In 1958, Little Rock closed its schools rather than allow another year of Black students attending school with Whites. This racist action reflected a deep-seated white supremacist ideology that permeated Arkansas politics and society. Even after educational integration resumed, the white ruling class continued to bar Black Arkansans from living in certain towns and neighborhoods, drinking from the same water fountains, or partaking in many rights, privileges, and amenities enjoyed by White citizens.
Dick Allen Life: The First Traveler
So when the Philadelphia Phillies sent the first Black player to their AAA affiliate in Little Rock, the reaction was not surprising. As the Travelers prepared to take the field, he was met with open hostility. The segregationist governor who tried to use armed force to prevent Central High’s integration threw the first pitch. A nearly all-white audience of 7,000 mercilessly heckled. Racist militants marched outside Ray Winder Field hurling racist slurs.
This was Dick Allen’s introduction to high-level professional baseball. As he would later admit, the Pennsylvanian missed the first ball hit to him while fearing the mob. He quickly recovered with two doubles and what turned out to be the game-winning hit. Allen persevered throughout the season and he slashed .289/.341/.550 and set a righty franchise record with 33 homers. His efforts were even recognized officially by Travelers fans, who voted him the team’s most valuable player.
Dick Allen Life: Major League Success
Escaping Little Rock proved to be only a marginal improvement. The local media would not even call Allen by his preferred name of Dick, instead, they referred to him as Richie. The press also took the side of Frank Thomas after the two scuffled following allegedly racist remarks by the utility man. The notorious Phillies fans accosted Allen not only verbally with racist epithets, but also physically with fruit, ice, garbage, and batteries.
Of course, Dick Allen and went on to have an immensely successful major league career. Just narrowly missing the Hall of Fame (and Golden Hall), the Wampum Walloper posted very respectable numbers, especially during his years as a third baseman. Getting the negative out of the way, he occasionally swung with abandon and led the National League in strikeouts twice. Allen could show patience and led the league in walks once during his career. He finished first in OPS four times, home runs twice, and triples once. He even earned MVP votes in seven different seasons, despite the frequent animosity shown to him by the press.
Dick Allen Life: An American Hero
Dick Allen’s story is one for the history books. His life has all the elements to make a compelling movie and serve as an inspiration to all. Through hard work and determination (and the loving support of his family), he overcame institutional and societal obstacles to achieve success. Encountering discrimination, insult, and threats of violence in the segregationist Deep South and the sometimes hostile Northeast, Richard Anthony “Dick" Allen persevered.
He even thrived with a momentous baseball career and a worthwhile musical one (seriously, check out his discography). May his story be an inspiration and his memory a blessing.
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