Former slugger Allen hits home run at race track

Jan 18, 2005 6:50 AM

If Dick Allen isn’t the best player not in the Hall of Fame, he’s certainly one of them.

Consider this: during his playing days, from 1963 to 1977, he batted .292 to rank among contemporaries Rod Carew, Roberto Clemente and Pete Rose; had a .534 slugging percentage, second to Hank Aaron’s .542; trailed only the likes of Aaron, Willie McCovey, Willie Stargell, Harmon Killebrew and Billy Williams in home runs; and ranked behind Aaron, Stargell, Williams, Carl Yastrzemski and McCovey in RBIs. He hit 10 walk-off home runs, placing him behind Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial, Frank Robinson and Tony Perez.

Over his career, at various points Allen led the league in on-base percentage, home runs, triples, runs scored, RBIs, total bases, slugging, extra base hits and walks. Twice he stole enough bases to finish in the top 10. In 1972 with the White Sox, he led the American League in every power category: home runs (37), RBIs (113) and slugging (.603). His .308 batting average was third-best. He stole 19 bases and led the league with 99 walks and 70 extra-base hits.

Allen was National League Rookie of the Year in 1964 with the Phillies, who blew a 6 ½ game lead with 12 to play that year to indelibly inscribe their name in baseball infamy. He led the American League in home runs and slugging with the White Sox in 1974, despite going AWOL in September to return to his ranch and tend to his horses.

Ah, his horses. They have always been Allen’s passion, which is why he spends much of his leisure time these days at Santa Anita, where on any given morning he can be seen conversing with his cronies.

As a player, Allen was once described as "Dennis Rodman before it was cool." His attitude may have unjustly kept him out of the Hall of Fame, but he clearly is in his element on the backstretch of a race track, where he could not be more gracious, candid and accommodating.

When it comes to baseball and horses, Allen is old school. He loves each game in its fundamental form, pure and plain.

Despite baseball’s recent announcement of a more stringent policy on the game’s drug abusers, all this stink about steroids aiding players is much ado about nothing, in the eyes of Allen, who used his great vision to slug his way to fame with 351 career home runs. Drugs don’t make players better, but they do threaten their health, if not during their careers, then when their playing days are over. Lyle Alzado and Ken Caminiti come to mind.

"I’m from down on the field between the lines and most of the controversy comes from outside the lines," said Allen, who will be 63 on March 8. He was referring to the media.

"Whatever it is players are taking, I don’t feel it helps enhance the hand/eye coordination. You still have to put the bat on the ball. The stuff they’re taking may be the best thing for young athletes today but the minute their careers are over, how taxing is that on their body and which direction does their body go after they’re done? That’s most important."

The fates were not kind to admitted steroid users Alzado and Caminiti, both of whom died at an early age after their playing days were over.

"Their deaths spoke volumes about the issue," Allen said. "I’m wondering what guys like us would have done if that stuff was around when we played. I might have partaken, but I doubt it," he said, laughing. "Seriously, I think it must end for the benefit of their health after the game is over. It’s got to be cleaned up for the younger athletes coming on after the present ones.

"That’s why I hold Jackie Robinson and his generation of players in such high esteem, because none of these things were around at that time and look how many games they played. Mickey Mantle played most of his career in great pain. So those kinds of things weren’t really needed back then."

It’s a different ball game today. Players are twice the size of those 20 years ago and assuming the reason is primarily due to designer drugs, Allen is inclined to dismiss that aspect and point to the ink-stained wretches for making a mountain out of a mole hill, even though he recognizes potentially harmful ramifications down the road.

"The drug issue should be addressed but I don’t think it enhances anything," Allen said. "Contemporary ball parks are smaller and of different dimensions, too. But like I say, controversy takes two sides and it usually develops outside the lines."

The homestretch

Fusaichi Samurai, the best horse ever to run only one race, worked four furlongs Saturday in 49 seconds. The $4.5 million colt and Kentucky Derby Future Book favorite is likely to make his next start in an allowance race if trainer Neil (The Sphinx) Drysdale can find the right spot.

”¡ The Eclipse Award winners will be announced on Monday. If I had a vote, here’s who I’d select: 2-year-old male, Declan’s Moon; 2-year-old female, Sweet Catomine; 3-year-old male, Smarty Jones; 3-year-old female, Ashado; older male, Ghostzapper; older female, Azeri; sprinter, Pico Central; male turf horse, Kitten’s Joy; female turf horse, Ouija Board; steeplechase, McDynamo; owner, Stronach Stables; breeders, Stronach Stables; trainer, Todd Pletcher; jockey, John Velazquez; and apprentice, Brian Hernandez Jr. Unfortunately, Speightstown probably will edge out Pico Central in the Sprint.

”¡ This just in: Fox is planning a new pilot based on parents raising a bunch of obnoxious kids. It’s called "Growing Up Snotty."