For One Great Ballplayer, Philadelphia Was A Perpetual Traffic Jam

Originally published in January 1970 in Jock magazine. The author, Bill Conlin, died on Thursday. He was 79. Conlin was a legend in his native city who wrote elegantly and hilariously about Philadelphia sports in the days before he allowed himself to become a grouchy old fud. He spent the last decade of his career in a comical and occasionally knowing feud with the internet and modernity in general. In 2011, three women and a man alleged that Conlin had sexually assaulted them in their youth. Conlin, who had a series of grim exchanges with Deadspin's A.J. Daulerio the night before the story broke, immediately resigned from the Philadelphia Daily News. He was never charged, the statute of limitations having long since expired.


At the White House reception before the All-Star game, President Nixon shook the hand of a young black man, leaning forward in earnest conversation.

"You tell Richie Allen to get back on the job," the President told Philadelphia Phillies' lefthander Grant Jackson. "You tell him he's not going to get as good a job if he quits baseball. You tell Richie it's not for the good of the Phillies, or the good of the fans, but for the good of Richie Allen that he get back."

"I'll tell him, sir," said Grant Jackson. Later Jackson told some friends, "I didn't have the heart to tell him Richie was already back."

Apparently the sports ticker to Pennsylvania Avenue was running late. The day before, Philadelphia's prodigal son had been reinstated following a 26-day indefinite suspension Allen could have ended at any time with a phone call.

Although he is one of the most awesome power hitters in baseball, Richard Anthony Allen was not elected to the National League All-Star squad by his peers. In fact, when Philadelphia fans voted for their all-time team as part of baseball's 100th anniversary celebration, Allen couldn't even crack what was undoubtedly the least distinguished of all the lineups—save those representing the 1962 expansion clubs. He had been edged by Eddie Waitkus, a journeyman first baseman for the 1950 Phils.

"It's stupid," said Willie Mays, the black players' elder statesman. "How could Richie Allen not be on that team? He's the best hitter they've had since I've been around. None of those Whiz Kids on there could carry his bat."

Richie Allen, important enough in his game to attract the notice of the President, strong enough to hit a ball 550 feet, is also baseball's Number 1 Rebel, a title he holds unchallenged. Amid a growing crowd of athletes who attract more notice for grousing than playing, Allen emerged during the summer as the Sultan of Sulk.

At the end of a battle where there could be no winner, the Phillies were finally forced to wave a bloodied flag of surrender. After the National League play-off in October, Allen and two lesser players were traded to St. Louis for a surprisingly handsome package consisting of catcher Tim McCarver, centerfielder Curt Flood, reliever Joe Hoerner and reserve outfielder Byron Browne.

"You don't know how good it feels to get out of Philadelphia," Allen said in a parting salvo. "They treat you like cattle."

According to the droopy-lidded, pork-chop sideburned 27-year-old from the tiny western Pennsylvania town of Wampum, Philadelphia has hit new lows in the area of man's inhumanity to man. Some backlashing citizens not occupied with burning crosses on other lawns, Allen charges, used his for a drag strip, inflicting $1,500 damage on his merion bluegrass. Vigilantes fired BB's through windows of his expensive Germantown home. His young children were subject to constant static from other kids. Every supermarket trip was a hazardous adventure for his wife, Barbara. After Allen had credited the Almighty with giving him his ability to drive baseballs ungodly distances, the neighborhood Graffiti Squad painted "God Is Dead" on his garage door.

Allen reaped the whirlwind of an ungrateful city because he lacks the cool to live an exceptionally active nightlife anonymously. He never learned what it is precisely that separates an $85,000-a-year athletic celebrity from winos who can't crack print for less than a healthy felony. "I never wanted to be a superstar," Allen moans. "You guys are the ones who write that trash. The only way I'd be really happy playing ball is if they kept the fans and the press out of the ball park and just let us players play a good game of ball."

This childlike naïvete doomed Allen in a city that has always expected perfection from its handful of sports heroes. It is a demand forced on Phillies' fans, in particular, by decade after decade of towering failure, interrupted by two 20th-century pennants a generation apart. Allen is a man doing his thing in a fishbowl, without the cheery front of an Ernie Banks, the constant suspicion of a Bob Gibson or the wooden Say-Heyness of a Willie Mays. Fame, he learned, is even harder to handle than liquor.

"Everything I do is right out in the open," he says, a lamentable truth. When cornered, Allen invariably panics, then over-reacts with the petulance of a black Billy Budd. "Richie is a beautiful man," beams his friend, Orlando Cepeda. "He don't give a damn for nobody."

Twenty-seven days before President Nixon's appeal, Allen pulled the most bizarre caper of a six-year career pock-marked with incidents, fines and injuries. He failed to appear for the first game of a June 24 doubleheader in New York. Between games, manager Bob Skinner told the press his star was indefinitely suspended.

"The worst thing a player can do is miss games," Skinner said. "Allen is not bigger than baseball, and he'll be suspended until he convinces me he can obey the same rules as the other 24 players."

Allen trained for the New York vanishing act in the provinces, establishing a freestyle record by making the two-hour flight from Philly to St. Louis in a day and a half. Traffic, he said, forced him to miss the club's early morning flight. A ticket agent who sent him to the wrong gate botched on afternoon plane and Allen finally said the hell with it, arriving in the second inning of the second game of the series.

"I don't feature going so early in the morning," Allen said, casually peeling off his ruffled Edwardian threads. "They should have gone the night before. They don't have to be so cheap."

Skinner slapped Allen with a $1,000 fine. "We had a man-to-man talk, and I'm convinced this will not affect Riche Allen's desire to help the Phillies play winning baseball," the manager said.

For One Great Ballplayer, Philadelphia Was A Perpetual Traffic Jam

By the 1969 season, Allen knew precisely how far and how hard he could push the Phillies' front office. He had asked to be traded a dozen times. But here he was, still wearing the same hated uniform. It was a license to push a little harder. The Phillies are baseball's original John Quinn, the 60-year-old general manager, still wears suspenders and a belt—both under a vest. Even by the standards of the Boston of his boyhood, John Quinn would have been a square, a second-generation baseball man, whose sons are third-generation baseball men.

The owner, Robert R. M. Carpenter, Jr., is a DuPont scion, one of baseball's few remaining owners of independent wealth. He runs an archaic organization rampant with nepotism. At last count, one executive had seven relatives and in-laws on the club payroll. The ushers in decaying Connie Mack Stadium dress like charter bus drivers. The grounds crew needs only an armed guard to be mistaken for a Georgia prison gang. It is not a scene likely to engender loyalty in the breast of a 1969 athlete.

This is the club that paid Allen a $75,000 bonus in 1961, yet failed to protect him in the 1962 expansion draft. Neither the Mets nor Houston Colt .45s would part with $25,00 for Allen, due to his phenomenal strikeout rate and leaky glove at shortstop. But Allen advanced swiftly through the minors and was the National League Rookie of the Year in 1964, hammering 29 homers and averaging .317. Allen's brilliant rookie season was overshadowed by the most extraordinary collapse in baseball history. The fans were in a restive mood after the Phillies blew a 6 1/2 game lead with only a dozen to play, losing the pennant to St. Louis on the final day. It was the last peaceful season for Allen, who embarked the following year on the following spree of incidents:

July 3, 1965—Journeyman first baseman Frank Thomas calls Allen a "Black Muhammadan Son of a Bitch" during a batting practice needling session. Allen bloodies Thomas' lip, catches Frank's bat on his right shoulder. Thomas is waived to Houston. Allen is warned he faces $2,000 fine if he discusses incident with the press.

July 22, 1966—Manager Gene Mauch fines Allen "big" for curfew violation in San Francisco.

July 8, 1967—Unable to walk or talk a straight line, Allen is sent home before game by coach George Myatt. Mauch announces "late" fine, says Allen went home because he was too late to play.

July 19, 1967—"My car broke down," Allen says after another late fine.

Aug. 24, 1967—Allen slashes right hand and wrist pushing 1950 jalopy in rain. He has 40 homers when five-hour operation to repair severed tendons and nerves is performed. Doctors say his chances of baseball comeback are 50-50.

March 8, 1968—Allen leaves spring training without permission, is fined heavily on his return two days later.

April 30, 1968—Late for game in New York, Allen says he was stuck in heavy traffic. Mauch invokes fine, revokes permission for players to drive to New York games.

May 26, 1968—Mauch fines Allen for failure to hustle on bases. Rich shows up drunk the next night, is sent home by Myatt. Club says Allen is out with a groin injury.

June 9, 1968—What is now an open Allen sit-down strike peaks in San Francisco when Richie reclines on beach wearing mod sunglasses.

June 11, 1968—After a meeting with Carpenter, Allen says he's ready to play and was, indeed, ready to play all along. "Do you want me to call him a liar?" Mauch hisses. Four days later Mauch is fired.

Aug. 27, 1968—Bartender drops assault charges against Allen. Phillies fine him a day's pay for the "bad publicity."

It was a case of nickel-and-diming a player with fines who was willing to pay cash for his transgressions. "I've told 'em I expect to pay when I mess up," Allen says. "Let 'em put an envelope in my box, but don't call me in for no lectures."

The one thing Allen liked to do the first few years was play. The Phillies probably could have reached him better through a long rest on the bench. But Mauch, juggling desperately to keep the club in contention in '65 and '66, had to have Allen's 40-ounce warclub in the lineup. He was the only player who engendered the extremes of love and hate that spell "Box Office." Despite fading finishes, the Phillies drew more than a million fans to the old stadium in '65 and '66. Between Allen and Mauch, life was rarely dull.

After each Allen scrape, the front office invariably blundered. Even Mauch, who rarely admits error, confides that his handling of the Thomas brawl was amateurish. "The way it was handled brought the town down on Richie's head," Mauch said. "Thomas was going to go anyway. I should have shipped him sooner."

Allen's hatred for the Phillies flared from simmer to boil when Quinn tried to blackjack him into signing a conditional contract after his hand injury in 1967. "They showed me then the only concern they had for me was, could I swing the bat?" Allen said after forcing Carpenter to negotiate the settlement. "After that I decided I was going to be all for Dick." It was not an idle threat.

For One Great Ballplayer, Philadelphia Was A Perpetual Traffic Jam

Mauch was stormy and controversial. But after his firing in the wake of Allen's West Coast sit-down, the Little General became an overnight hero. The fickle fans did everything but bear their martyr off the field on his lineup card. While the fans blamed Allen for forcing Carpenter to choose between manager and star, the club sat silent, lacking the courage or class to tell the truth: that a decision to fire Mauch after the July All-Star game had been made weeks before.

These were the issues Philadelphians debated during 26 days Allen was underground.

"I was coming to the park," Allen related during his vacation. "But when I heard from a writer I was indefinitely suspended, I saw red. Hell, how can they suspend me until they hear my side of it? I could have been lying dead on some highway."

Allen tells a touching tale of solid traffic from Monmouth Race Track to the Lincoln Tunnel, his belief that the first game started at six instead of five o'clock. The drooping eyelids open wide for an instant. Rich hopes you are digging this.

It was the story of his unhappy life in Philadelphia. He was always, it seemed, stuck in a traffic jam, sitting helpless in a stalled auto, betrayed by the watch he never wears or a schedule he misread.

"This is a very misunderstood man," says Allen's personal man Friday, Clem Capozzoli, who doubles as his valet, chauffeur, club liaison man, accountant and chief apologist. "Rich is a very warm-hearted individual, who only wants to be judged for his baseball ability."

On July 3, Allen rose briefly. For $1,000, he agreed to appear on a "candid" television special with moderator Al Meltzer. He would have every opportunity to tell his side. It was a rambling, Rorschach Inkblot Test of a performance. Mostly, Allen voiced variations on the dominant theme of his recent life. People should leave him alone off the field. He didn't have to sign no autographs. He should be judged solely on his ability between the white lines. While Allen talked in great circles, one of the most unprofessional lineups in Phillies' history was lacing the Pirates for the team's ninth straight victory. Without Allen and three injured regulars, the Phils were enjoying their finest hour.

"Philadelphia will never forget what they did here," said Skinner, or words to that effect. Skinner would never forget July 20, either.

Carpenter called him to say Allen was ready to capitulate. "He's ready to come in and talk," the owner said. "Whether he's reinstated is up to you. He'll be in your office at nine o'clock."

There was no sparkle in Skinner's eyes when he faced a groggy gaggle of writers that historic Saturday, the day Neil Armstrong told fellow Earthlings, "Tranquility Base … Eagle has landed." It had also been a long day for the tall, 37-year-old former Marine who replaced Mauch.

"I must have gotten mixed up on the time," Skinner said. "I thought Richie was coming at nine. He got here about 11…. But look, I'm just glad the fella came in and we got this thing resolved."

In the dingy clubhouse, the historical significance of the occasion did not escape Allen's teammates. "This must be the greatest day in history," said second baseman Cookie Rojas. "The astronauts come down on the moon and Richie Allen comes down to earth."

The cost of Allen's vacation has been estimated at between $5,000 and $12,000, depending on how you interpret a financial arrangement that also fascinates the Internal Revenue Service and Allen's many creditors.

During the next month, Allen showed flashes of brilliance at bat and streaks of dog in the field. He celebrated his return to Connie Mack Stadium by flogging a single his first at-bat and blowing a kiss toward the small, but hostile crowd. "I heard somebody cheer," he told a Life reporter. Allen, who has developed a superb sense of slapstick timing, also knew a Life photographer was photographing all his public movements.

The same night, Richie punctuated his homecoming by moving his personal effects into a storage closet in the clubhouse vestibule. During a week of tragi-comic tug of war, Allen would move his uniform and gear into the closet and Skinner would have the clubhouse man move it back into his locker.

"The Great Man's moving out on us," said John Boozer, a pitcher. "Yeah, but when's he going to move Skinner's gear out here?" cracked reliever Dick Farrell.

A few nights later, Bowie Kuhn, the baseball commissioner, was sipping a drink in Quinn's rooftop box. The Phillies were honoring their all-time team between games of a doubleheader with the Giants.

Even from that height, there was no mistaking the huge "Oct. 2" Allen had printed in the dirt behind first base with his right foot, a symbol of his liberation from the Phillies. Quinn called National League President Warren Giles for a ruling. Giles told Quinn the pedograph was "inappropriate," and Quinn ordered the grounds crew to rake away the mutinous slogan.

The moving footprint having writ, moved on.

Aug. 7 was an open date for the club, but there was an aggravating exhibition scheduled in Reading with a Phillies' farm club. Players drifted into the clubhouse that afternoon, unaware the old order was changing in a conference room under the rightfield stands.

Skinner was facing a hastily called press conference, the beads of sweat shining in the television lights. The manager said he was resigning due to lack of support from the front office, "particularly in my handling of Richie Allen," he said. "Allen is a big factor in our losing, and there very definitely is disharmony on our club."

For 15 minutes, Skinner pinned Carpenter and Quinn to the ropes, charging fines had been returned to the slugger, "deals" had been made behind his back concerning Allen not making the Reading trip. Then, while the front office staff sat in semi-shock, Bob Skinner walked out on the worst summer he has ever had in baseball.

Carpenter read an 11-page prepared statement 17 days later, refuting Skinner's charges point by point, line by line, innuendo by innuendo.

"That's crap," said a veteran player, throwing down the transcript of Carpenter's statement. "There's not a player who's been on this club any length of time who doesn't know Allen's never been fined a cent. He gets paid different than the rest of us anyhow. He gets paid over 12 months instead of the season like the rest of us. Anything they take to make themselves look tough, he gets back in the next contract. And a lot of those fines never even made it as far as the treasurer's office."

Allen missed the bus to Reading. Clem the Baker said it was all his fault. Poor vision resulting from an operation for cataracts forced him to drive too slowly to get Allen to the bus on time.

"When Rich heard what Skinner said he broke down and cried," Clem said. "He knew he was gonna be the whipping boy again."

"He don't show me any guts quitting like that and laying it in my lap," Allen flared later. "He's got a team that's 21 games under .500, and it's all my fault." By that stage of August, Allen had missed nearly 40 games.

Quinn handled the interim managerial reins to George Myatt, and people wondered what the Phillies had against their loyal old organization man.

"Stud," Myatt said when he heard the good news, "I believe God Almighty hisself would have trouble handling Richie Allen."

Myatt gave God Almighty a helluva shot at the project by suspending curfew and most club rules for the duration of the season, taking the attitude that a club that drinks together wins together. Or something. By the end of the season, the Phillies had sunk another 14 games under .500, finishing with the 10th worst record in the league.

Allen refused to believe he was important enough to shake a baseball franchise to its foundations.

"What have I ever done that I wasn't willing to pay for?" Allen asks. "If I wanted to take some time off I was also willing to pay top rates. I've read the fine print of that contract and all it says I owe 'em in there is a hard game of ball. I've messed up a lot and I admit it, but I never done anything I didn't think I could afford."

The Phillies signed the veteran minor league manager, Frank Lucchesi, to a two-year contract in late September. Allen once served two minor league tricks under Lucchesi and views them dimly. "I dispute his claim that the fans mistreated him in Little Rock," said Lucchesi. "He was voted the club's most valuable player by fan vote. Do fans who hate a player give him a new suit?"

The day Allen played his last game in Connie Mack Stadium, he went 0-for-4 against the Mets. By the ninth inning he was coming on like a Death Row prisoner reprieved by the governor. After grounding out in the eighth, Rich shook hands with umpire Chris Pelekoudas. And when he gloved his last putout in the ninth, Rich first stopped and patted the base, then kissed his glove and slapped it on the grass. On the way to the dugout he waved contemptuously to the crowd.

Already, Quinn was studying feelers from four American League and three National League clubs. Allen was already well on his way to becoming a St. Louis problem.

Richard Anthony Allen, at 27, left behind in Philadelphia a deep well of bitterness. More than anything, though, Allen left a vast feeling of public frustration. His inhuman homers over distant signs, his grace and skill swinging that huge bat were all any fan expected from him in 1964. All he had to do was play that "hard game of ball." He could have been the game's first $200,000 player in a town begging for a hero.

The club forced him to take the rap for the Frank Thomas brawl and Gene Mauch's firing. Mauch divorced Allen from his teammates by creating a double standard of rules for his star. An antebellum general manager alienated Allen with his crude negotiation techniques. He turned to booze whenever the walls began closing in. And when pressed, his first reaction invariably compounded the problem until finally nothing was left of the 1964 Rookie of the Year but the explosive bat that will swing for Red Schoendienst next season.

Sorry about that, Mr. President.


You can find more of Conlin's work in his collection, Batting Cleanup, Bill Conlin.