In the first of a two-part series of excerpts of George Castle's newest book "When The Game Changed", the best of the best is recalled -- Dick Allen of the White Sox. Although his controversial South Side career was short by his own choosing, he probably was the majors' best all-around player during that time. Allen won the American League MVP award in 1972 as a Sox. Then-Sox third baseman Bill Melton and manager Chuck Tanner provide their own oral history of Allen.
BILL MELTON: "Overall, an outstanding teammate, a good guy, a very funny guy, a very bright guy.
"It was his MO (skipping batting practice). If the game started at 7:30, he got there a quarter to 7, 7 o'clock. He never took batting practice. When he did get there an hour early, he always liked to take ground balls at second base, shortstop, any place but first base. He actually had terrific hands. This guy was a terrific first baseman.
"So many things came natural to him. He liked coming into the clubhouse (within an hour of the first pitch), jump around the middle of the floor and did a little shadow boxing with Pat Kelly. He'd take that big cape of his off like Superman, hang it in his locker, put on his uniform and grabbed his bat. We were like, hey the game's not that easy. He made it easy. That was his ritual. Some guys get to the ballpark at 1 o'clock and lift weights. For Dick Allen, it was all about when the game started ‘till when it was ended. That's what mattered to him the most.
"He was the best player I played with and against. He had exceptional speed and was an outstanding baserunner. I actually saw him hit left-handed, hitting home runs, in the only time he took batting practice. He walked out onto the field one day and started hitting left handed. We almost fell over that he was hitting the ball as hard left-handed as right-handed.
"A lot of the times you could see him rounding third, I'd get behind home plate signaling him to slide. He'd turn around to look at the outfielder. As soon as the ball was let go, he put on the after-burners. Everything was natural."
CHUCK TANNER: "By far, he was the best player (in the American League). He's a Hall of Famer. He carried us on his back (in 1972). We almost beat the great Oakland A's that year. He was like being a manager on the field. He took care of the young kids, not only on the field, but in the clubhouse. We had a lot of kids like Bucky Dent, Brian Downing, Jorge Orta, Terry Forster and Goose Gossage.
"I don't know why (Allen is not in the Hall). He's the best player I ever managed, that carried the team by himself.
"Nobody had to take batting practice if they could hit like him. (Bleep), he used to sit in the dugout with a bat and not take it. Before 9 o'clock at night, he hit more home runs than anyone in baseball. I talked to him all the time. He said, ‘Y'know, this batting practice, you got guys throwing 40 mph, it throws my timing off.' I said I don't care if you do. I witnessed him hitting left-handed in BP.
"I just treated him like anyone else, like an individual. My rules were this: I have one for every one on the team, whatever I wanted it to be. I didn't allow Terry Forster to go to a bar when he was 19. I kicked his ass and sent him to his room. If you were 30 like Wilbur Wood or Joel Horlen, you could (go to) a bar and I'll have one with you."
(Tomorrow: Memories of Mike Schmidt, the greatest Cubs killer of all time).