Chili Dog MVP Book Excerpts

Chapter 12: July 24, 1972 — Dick Allen, All-Star

The Sox Supporters in left field urge Dick Allen to hit another one out, "Strike it RICH!" between innings.
The Sox Supporters in left field urge Dick Allen to hit another one out, “Strike it RICH!” between innings.

Carlos May’s homer was his second of the game, keeping the Sox within striking distance of Oakland at 6½ games out. But despite the heroics of his teammates, Dick Allen was the man the crowd of 35,206 came to see on that sweltering afternoon. The Chicago Tribune’s Bob Logan, who covered that game, noticed an almost rapturous Comiskey Park response to the mysterious slugger:

“To tell the truth…the impact of Dick Allen’s superstar charisma on the crowd was the most striking event of the long afternoon. Visible tremors of excitement swept thru the place while the slugger homered off Gaylord Perry to tie the first game… And when he strode from the dugout to pinch hit in the after piece, the transformation of a hitherto dull affair was complete. The turned-on remnants of the throng stayed that way until May sent them home happy only moments later.”

Dick started at first base in the ‘72 All-Star Game at Atlanta’s Fulton County Stadium, after leading all American League players with 1,092,758 votes. And although his actual 0-for-3 appearance in the game was anti-climactic, it was proof of Allen’s incredible popularity, especially in Chicago. He captured the city’s imagination in a way no other athlete had in the recent past — especially an African American athlete. During the All-Star telecast, NBC replayed his “Chili Dog” homer, certainly the most dramatic clout in the American League at that point in the season.

Dick Allen swinging his heavy lumber. Photo credit Leo Bauby
Dick Allen swinging his heavy lumber. Photo credit Leo Bauby

White Sox superstars

Chicago’s sports teams primarily featured non-controversial superstars, most of whom had long tenures with their organizations. The Cubs had media-friendly stars like Banks, Santo and Williams and, before them, popular sluggers like Hank Sauer and Andy Pafko. The National Football League’s Chicago Bears had established stars like Gale Sayers, Dick Butkus and Mike Ditka. The National Hockey League’s Chicago Blackhawks featured “Golden Jet” Bobby Hull’s electricity on the ice and outwardly friendly demeanor on dry land, complementing multiple “Lady Byng” Trophy winner, durable Stan Mikita. The National Basketball Association’s expansion team from 1966, the Chicago Bulls, had workmanlike stars like Jerry Sloan and Chet Walker. Even the Chicago Cardinals — Comiskey Park’s NFL football team until it moved to St. Louis in 1960 — had relatively conservative stars like Ollie Matson and Dick “Night Train” Lane.

As for the Chicago White Sox, they had been known in the 1950s and 1960s for their first-rate pitching (Pierce, Peters, Horlen, Wynn, John, Wood and many others) and solid, bland everyday players who manufactured runs under managers Al Lopez and Eddie Stanky. The team’s home run record of 33 was set by Melton in 1970 and matched the following season to lead the AL. Its flashiest offensive player in the last 20 years had been the exciting five-tool player Minnie Minoso, Chicago’s first Black major league player. Minoso was never seen as controversial, and as a Cuban-born player who spoke limited English, he was often reduced to a crude stereotype in contemporary media coverage.

Dick Allen shows his raw power in the middle of his swing. Photo credit Leo Bauby.
Dick Allen shows his raw power in the middle of his swing. Photo credit Leo Bauby.

But this new star was different. On the field, he was instantly recognizable, wearing his batting helmet at all times and a long-sleeved red sweatshirt underneath his red-pinstriped uniform. He looked strong and forbidding.

“We had 8:00 games and like I said he would get there at 7:00 and put on his long draws and no matter how hot it was, he always had that long-sleeved sweatshirt on,” May recalled.

Allen’s 40-ounce bat: “… catch it … or get killed.”

When he was at the plate, Dick was a menacing presence, shifting his feet, set up in a slight crouch, with his 40-ounce bat twisted towards the pitcher, then uncoiling the heavy weapon as he swung at a pitch. When he connected, he often thrilled the crowd with line drives hit with authority.

“They announced Dick Allen, and you’d hear ‘Oooh!’ from everybody in the stadium,” said future Sox star Ron Kittle, who went to many games in 1972 as a teenager. “I’ve never seen anyone hit balls as hard as him. It was either they catch it, or they get killed. That’s how hard he used to hit the ball.”