CHICAGO | His memory is kind of clouded due to age and the passage of nearly four decades. Situations and sequences were recalled out of order.
Yet the feeling emoted by Dick Allen in the start of his long-delayed White Sox homecoming Monday was razor-sharp.
“I always wanted to be a Dodger because of Jackie Robinson,” said one of the most legendary figures in South Side baseball history.
Teaming with Pied Piper-like announcer Harry Caray, Allen's American League Most Valuable Player season in 1972 cemented the Sox’s standing in town after they almost moved to Milwaukee three years earlier.
“But this is where my baseball career should have started for me.”
Allen is the guest of honor as the Sox mark the 40th anniversary of a season in which the underdogs nearly stole a division title from the Oakland Athletics. The Sox are wearing replicas of the same red pinstriped uniforms Allen and Co. wore in in '72 season for every Sunday home game.
After an official absence of 38 years since he literally quit the Sox in mid-September, he reminisced at a U.S. Cellular Field press conference held by the Chicago Baseball Museum. On June 24, the Sox will honor him with a special day at The Cell. The next night in the ballpark’s Stadium Club, a special tribute dinner will be held for Allen and the ’72 Sox.
Allen was amazed by the size of a media contingent far larger than the cozy group of writers and radio reporters who covered his often-controversial Sox tenure from 1972-74.
“Look what we have here,” Allen said. “This is more than we drew in Philly.”
One throwback to '72 is the large aviator-style glasses he still wears. A replica of the famous 1972 Sports Illustrated cover of Allen juggling several baseballs while a cigarette dangled from his mouth hung by his game-worn uniform from that season in a memorabilia display. Also on hand were ’72 American League Championship Series Sox tickets the team never ended up selling.
Memories of Allen revolve around his most memorable of the 37 homers that set a Sox team record in ’72.
Best of the best was his three-run pinch homer with two out in the ninth off Yankees relief ace Sparky Lyle to pull out the second game of a doubleheader 5-4. The twin bill at old Comiskey Park drew 51,904. Allen had been given the nightcap off and was undressed in the clubhouse. Quickly summoned by manager Chuck Tanner to pinch hit, Allen put on pants and a shirt, but dribbled chili from a hot dog onto his top and had to change again.
On Aug. 23, also against the Yankees at home, Allen blasted a Lindy McDaniel pitch nearly 500 feet to the faraway center-field bleachers where Caray, who broadcast some day games from the bleachers, waved at the ball with his famed fishnet.
But the Sox were short a key hitter. Third baseman Bill Melton missed the second half of ’72 with back problems.
“If we had had him, we would have had a chance to turn those (unused playoff) tickets into reality,” Allen said.