Former Chicago White Sox great Dick Allen meets the media as the Chicago Baseball Museum begins its tribute to the one-time MVP and the rest of the 1972 team. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times
Updated: June 11, 2012 6:51PM
Dick Allen still remembers looking in from the outfield at his first White Sox team in the spring of 1972.
``We were 17 years old at second, 18 years old at shortstop. I thought `this is a high school team. If those kids don’t’ produce, I’m back in Class AAA.’ I’m 29 or 30 at the time.’’
That 1972 season didn’t start out well, the Sox losing their first three games and Allen telling manager Chuck Tanner he was ready to pack his bags for home.
Tanner, in only his second season as manager, pulled Allen into his office for a talking-to.
``He told me `we’ll do it together,’ ‘’ to mentor the young players—who included the likes of Goose Gossage, Carlos May and Jorge Orta.
``We did more with enthusiasm than experience,’’ Allen recalled Monday. ``We became tighter than pantyhose two sizes too small.’’
And they may have saved the White Sox franchise.
Allen, 70, went on to have a most valuable player season—one of only three ever for the Sox (Nellie Fox and Frank Thomas were the others.) The Sox, who had lost more games than any team only two years earlier and drew a paltry 400,000 in 1970, finished with 87 victories and just behind eventual World Series champion Oakland.
Forty years later, the Sox are honoring the 1972 team each Sunday home game wearing replica uniforms of that season. But Allen and the team will be honored more June 24 and 25 at U.S. Cellular Field and with induction to the Chicago Baseball Museum as ``the team that saved the Sox.’’
A seven-time All-Star, Allen hadn’t been back to Chicago and around the Sox until Monday. As he spoke to media reminiscing about 1972, he admitted the memories and the upcoming honors made him wish he had come sooner.
``I’m humbled by all this,’’ Allen said after museum founder Dr. David Fletcher recounted his achievements—and what Allen meant in Sox history. ``I’d really like to thank the White Sox and the museum. I didn’t get a chance to do it all these years, but I do now. I say that will all sincerity in my heart.’’
Allen was considered the centerpiece of a young general manager Roland Hemond’s task of saving the Sox, who finished the 1970 season as baseball’s worst team and by 1972 were rumored to be heading out of Chicago.
Hemond hired then unknown Tanner to be a first-time manager and in December 1971, traded pitcher Tommy John to the Dodgers for Allen.
Allen played three seasons for the Sox, but his best was 1972 when he finished with a league-leading best 113 RBI and 37 home runs and third in hitting at .308.
``The 1972 team stands out in franchise history, Sox senior vice president of marketing Brooks Boyer said. ``Personalities and stars like Dick Allen, Goose Gossage, Bill Melton and many others changed this franchise and deserve to be recognized.’’
Allen’s feats in 1972 are legendary for Sox fans, from hitting two inside-the-park homers off Bert Blyleven, to a game-winning pinch-hit homer off Sparky Lyle to stealing home against Nolan Ryan.
But the man whose private nature often was mistaken for arrogance said he was just part of a great team.
``I think people came to grips that this franchise might leave,’’ he said of being beloved by Sox fan. ``I’m glad we put 1.2 million fans in the stands from 400,000 the prior season. That’s answer enough for me.
``This is the greatest sports city,’’ said the Pennsylvania native, who still does some work for the Philadelphia Phillies, the team he played with for nine of his 15 seasons.
``I saw the motto [Appreciate the game] for this season, and I like to think the 1972 team started that.’’