, it struck me as pretty damning. Bill James has been doing this a lot longer than me. Why is he so passionate about Allen not being a Hall of Famer? Why does he put so much weight on Allen's off-field issues?

And what if it's all bullshit?

I'm a 33-year old white guy. I'm not going to pretend I can relate in any way to what Dick Allen went through as a player. I don't doubt he had a bad attitude. But I'm pretty sure Dick Allen was not the only one at fault.

Even if Allen was a terrible teammate, how much should that affect his Hall of Fame case? As a numbers-oriented guy, it seems to me that docking him that much for something I can't quantify is extreme. Then again, perhaps my view of Allen's value is much higher than most others. To me, he would need to cost his teams something like 10-20 wins (all by himself) to no longer be Hall-worthy. I don't see any numbers to back that up.

What I can tell you is that Allen was a magnificent hitter. In fact, among eligible non-Hall of Famers he ranks fifth in WAR batting runs. All four players ahead of him—Jeff Bagwell, Mark McGwire, Edgar Martinez, and Rafael Palmeiro—are all relatively recent additions to the BBWAA ballot. So, for a while, Dick Allen was simply the best hitter not in the Hall of Fame.

Perhaps Allen's most remarkable statistic was his .912 OPS. He played during a severely depressed offensive era (1963 to 1977). The only player with a higher OPS during Allen's career was Henry Aaron (.917). Because of the era, Allen's OPS translates to an OPS+ of 156.

That figure ties Allen for nineteenth all time. It is really, really hard to be nineteenth all time in a rate statistic. Baseball-Reference has the minimum set at just 3000 plate appearances to qualify. Allen had 7315 plate appearances—a fairly low total for a Hall of Famer, but not by too much. Four players in front of him on the OPS+ list had fewer plate appearances (Shoeless Joe Jackson, Pete Browning, Dave Orr, and Hank Greenberg). One of the other players in front of him, Albert Pujols, has not yet had a decline phase (although it'd have to be a pretty sharp decline to drag him down to 156). Of all eligible players ahead of Allen with 6000 or more trips to the plate, all but Mark McGwire are in the Hall.

When Allen was on top his game, he was stunning. He had seasons at 9.3 WAR, 9.1 WAR, and 7.8 WAR. Every eligible player with two 9+ WAR seasons has been inducted. The only other eligible player with three 7.5 WAR seasons who has not been inducted is Jim Wynn. It is rare to play at that level and not get in.

Allen's totals of 1848 hits, 351 home runs, and 1119 RBI are on the low side for a power-hitting Hall of Famer. But when you compare him to his era and look at his rate stats, he more than makes up for it. By wWAR, he squeezes in right ahead of Willie McCovey and Hank Greenberg among Hall of Fame first basemen. He also ranks ahead of Hall of Famers Eddie Murray, George Sisler, Bill Terry, Harmon Killebrew, Jake Beckley, Frank Chance, Tony Perez, Orlando Cepeda, Jim Bottomley, and High Pockets Kelly.

Among the players I've featured in this series, Dick Allen probably has the most weaknesses in his Hall of Fame case. His totals are lower than you like to see. He had injury troubles. He had other issues that kept him off the field. Both the injuries and his off-field problems likely led to his early retirement. But the thing is, except for maybe Jeff Bagwell, I'd say he was a better pure talent than anyone else featured in this series.

Chris Jaffe of The Hardball TImes recently wrote about Allen as he turned 70. Jaffe said:

One thing interesting about Allen was that he was genuinely controversial. By that I mean it wasn’t that he did something that everyone hated. No, that would make him merely widely maligned. To be controversial, you need a split of opinion—not only vehement opponents, but also passionate detractors. Throughout Allen’s career, he had plenty of both. Many considered him to be a pure clubhouse cancer while others thought he was a good man, just misunderstood.

I can't—and won't—judge Dick Allen, the person. As he was being booed mercilessly, you have players like Mike Schmidt calling him a mentor. I'm not picking sides here. I'm going with the numbers. Dick Allen belongs.

The List

To recap, here are the twelve players from the series:

  1. Catcher; Ted Simmons (story)
  2. First Base: Jeff Bagwell (story)
  3. First Base: Dick Allen
  4. Second Base: Lou Whitaker (story)
  5. Second Base: Bobby Grich (story)
  6. Third Base: Deacon White (story)
  7. Shortstop: Bill Dahlen (story)
  8. Shortstop: Alan Trammell (story)
  9. Left Field: Tim Raines (story)
  10. Designated Hitter: Edgar Martinez (story)
  11. Pitcher: Bob Caruthers (story)
  12. Pitcher: Kevin Brown (story)

The Close Calls

Several players were very close to being included in this series. They simply had at least one thing a detector could point out. I would probably put every single one of these players in, though.

Here is everyone I skipped over to get to Tim Raines, the lowest of the twelve players I chose, by wWAR.

  • Al Spalding: He's already in as an executive, so his case as a player is not worth pursuing.
  • Pete Rose: He's banned, so it's not like anyone has a say in this.
  • Shoeless Joe Jackson: See Pete Rose.
  • Jack Glasscock: I personally love Glasscock's Hall of Fame case and wouldn't hesitate to put him in. But his case does rely on this Total Zone numbers being correct-ish.
  • Larry Walker: The science of park factors isn't something I can dig deeply into during a debate. I do, however, trust the work of others in this area. Because of that, I think Walker is a Hall of Famer. That said, I don't have a good enough retort for the anti-Coors Walker detractors.
  • Jim Wynn: Wynn is the anti-Walker. While park factors cut Walker's value, they add a ton to Wynn—to the point of being Hall-worthy. I lean towards yes, but I'm still a bit skeptical. In Hall debates, I'm far more comfortable with removing value via these adjustments than I am adding it (for some reason).
  • Wes Ferrell: Ferrell is a pretty unique player. He needs his offensive value factored in to be worthy. Once you do that, I think he matches up pretty well with Sandy Koufax. My rather bullish stance on Ferrell isn't very pervasive, though.
  • Sal Bando: I have no good excuse for why I don't take Bando seriously. WAR loves him. wWAR loves him. I'm probably just not appreciating his peak because it came during the depressed offensive era. As a result, he doesn't have the totals we're used to.
  • Joe Torre: He'd be a slam dunk if he played more behind the plate. I still believe he belongs. The more I think about it, the more his case is similar to that of Deacon White. They both caught and played third with an OPS+ in the 125-130 range. They both collected a good amount of hits with decent power (while White didn't hit home runs, his slugging was 41 points above the league average) and were capable of a magnificent season or two. Torre will coast in as a manager, but that will cause people to forget (like with John McGraw) what a wonderful player he was.
  • Rick Reuschel: His WAR and wWAR say he belongs. The list of top pitchers outside of the Hall of Fame is not overly-impressive. I'm choosing to focus on the best one (Kevin Brown) first.
  • Mark McGwire: He admitted to steroid use. I'll never win an argument for him.
  • Keith Hernandez: If you like Total Zone (and I do), then you support Keith Hernandez. If Bagwell and Allen weren't in front of him, I'd fight harder.
  • Thurman Munson: He picks up a big boost in wWAR because he played catcher almost exclusively. I tend to think he is The Great Underrated Yankee, but I think Simmons and Torre are still more deserving.
  • Rafael Palmeiro: He tested positive. Again, I won't win this.

There are other players beyond these that I like for the Hall of Fame, like Ken Boyer, Luis Tiant, Minnie Monoso, and Dwight Evans. But if I were to narrow my focus to twelve, I think found them.

Who would your twelve be?

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