Steve Dale is joined by John Owens, Co-Author of Chili Dog MVP: Dick Allen, The 1972 White Sox and A Transforming Chicago. John shares details about the process of interviewing previous White Sox players as part of the research for this book; the changes the team and city have gone through over the years, and more. Order a copy today!
Hot off the presses! Watch this video review of Chili Dog MVP: Dick Allen, the ’72 White Sox and A Transforming Chicago from Kurt Bergland, whose channel provides weekly baseball book reviews!
It was almost 20 years ago that I wrote a Tribune magazine cover story titled “Does Baseball Still Matter?” No doubt it does to some, and so you folks enjoy whatever this season brings. But I guarantee that the most excitement you’ll find — short of a World Series win on either side of town — is in the 400-some pages of “Chili Dog MVP: Dick Allen, the ‘72 White Sox and a Transforming Chicago” from publisher Eckhartz Press.
This is a wonder of a book, giving long-overdue justice to the title player, who electrified the team and its fans and the city for an all-too-brief time. Allen was only here for three seasons in a 15-year career that also included seven selections as an All-Star and the 1964 National League Rookie of the Year award.
But in 1972 he electrified. Here are some of the gaudy statistics: .308 batting average, 37 home runs, 113 runs batted in, .603 slugging percentage and 1.023 on-base plus slugging.
Those MVP accomplishments compelled Hall of Fame pitcher and former teammate, pitcher Richard “Goose” Gossage to write in the book’s touching foreword, “Dick Allen was the greatest player I ever had the privilege of playing with.” He calls Allen’s 1972 season “the best year of any baseball player I have ever seen in my 22-year major league career.”
Naturally, Allen is the centerpiece of this compelling and wildly enjoyable book, which is also an ambitious and clear-eyed look at the city in all its racial troubles, societal peculiarities, and messy political and media landscapes.
WLIS/WMRD Richard Kamins’ Baseball Talk Feb 27, 2022, featuring authors Dr. David Fletcher and John Owens talking about their new book “Chili Dog MVP: Dick Allen, The 1972 White Sox and A Transforming Chicago”. Listen to the show:
TSC News TV host Fred Richani interviews Dr. David J. Fletcher and baseball journalist John Owens about their new book chronicling legendary player Dick Allen’s magical run with the Chicago White Sox.
We discuss Allen’s impact, how he literally saved the White Sox from relocation, and why the “Michael Jordan Before Michael Jordan” is still not enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Editor’s note: The late Les Grobstein in his wanderings about Chicago sports was a witness to Dick Allen’s 1972-74 White Sox feats, and talked about that era on his popular overnight radio show on AM 670-The Score. Here is a memoir of Les’ impact on fans and radio…
Les Grobstein already was a legend in his travels when he agreed to co-host my syndicated “Diamond Gems” baseball radio show in 2003 after predecessor Red Mottlow had passed away at 76 from a brain tumor.
As the story goes, one seemingly impossible trip had The Grobber finishing his all-night show on The Score AM 670 at dawn Friday, then hopping a plane to Seattle to cover the White Sox-Mariners American League Division Series Game 3 scheduled for 3 p.m. Central Time. When the Sox lost, The Grobber simply turned around on the longest Lower-48 States flight to Chicago and returned home. The next afternoon, he supposedly was in attendance as usual at a Northwestern home football game.
Another all-nighter on radio, then a round-trip to a Cubs-Cardinals game in St. Louis, were also endurance feats to Grobstein’s credit.
“He lived the life that he wanted to live,” said Mark Grote, Grobstein’s Score teammate, former Cubs radio pre-and-post-game host and Frank Gorshin-like imitator of Les and Sweet Lou Piniella.
“What might’ve appeared chaotic to you and me was bliss for him,” Grote said. “He never lost his youthful exuberance, and fierce loyalty as it pertains to sports, even as he often was on the front lines for some of the biggest games in sports history.”
Recognizing Grobstein’s ability to conduct his sleepless travels, I concocted the proper introduction at the start of each show in which Les occupied the second chair. The intro went something like this: “And now here is our co-host, a man who tries to be in two places at once, who must keep moving like a shark to survive, who was born 300 years too early for a Star Trek transporter…Les Grobstein.”
Dozens of attempts at describing The Grobber had been attempted in the days after his body was discovered Jan. 16 at his home in northwest suburban Elk Grove Village, far too young to go at 69. Something went terribly awry – Les had called in sick four days earlier, unable to do his midnight to 5 a.m. talk show on The Score AM 670.
Like other Score hosts, Grobstein had done his show from home during the pandemic. His mindset was reporting to work at 50%, as long as he could talk and think. But not going on the air now from the comfort of home and apparently declining friends’ urging to visit the emergency room was pretty serious.
In 1972, the White Sox needed a superhero to save the franchise.
Anyone familiar with the Sports Illustrated cover showing him juggling baseballs, a cigarette jutting from his mouth, knows that Dick Allen was born for the role.
“He was Michael Jordan before Michael Jordan,” said David J. Fletcher, co-author with John Owens of “Chili Dog MVP: Dick Allen, the ’72 White Sox and a Transforming Chicago,” edited by Chicago Baseball Museum historian George Castle.
The book takes its title from one of Allen’s signature 1972 moments when Manager Chuck Tanner called on him to pinch-hit in the nightcap against the Yankees. Allen, who was in the clubhouse eating a chili dog, put on a new shirt, donned his uniform bottom with no underwear, stepped up to the plate and hit a walk-off homer.
But Fletcher and Owens show that Allen wasn’t the only hero who salvaged baseball on the South Side.
The cast of heroes included owner John Allyn, who blocked his brother and co-owner Arthur Allyn from selling the team to a Bud Selig-led group that would have moved it to Milwaukee.
The list also included Roland Hemond, Sox director of player personnel, Tanner, pitching coach Johnny Sain, announcer Harry Caray and organist Nancy Faust.
“They saved an important civic institution that was going to leave Chicago,” Fletcher said. “If it wasn’t for this group of people, there wouldn’t be any Chicago White Sox.”
All are important characters in the book penned by Fletcher, a physician and Glenbard West High School graduate who rode CTA trains to get to Sox Park to see his idol, and continued to follow the team when he went to medical school; and Owens, a South Sider who graduated from the same school where Mayor Daley senior and junior matriculated, De La Salle Institute.
Fletcher and Owens teamed to write a comprehensive history of the 1972 team — led by AL MVP Allen — that nearly captured the AL West flag and won back the hearts of a fandom that had seemingly abandoned the franchise.
“I was very fortunate that I got to develop a relationship with somebody who was a hero to me,” said Fletcher, who came to know Allen and his family.
He was with the family at the Hilton Bonnet Creek Hotel in Orlando, Fla., for the Dec. 5 watch party when Allen’s Hall of Fame fate was decided.
The result was a gut punch for the gathering. As he did in 2014, Allen fell short by one vote. “It was sort of like a campaign event where you suddenly find out your candidate loses,” Fletcher said.
Though he only played two years with the Chicago White Sox, baseball great Dick Allen made an unforgettable mark on Chicago sports. Authors John Owens and Dr. David Fletcher join John Landecker to look at not only Allen’s career but the city itself in a time of change.
The new book tells the story not just of the Sox’s Dick Allen, but of Chicago in the late 1960s and early ’70s.
Dick Allen kept the White Sox in Chicago. That’s the argument authors John Owens and David J. Fletcher make in their new book, Chili Dog MVP: Dick Allen, the ’72 White Sox and a Transforming Chicago. By the late 1960s, the Sox already had one foot out of the city: they were playing 10 games a year in Milwaukee, and Bud Selig had made an offer to buy the team and move them 90 miles north permanently. The Sox acquired Allen in a trade from the Dodgers before the 1972 season, offering him a $140,000 a year contract — a quarter of their payroll. Allen rewarded his new team with an MVP season that renewed interest in baseball on the South Side. This month, Allen came up one vote short of election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame by the Golden Era Committee. That’s an overdue honor, say the authors.
So Dick Allen, what’s the importance of him and ultimately turning things around for the White Sox? Do you think he played a role in keeping the team in Chicago?
Owens: He definitely did, because he energized the fan base and brought the fan base back. They only drew for 475,000 in ’70. Dick was a superstar. He was arguably the best player in baseball at that time. The stats prove it. If you look at sabermetrics and modern stats, from 1964 to 1974, there was no better player in baseball. He was a gate attraction because of who he was. He was an iconoclast, he was portrayed as a rebel — and he was for baseball, because he knew his self-worth. He bargained for his salary. Held out for what he was worth every year. So he was resented for that and for other things. But he was Michael Jordan in Chicago before Michael Jordan.
How did Allen bond with the fan base? What was his impact?
Owens: He was a great five-tool player, so he was appointment viewing. You had to be in your seat when he was at bat, because something good was going to happen, something that you’ve never seen. Yeah, he’s a normal-sized man. He was only like 5’11”, maybe 180, 190, but he swung a 40-ounce bat, and he was just a true threat. In addition to his talent is that he was the epitome of cool. I was 7 years old when he was traded to the Sox in ’72, so as a Black child growing up on the South Side, he especially had significance for me, because he was so cool. He dressed like Superfly.
Fletcher: It energized the fan base, especially the mystery because he held out in spring training. And then the first game out in Kansas City was on April 15, the anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s debut, he hits a frickin’ home run in the top of the ninth against the Royals. Unfortunately, they lost in extra innings. In the beginning, the White Sox had a terrific home record. Comiskey Park was the place to be. It just brought energy and hope to the fans. He also had a great surrounding cast. He was the star attraction, but Carlos May, he was the second leading hitter on the team that year. He almost won the American batting crown against Rod Carew. You had Bill Melton, Wilbur Wood, Terry Forster, you know, “the fat tub of goo”?
But it’s not just a baseball book. It’s a book about Chicago and about plantation politics and Jesse Jackson and what happened in the aftermath of the Fred Hampton murder, what changed in Chicago, and we really weave that in the story about the Crosstown Freeway, the Democratic Convention in ’72, just the changing of the guard. That’s what makes it a Chicago story. Dick came out of nowhere. We needed a hero like him to energize the fan base. Suddenly, the Sox were relevant. People were coming to Comiskey Park. They had a young, exciting team. They almost won it in ’72. They started out great in ’73. But unfortunately, Dick broke his leg in June of 1973, and he never really recovered from that injury.
Sports Edition and Chicago White Sox fan Kenny McReynolds interviews “Chili Dog MVP” Author John Owens and Sox player Carlos May about Dick Allen and the 1972 Season Chicago White Sox and the Chili Dog Game.