Phillies honoring Dick Allen with a giveaway. Here’s why it’s bigger than a bobblehead

The late legend, still not in the Hall of Fame, was the team’s first Black star
Dick Allen bobblehead
Dick Allen bobblehead Photo credit Philadelphia Phillies

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A bobblehead won’t change the world. It won’t right injustice. It won’t absolve the sins of the past.

But it is a way to keep a name alive.

Specifically, one of Phillies owner John Middleton’s favorite players: the late Phils star Dick Allen.

“When you really look at the statistics and how he ranks among power-hitter in power categories like slugging percentage and on-base percentage, OPS+, I mean, he’s elite,” said Middleton. “I mean, he’s got a better slugging percentage than Mike Schmidt.”

So, at the Phillies game against the Dodgers Friday night, fans 15 and older will receive a bobble figurine of Allen — nearly 60 years after the power-hitting third baseman, who swung a 42-ounce bat with authority, made his major league debut. The Phillies were the last National League team to integrate, and Allen was their first Black breakout star, debuting on Sept. 3, 1963.

The Phillies don’t make bobbleheads for just anyone. It’s reserved for special players, past and present.

So when Richard Allen Jr., son of the late Phils star, learned the organization deliberately chooses players to put into collectible form, he was ecstatic.

“You just enhanced my weekend,” he told KYW Newsradio.

The bobblehead night is a chance to continue honoring a Phillies legend who mesmerized fans with his majestic home runs. It’s an opportunity to recognize a player whose teammates raved about. It’s a night when fans who didn’t get to see Allen play get to learn about him.

Although some may view the figurine as a piece of sports memorabilia, the recognition presented to the entire ballpark is a reminder that Allen, despite his stellar numbers, is still not in the Hall of Fame.

An honor ‘years in the making’ 

High above Ashburn Alley at Citizens Bank Park sits the names of nine Phillies greats and the numbers of seven of them. They are the players recognized with the highest honor the Phillies franchise can bestow: retiring a player’s jersey.

The 10th player recognized is Jackie Robinson, whose number, 42, is universally retired in Major League Baseball. Robinson broke MLB’s color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.

Fifty-seven years after Allen’s debut, the Phillies retired his number, 15. For a long time, the Phillies followed an unwritten rule that a player must be in the Hall of Fame to retire their number, minus some exceptions. Schmidt’s No. 20, for example, was retired in 1990, but he went into Cooperstown in 1995.

Middleton decided to break that unwritten rule too. Family, friends and teammates of Allen were in attendance for the 2020 retirement ceremony. Middleton, a lifelong Phillies fan who grew up watching Allen, got to publicly express his admiration for his idol. Schmidt, a teammate during Allen’s second stint with the Phils, vouched for his Hall of Fame credentials.

Middleton said it was one of the best moments of his time with the organization.

“The two greatest things that have happened to me since I’ve been a Phillies owner are one, winning the World Series, and two, retiring Dick’s jersey,” he remembers telling someone the following day. “If somebody said to me, you can only do one thing in your life, have one experience, what would it be? Winning the World Series or retiring Dick’s jersey? I said, ‘You know, as crazy as it might sound to some people, I think I’d choose retiring Dick’s jersey.’”

Although fans could not attend the ceremony due to COVID-19, Allen said he was grateful for them — though the fan base did not always treat him well. He experienced racism during his playing days.

“Fans took it out on him,” Middleton said.

Back at Connie Mack Stadium, during a racially divided time in Philadelphia, Middleton remembered someone threw a Coke bottle at Allen from the stands.

“People wonder why he was wearing a batting helmet on the field. He wasn’t wearing it because people were throwing hotdogs at him. They were throwing Coke bottles at him,” he said.

But by September 2020, Allen was long revered by this fan base. Today, he is immortalized through stories and firsthand accounts of his play and character. This weekend’s recognition is an extension of the honor he earned nearly three years ago. And this time, fans will be there in person.

“We always planned when we decided to retire his jersey that we would then have a subsequent fan appreciation night for Dick,” said Middleton, who wishes Allen was still alive to experience the adoration. He died three months after the retirement ceremony. “So this has been years in the making.”

Many members of the Allen family are expected to attend Friday’s event.

“It’s going to be like a reunion,” said Allen Jr. “I really am looking forward to it. Unfortunately, he couldn’t be here to be a part of it, but we’re gonna recognize him and enjoy this weekend.”

The never-ending push for the Hall of Fame

Allen Jr. has said his father was not someone who looked for recognition. “To me growing up, he’s like, ‘Let people compliment you. Don’t compliment yourself.’”

In 2021, Allen — about a year after his death — missed the cut for the Hall of Fame by one vote,  for the second time in a row. He received 11 of the necessary 12 votes from the 16-person committee in 2021 and in 2014. The Golden Days Era won’t be up for election again until 2026 for the 2027 class.

According to his son, Allen took pride in earning the respect of his peers, even if it didn’t result in an election to Cooperstown.

“He said, ‘I’m not gonna stand on the soapbox and yell that I should be in the Hall of Fame,’” Allen Jr. recalled. “But he always did say, ‘I could play with those guys.’”

Many believe Allen’s character — another caveat of Hall of Fame voting — has been unfairly judged.

“I see online people make comments,” said Allen Jr. “I just read a comment where someone said he’s not in the hall because of his tardiness. Wow. Really?”

Middleton said Allen was unwilling to submit to the racism he experienced as a player. “He stood up against it and people saw him as being a rebellious person and a divisive person and a hard-to-get-along-with person. And I think that tag has dogged him for too long.”

Teammates like Schmidt, Larry Bowa, Greg Luzinski and Larry Christenson have vouched for Allen’s commitment and dependability.

“The great lesson I learned from Dick Allen over the decades I’ve had the privilege to know him … was that this was a man ultimately driven purely by love,” said Middleton. “He forgave the people. … He persevered against all kinds of indignities that nobody should have to endure.”

Middleton said the bobblehead figurine night at the ballpark is not a hint at his Hall of Fame snubs, but a reminder that Allen truly does belong there.

“If character counts, look at a person’s character over their life,” Middleton said. “This is a guy who’s been, 40 years after he retired, a wonderful, forgiving, loving human being. That’s character you should be celebrating.

“One of the nicest, best human beings I’ve ever met in my life.”

CORRECTION: In an earlier version of this article, Larry Christenson's name was misspelled.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Philadelphia Phillies