The Challenge of Being Dick Allen

The Philadelphia Phillies’ slugger’s death yesterday (okay, he also played for the Dodgers, Cardinals, White Sox, and Athletics) brought back a lot of memories from boyhood when Allen was this author’s favorite (and adored) athlete. Bruce Kuklick’s wonderful book on the stadium where Allen started his career, To Everything a Season: Shibe Park and Urban Philadelphia, 1909-1976, is particularly useful for putting Allen’s troubled career — not to mention Philadelphia’s racism — in perspective:

In Philadelphia in 1964, fans held a Richie Allen Night at the end of September. The National League later designated him Rookie of the Year. He batted .318 and hit twenty-nine homeruns. Allen drew fans to the stadium. Part of his appeal was his power. Everyone who went to Connie Mack Stadium in the sixties had a story about a shot fired off the right-center field scoreboard or, even better, an Allen home run, “those blasts,” said one fan, “disappearing – still on a rising trajectory – into steaming North Philadelphia summer nights.” one nonfan had been taken to the park once during the sixties and remembered only driving through “rundown slums . . . with worn out people out on their steps trying to beat the August heat” and “a home run by Richie Allen.” A fan who regularly went to opening nights reminisced about “Philadelphians booing Jim Tate [Democratic mayor] when he threw out the first ball, and “rockets by Richie Allen.” On at least three occasions he hit shots over the wall in dead center field, between 410 and 450 feet from home plate. Old-timers remembered that only Jimmie Foxx, a mythic figure by the 1960s, had equally crushed the ball. Allen was, one fan wrote, a “uniquely fearsome” batter. Twenty-five years later, Allen said, people would still recall to him their memories of home runs he hit over the Coke and Cadillac signs on the part’s left-center field roof. The sight of Number 15 digging in at the plate brought a surge of excitement to Philadelphia crowds, who stayed in the park until his last at bat, no matter what the score.

Some writers attributed the Phillies collapse after the 1964 riot [in August] to a dark unease that overtook Allen, the effect on him of the widespread tension and his emerging racial consciousness. A native of a small town that had a tiny black community, he claimed not to have known bigotry until he got into organized baseball. In fact, before Carpenter [Phillies’ owner] brought him up to the Phillies, Allen spent 1963 in the minors in Little Rock, Arkansas. There, where southern whites ridiculed him, he broke the sports color line. The essential thing, Allen said, was that “I came here black . . . [and] militant.” No crisis occurred, however, until the next year, 1965. That July Frank Thomas, an outfielder known as “the Big Donkey” because he said the wrong things to the wrong people, fought with Allen during batting practice. Thomas made racial slurs, Allen swung, and Thomas hit him with a bat. Five hours later the Phillies placed Thomas on waivers and ordered Allen not to discuss the incident, although it crystallized his own anger about his problems as a black baseball star. Many white fans responded negatively to Thomas’s dismissal. More and more of them delighted in jeering Allen. Some of the hostility was explicitly racial: “Nigger! Go back to South Street with the monkeys.” Allen certainly thought that “racial prejudice and segregation” caused his troubles with the patrons.

Yet matters were more complex. Carpenter later adamantly asserted that although Allen as “pro black” he was not “a militant.” And the extensive public record does not show that civil rights, the political protests of the 1960s, or social principle preoccupied Allen. Rather, he bought some racehorses and developed a love for the track, where he sometimes went, in expensive and exaggerated clothing, instead of to his job. By the late 1960s Allen was periodically and predictably late for games. He got into a celebrated barroom fight in 1967. Sometimes he came to the park drunk or did not come at all.

Allen became a star just before the unheroic side of ballplayers became common knowledge. Some of his antics did not differ from the activities of less notorious white players. Still, the need to hide his fears and insecurities drove Allen to destructive excess. I was labeled an outlaw,” he said, “and after a while that’s what I became.” (157, 159-160)

This wrinkle in my youth may be the source of some later irregularities in the pursuit of holiness and being human.

Did He Read Religious Affections Too Many Times?

Tim Challies explains the come-to-Calvinism moment for the young and restless when John Piper spoke:

So why and how has Piper caught the attention of this generation? I think we can sum it up in one word: authenticity. The college students attending those early Passion conferences, they’re a mix. They’re the last of Gen-X and the very first of the Millenials. A generation that, above all, values authenticity. This rising generation wants genuine, authentic faith and they’ve grown weary of preachers who water down their messages in a desperate attempt to be relevant. In Piper, that rising generation has found their authentic preacher. They’ve found someone who really, really believes what he’s saying and who is not going to pander to them in any way at all. And they honor that. They can’t listen to Piper and be unaffected by his passion. From his unglamorous clothes to his sweeping hand gestures to his dramatic facial expressions, to his booming voice. Students know that Piper truly sees the glory of God and just can’t help but declare it. Even if they don’t know what they believe, they sure know what he believes. And it is contagious. His authenticity is the bridge to his theology. Students are first drawn by his authentic passion, then they’re captivated by his view of God. So when Piper takes the stage toward the end of that rainy day at the conference, hundreds of young people have made sure to shuffle back from the porta potties to their seats. They’re now leaning forward expectantly. They’re ready to hear his passion again. But even they could not have expected what happened next.

Has he not ever seen actors play roles authentically? Since when is passion a mark of being genuine? And why would anyone think they know — I mean epistemologically know — what John Piper believes because of his clothes or body movements? As Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, men look on the outside of a person but God sees the heart. That implies that only God knows for sure whether John Piper is authentic; for those in his church who hold him accountable and his family, they may have a better read on the sincerity of the pastor. But in a big crowd you think you know the state of the speaker? I bet even Jonathan Edwards would caution against that kind of gullibility.

Challies may not know it but he is doing exactly what Philadelphia fans did with Mike Schmidt. The all-star third baseman was not emotional. He was stoical. And the fans thought he didn’t care, that Schmidt was simply going through the motions. When Pete Rose arrived and played in his gung ho way, the fans jumped on the emotional bandwagon. Schmidt was the high strung thoroughbred to Rose’s siss-boom-bah hustle.

And no one knows whether Rose cared about winning more than Schmidt. Not even their hair dressers.

When Philadelphia Wins, It’s Not a Theology of Glory

Anyone want to think back to the Phillies’ starting line up in 2008 when they won the World Series? The starting pitchers were be Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer, and Joe Blanton. Yes, they won with that rotation. They did not yet have Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, or Roy Oswalt, everyone’s dream rotation from the 2011 season when the Fightin’s lost to the Cardinals in the first round of playoffs (and have been looking in from the outside ever since).

So now what happens when the Eagles finally break through to championship status in the much hyped Super Bowl era? Did their franchise quarterback, the fittingly praised and highly regarded, Carson Wentz, shepherd them to the promised land? No, it was Nick Foles, the Joe Blanton of NFL quarterbacks. (Mind you, I was pulling hard for Foles if only because he is as dull as his opponents have been relentless in pointing it out.)

This means that Philadelphia general managers should not try to stack their rosters with the best and most gifted. It means they need to roll the dice, say their prayers, hope for good karma. In Philadelphia, talent does not win. Lighting in a bottle — Ben Franklin might be proud — does.

And just to add to this Calvinistically dark take on Philadelphia sports — what if last night was the closest that Carson Wentz comes to a Super Bowl victory? In Philadelphia, going to championship games is hardly automatic. Wentz could have a wonderful career and take the Eagles to the playoffs many years. But winning in the big game could always elude him as it did Donovan McNabb and his coach, Andy Reid.

If that’s the case, then the best quarterback the Eagles will ever have is no. 9, Nick Foles. Wentz may go to the Hall of Fame and McNabb and Randall Cunnhingham may have more impressive careers. But Foles is the guy who won the big game for the Birds.

That is poignant.

That Was the Day

I think I listened to this game on a transistor (not transformationalist) radio:

After Bunning set the Giants down 1-2-3 in the seventh, Philadelphia took the lead in the eighth on an unearned run. Gonzalez led off with a single. Richie Allen walked with one out. Marichal induced a ground ball from Johnny Callison that might have ended the inning. However, reserve infielder Bob Schroder failed to handle it, and a run scored.

Bunning failed to hold the lead in the bottom of eighth. He retired Alou to begin the inning, but Haller homered for the second time to tie the game.

With the two Willies, Mays and McCovey, up next, a modern manager would likely have pulled Bunning. The Phillies had a strong bullpen, anchored by the two Dicks, Hall and Farrell. But manager Gene Mauch stayed with his ace.

Bunning got Mays on a pop-up, walked McCovey (pitching very carefully, I assume), and then retired Jim Davenport.

Marichal had allowed four runs, eight hits, and two walks through eight innings. Giants manager Herman Franks had good relievers available — Ron Herbal, Bill Henry, and Frank Linzy (ERA 0.60). Yet, like Mauch, Franks stayed with his ace.

Marichal retired Tony Taylor, who led off the inning. Bunning was the next scheduled batter. Surely, Mauch would send up a pinch hitter to bat for his tiring pitcher.

But Bunning stayed in. He wasn’t a bad hitting pitcher. Early in his career, he was a .200 hitter. But by 1967, he had fallen off at the plate. Coming into this game, he was batting .125.

Bunning did have one home run, though. It came at the expense of Atlanta’s Ken Johnson, and was the fifth of his long career.

On this day, he hit his sixth. How embarrassed must the prideful Marichal must have been!

Bunning had given the Phils a 5-4 lead. Now he had to be his own closer.

No problem. In the bottom of the ninth, he set down the Giants in order — Brown on a fly ball, Schroder on a ground ball, and pinch hitter Norm Siebern, an old American League adversary, on another grounder.

When Philadelphia Fans Rooted for Dallas

Yesterday brought the sad news of Dallas Green’s death. Most of the memories of the manager of the 1980 Phillies’ team go back to his role that year in taking a squad that had so much talent but couldn’t cross the finish line to a pennant or championship. Here is one example.

But some of us remember Green when he was a lack luster pitcher. In his 8 years on the mound he had a record of 20-22, and an ERA of 4.26. For this Old Lifer, Dallas Green was part of the team that I first started to follow, the one that in 1964 collapsed at the end of the year and saw the Cardinals go to the World Series to play the Yankees. In that year, Green went 2-1 with an ERA of 5.79.

One of his losses that year was to the team to which the other Old Lifer in residence, Mr. Muether, is partial, namely, the New York Mets. The Mets are the archenemies of the Phillies, just as the Cowboys are the team that Eagles’ fans despise. In 1964, Green’s only loss was to the Mets. Green came in relief and gave up the run that went down as the game winner.

Green was by all accounts one of those baseball guys who esteemed grit and determination more than talent — which may square with his own abilities as a player. As a manager, he was not necessarily more successful, though he did take the Phillies to the promised land. He had an 8 year career of 454-478. Most of his wins (229) came with the Mets, which makes Green the rare baseball career that transcends Old Life rooting conflicts. Most of his losses also came during his four years with the Mets (283).

I don’t think Mr. Muether will deny a Phillies’ fan the pleasure of claiming that Green’s best years on earth were with the Phillies (a winning percentage as a manager of .565). For this Old Lifer, his orchestration of the 1980 championship was surely memorable. But even more lasting was the impression he made on the boy who became an Old Lifer. To see the green of that grass as the background for the red and white of those uniforms is an image that someone never forgets (until Alzheimer’s kicks in).

Two-Kingdom Theology and Professional Sports Fans

Protestant athletes are in the news — Tim Tebow, of Bible-verse eyeblack fame, and David Freese of World Series heroism (thanks to our D.C. correspondent). The reasons for the attention to these athletes say a lot about the differences between evangelicalism and confessional Protestantism. Practically anyone who watches sports knows that Tebow is a Christian and for good reason since he exhibits the typical born-again wear-it-on-your-sleeve (or in this case cheek) piety. Practically no one knew that Freese is a Missouri Synod Lutheran, and again this is fitting since confessionalists prefer not to draw attention to themselves.

Brian Phillips at Grantland (thanks to one of Reformed Forum’s listeners) has a very funny and poignant essay about Tebow. He is particularly interested in the way that the Denver quarterback is carrying the weight — likely intentionally — of the culture wars on his strong back. People either love or hate Tebow and it seems to depend on whether one is a Christian or one is anti-Christian. But Phillips points out astutely how stupid rooting against Tebow is:

For the sake of argument, let’s say that the universe is radically meaningless. If that’s the case, then when Tebow wins, it’s a fluke that doesn’t prove anything. When he loses, it’s also a fluke that doesn’t prove anything. For his losing to mean anything, it has to tie into some larger cosmic order, and if it does, then it can’t prove that there isn’t one. Since no one really knows whether the universe is meaningless or not, things rapidly grow confusing. Tebow scoring a two-point conversion on an off-tackle power play could prove that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, or it could, well, not. Tebow’s getting picked off after telegraphing a pass could doom us to a state of terrifying metaphysical uncertainty, especially if we are the Broncos’ quarterbacks coach. But if you’re against Tebow, you can’t read too much into Tebow’s failures, or else Tebow has already won.

I myself have no dog in this fight, partly because the National Football League holds less and less interest, and also because the Tebow story hasn’t grabbed any part of me.

At the same time, I have plenty of reason to root against Freese (though it is too late for that) since he is part of a team that took down my beloved Phillies (and he had some hand in doing that). If I were an evangelical and my faith went “all the way down,” then I’d have to root for another confessional Protestant (better if he were Reformed — and didn’t play on the Lord’s Day). But two-kingdom theology is remarkably handy in allowing me to separate my ecclesial convictions from rooting interests. So while I appreciate Freese’s church affiliation as a confessional Protestant, as a native of Philadelphia I hope the Cardinals recognize his value and trade him to Major League Baseball’s equivalent of hell — the Houston Astros.