Hall of Fame Debate - What Might Have Been
In 1964 baseball was blessed with two rookies that were as talented as any other two players already in the league. Keep in mind, we're talking about the 1960's. Already tearing up the league were the likes of Aaron, Mays, Mantle and Clemente.
I'm talking about Tony Oliva and Dick Allen, two of the most natural baseball talents to ever play the game. Both were rookie of the year for their league that year, and a case could be made for them winning the MVP as well.
Oliva won the batting title his rookie year, a feat he would repeat in his second season. Who does that? Plus he led the league in hits his first 3 years. A natural hitter who came over from Cuba to play baseball, he was called the AL version of Roberto Clemente during his playing years. Oliva would go on to win another batting title and lead the league in hits 2 more times. Why didn't he have a HOF career? Knees. He had two bad knees that by 1972 had basically decimated his ability to run anymore. He tried being a DH for 3 years, but the results were less than flattering as he could barely run the bases when he did get hits. He finished with a .304 lifetime average. We can only wonder what might have been. I think 3000 hits and couple of more batting titles would have been certainly possible.
Next is Dick Allen, who is close to my heart because of growing up a Phillies fan. Allen was known for not taking batting practice and also for slugging monstrous home runs at old Connie Mack stadium. People still talk about his rockets out of the park. My first game ever he hit one that sailed clear out of the stadium. In Allen's rookie year, he almost led the Phils to the pennant. He hit .318, scored 125 runs, 38 doubles, 13 triples and 29 HR. Two years later he would hit 40 HR and hit .317. He was one of the most feared sluggers in baseball by this time. What went wrong?
It was nothing physical with Dick, all mental. According to Dick himself in his interview with Bob Costas on the MLB channel, it started with his time in Arkansas in the minor leagues. Allen, being from Pennsylvania, had not known the kind of deep racism the South was known for at the time. He found out fast in Arkansas where he was called every racist term you could think of and he also wasn't allowed to sleep or eat with the white players. Then he was brought up up Philadelphia which was not known as a black friendly town. In fact, they were the last NL team to sign a black player. He and the town developed an attitude with each other which forced the team to trade him after the 1969 season.
Allen would be traded 2 more times in the next 2 seasons, mostly for being difficult to get along with. In 1972 he came very close to winning a triple crown, just missing the batting title after leading the league in HR and RBI. Even after that, he was traded 2 seasons later back to the Phillies. He would never be the same and so a HOF career was missed. When you hear Dick Allen talk now, even he wishes he could do it over and see how good he could have been.