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.