1954 The White Sox reintroduced major league baseball to Baltimore for the first time since 1902, as they played at the new Baltimore Orioles as their first home opponent. The Orioles had moved from St. Louis that offseason. Virgil “Fire” Trucks got the start for the White Sox, but the O’s beat them 3-1 on the afternoon, starting a run of numerous unfortunate, strange and bizarre happenings for the White Sox at Memorial Stadium over the next 37 seasons.
1972 The first labor impasse to cause regularly scheduled games to be cancelled caused Opening Day of the 1972 season to be pushed back. In Kansas City, the Sox would lose to the Royals, 2-1, in 11 innings despite Dick Allen’s first White Sox home run. Allen blasted a shot in the ninth inning off Dick Drago to give the team a brief 1-0 lead. Kansas City would tie the game with two out in the ninth inning on a Bob Oliver home run off of Wilbur Wood, then go on to win the game. The Sox would drop three consecutive one-run games to the Royals to start the season, two in extra innings, but would end up with 87 wins in only 154 games.
1983 Milt Wilcox had his perfect game ruined with two outs in the ninth inning, as White Sox pinch hitter Jerry Hairston ripped a clean single up the middle. It was the only hit of the night for the Sox, who lost to Detroit, 6-0.
1985 In a game at Boston, White Sox pinch hitter Jerry Hairston collected his 51st safety in that role, setting the franchise record. Jerry would lead the league in pinch hits from 1983 through 1985, and would retire with 87 in his career. Hairston also hit the last home run to set off Bill Veeck’s original exploding scoreboard in October 1981 — and he hit it off of future Sox pitching coach Don Cooper!
2006 It was one of the most incredible defensive plays in White Sox history: In the ninth inning of a game at U.S. Cellular Field against Toronto, second baseman Tadahito Iguchi had to charge in on a slowly-hit ball by Bengie Molina. His momentum carried him forward, and because of it he left his feet and starting falling to the ground. Before he hit the field, though, Iguchi got a throw off, despite being parallel to the playing surface. His throw was strong enough to get Molina at first. The Sox would win the game, 4-2.
My Dad grew up fatherless during the Depression. By the time he was nine, he was plotting with a friend how to get home from downtown with most of the money they made that day shining shoes. They had a couple of tough neighborhoods to negotiate, and he explained how they would hide money in their shorts, their cap, and leave a couple coins in an obvious place so the kids who would inevitably stop them would be satisfied with their 45-cent haul.
When I was nine, I would sit on the floor of my bedroom, and make up a sort of Strat-o-Matic baseball game with a deck of cards. Each card was a different result, groundout, strikeout, triple, then I’d shuffle them, make up lineups out of my baseball cards, and place all of the cards on the floor, basically where their position was. I’m sure this drove my dad nuts, as I had no ambition in life beyond laughing myself breathless to classic Tom & Jerry cartoons. When my concerned parents asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, of course it was a baseball player! He would shake his head in disgust and tell me I had to actually get outside and play and practice to be a good player, not sit in my room and play kids’ games.
That would hurt, but I never remember taking that advice to heart. We played 16´´ softball every night in the bank parking lot, played as much fast pitch as the parked cars allowed. I played in Little League — two innings a game, actually. I never got along with the coaches’ kids, and would do the exact opposite of what one of the other dads suggested. My brother reminded me once that I was in right field, and a fly ball was hit to me: I got under it, called everybody else off, then caught the ball at my waist, a perfect basket catch. He said the coaches were looking at me and just mumbling, “What is he doing? Why won’t he put his glove up?” I don’t think I played a full two innings that game.
Anyway, I could curry favor with my dad by telling him tales of putting one over on somebody else, which I’m led to believe was one of his deepest convictions. While shoplifting would get a round scolding, simpler ruses would get a chuckle out of my Dad with an apple/tree analogy.
Enzo Hernandez was the all-glove, no-bat starting shortstop for the Padres on some pretty bad teams in the first half of the 70s. He was replacement to slightly-above replacement level through his eight-season major league career. I got a version of the 1972 Enzo Hernandez card without stats on the back. We called the error a blank-back. The rumor was that if you showed that card to the bored teenage kid behind the counter, he’d let you take another pack. I used that one a few times over. Ironic that it was Enzo Hernandez, because he was the the type of common player where you could buy three packs of cards, and you might get two of his.
By any name: There’s been no more menacing power hitter in White Sox history than Dick Allen.
The White Sox have had attendance issues for decades now. The team’s problems began in the late 1960s, for a variety of reasons. One chief reason was the club didn’t have a marquee name, an impact player who could draw fans in big numbers.
During their stretch of winning seasons from 1951-67, the White Sox had players like Luis Aparicio, (stolen bases and defense), Nellie Fox (singles hitter and bunter), and usually a solid pitching rotation. But there was no Willie Mays, Hank Aaron or Harmon Killebrew. When the White Sox won, they won low-scoring games with little offense. The team didn’t hit have a 30-home run hitter in its entire history until 1970. Vast Comiskey Park was not a great place for power hitters, anyway.
During the offseason between 1971 and 1972, the White Sox finally were able to acquire that dominant player they never seemed to have when they traded pitcher Tommy John and first baseman Steve Huntz to the Dodgers for Dick Allen.
Allen hit for great power and average, and there was no doubt he was an elite talent. The biggest problem was that he had a very checkered past. Some fans in Philadelphia counted the days to his departure. The White Sox would be his fourth team in four years. Would any baggage that he would carry be worth giving up a front-line pitcher and a promising first baseman?
Allen would quickly become a South Side icon, but he would also be tied to two historic days at Comiskey Park that spelled both optimism and ruin, both for him and the team.
In the beginning, it appeared the Allen pickup was a mistake. Bad baggage-carrying Allen reared his head.
The talented first-baseman didn’t care to show up for spring training. Just as important, contract talks stalled, and it appeared, in those pre-free agent days, that Allen might hold out. But the team and player came to terms, and then Allen revealed that he wanted to be called “Dick” and not “Richie.” That small request was granted and Richie Allen of the Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, and Los Angeles Dodgers, became known as Dick Allen of the Chicago White Sox.
Opening Day in 1972 was delayed 10 days because the owners locked out the players in a labor dispute. But Allen would quickly show that this delay and missing spring training would not affect his play.
The White Sox opened the season on April 15 in Kansas City. In the top of the ninth, in a scoreless game, Allen hit a mammoth home run that cleared the left-center field wall by plenty. The Sox would lose that game 2-1 in 11 innings, but Allen had demonstrated his awesome power with a devastating down-cutting swing.
And on June 4, Allen truly cemented his relationship with White Sox fans.
June 4 was Bat Day. That promotion always brought out good crowds to the ballpark. But on June 4, 1972, 51,904 showed for a doubleheader against the Yankees. It was the first 50,000-plus crowd for a regular season game at Comiskey since August 1955 — another doubleheader against the Yankees.
The opener was all White Sox. Young righthander Tom Bradley threw a complete game-six hitter, while Bill Melton hit a towering home run deep into the left field lower deck. At one point, fans held thousands of bats in the air, and the Sox won 6-1. A little less than two years after losing 106, the White Sox looked like contenders.
In between games, there was a damper. It was announced that Dick Allen was not in the lineup. A crowd of over 50,000 shows, and Allen is not playing in the nightcap? Was he injured? Was he fatigued? Or was baggage-carrying Richie Allen uninterested in playing before a large and history-making crowd?
The White Sox offense looked lethargic in the second game. Going into the last inning, the Yankees led 4-2, and it appeared the Sox were going to settle for a split. However, they put on two runners with one out in the bottom of the ninth. And who comes out of the dugout to pinch-hit? Not bad Richie Allen, but good Dick Allen.
Comiskey Park went wild, but Allen calmly strolled up to the plate apparently unmoved by all the excitement. On the second pitch from reliever Sparky Lyle, Allen once more used that down-cutting swing of his and sent a vicious line drive to left.
Sitting down the left field line, I picked up the ball just as it went a little over the shortstop’s head. At first, I thought it was one of those hard-hit balls that are caught by the outfielder. But the ball kept rising. It remained on a line, but it rose. Left fielder Roy White wasn’t coming in, he was drifting back. Once at the wall, White had a totally frustrated look as he watched the drive zip into the seats for a game-winning, three-run homer.
When was there a more exciting moment at Comiskey Park in recent memory? A fan would have to think about it. And when had a White Sox hitter demonstrated power like Allen? It is safe to say: Never.
The next season, Bat Day fell on May 20 for another doubleheader, this time against the Twins. A record 55,555 showed. Is that suspicious-sounding number correct? I was at this game also, and was forced to sit in the top row of the right-field upper deck. I had a better view of the Dan Ryan than of the field. Fans stood. They sat in the aisles. They parked themselves on the catwalk of the scoreboard. The view of people everywhere, in every seat, in every other available space, was breathtaking.
There is a great picture that ran in the Sun-Times the next day. A small girl is sitting in the lower concourse and a mound of boxes rose above and behind her. The boxes once held the bats. It was said that more than 2,200 fans had to be given refunds because there was no room in the stadium. If that 55,555 number is correct, almost 58,000 showed for the Sunday doubleheader. That was more than 10% of the entire team attendance in 1970.
The crowd erupted when Bill Melton homered off ex-Cub Bill Hands in the first. Carlos May added another homer in the fourth, and the Sox, behind the complete game pitching of Wilbur Wood, won 9-3. Excitement ran through the stadium.
Yet, in a repeat of the Bat Day 1972, Dick Allen was not in the lineup for the nightcap. This was hard to defend; it didn’t make sense.
Allen came out to pinch-hit again, but this time there were no heroics. In the fourth, with the bases loaded, Allen popped out. The Sox lost, 3-0, and missed his bat terribly. In the two dates that had a combined attendance of 107,453, good Dick Allen looked like bad Richie Allen, as he had little interest in playing on these historic occasions.
Allen would miss a good part of the 1973 season due to injury, although some questioned how serious the injury was. The team had other injuries, and the White Sox won a disappointing 77 games. And in early September 1974, good Dick Allen looked like bad Richie again.
As the season was winding down in 1974, Allen was on his way to another American League home run championship. Another 100-RBI season was in reach. But Allen again didn’t seem interested. He told the club he was retiring, and wasn’t waiting until the end of the season. With three weeks left, he was taking his leave. The White Sox lost their impact player for reasons unknown, or lamely explained.
The 1975 season was a dud. Attendance dropped to fewer than 800,000. The once-popular Melton was practically booed out of the city. The center field scoreboard celebrations were also duds, as they were shortened to save money. The franchise had few resources, an aging stadium and a non-believing fan base. A charter member of the American League looked like it was on its way to Seattle.
And where was Dick Allen? He decided he was going to play again and ended up in Philadelphia, the place that had hated him more than Chicago turning on Melton. In 1976, Allen threatened to sit out the NCLS because the Phillies didn’t include his friend, Tony Taylor, on the postseason roster. Allen went 2-for-9 in the series and made little impact as he drove in no runs; the Phillies were swept by the Reds.
In 1977, Allen went to Oakland. Again, not interested in playing a second game of a doubleheader at Comiskey Park, Allen had a confrontation with A’s owner Charlie Finley in the locker room. Once again, Allen had limited himself to a single pinch-hit appearance in a nightcap, and Finley was offended that Allen had already showered and was ready to leave. On June 19, 1977, during the year of the South Side Hit Men, Allen left baseball for good. Hardly anyone noticed or cared as he again deserted a team before the season was over.
The man who had become Dick Allen had also become a vital hope for a team and place that had finally had accepted him. He was there for two historic days at Comiskey Park. He provided an excitement like no other White Sox player before him. Then he vanished, and hope seemed to vanish with him. With the exception of the Hit Men season, the second half of the 1970s was an unmitigated disaster and a source of embarrassment.
Many White Sox fans who were around during the 1970s, get angry at hearing the name Dick Allen. His majestic home runs are great memories, but his “retirement” leaves a different type of memory. Yet can anyone really stay angry at Dick Allen? He could have put up Hall of Fame numbers. He could have left an endearing legacy after suffering bitterness and rejection in other places. His demons did more harm to him than anyone else. As fans wonder what could have been, Allen must wonder the same thing.
But there was that line drive into the left field seats on Bat Day 1972. Fans didn’t want to leave Comiskey. They wanted to believe, because the White Sox finally had that one great player who could take them to the World Series.
Unfortunately, that World Series wouldn’t happen for another 33 years.
The baddest man in the whole damn town: Dick Allen, narrowly missing a Triple Crown, and throwing some leather, too. (When Topps Had Balls)
1972 — After accomplishing one of the greatest individual seasons in franchise history and barely missing the Triple Crown, White Sox first baseman Dick Allen was named the MVP of the American League by the Baseball Writers Association of America. He led the league with 37 home runs, 113 RBIs, a .603 slugging percentage and 99 walks. He led the Sox with a .308 batting average, drove in 19 game-winning runs, stole 19 bases, scored 90 runs and was only .0005 points shy of leading all AL first basemen in fielding. He received more All-Star votes than anyone in baseball. Allen garnered 21 of 24 first-place votes for 321 points. Joe Rudi was second with 164 points.