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After 38 years, White Sox savior Dick Allen finally gets his due

Used 9/10/1973
Baseball: Chicago White Sox Dick Allen (15) victorious after hitting home run with manager Chuck Tanner during game vs

Used 9/10/1973 Baseball: Chicago White Sox Dick Allen (15) victorious after hitting home run with manager Chuck Tanner during game vs California Angels at Comiskey Park. Chicago, IL 5/23/1973 CREDIT: Walter Iooss Jr. (Photo by Walter Iooss Jr. /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images) (Set Number: X17724 TK1 R9 F31 )

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Updated: July 13, 2012 6:25AM

A homecoming 38 years in the making took place Monday at U.S. Cellular Field.

The White Sox and enigmatic slugger Dick Allen abruptly parted company in 1974, after two-plus seasons that revitalized the franchise. Allen has been an infrequent visitor to Chicago ever since, as neither side seemed much interested in restoring the relationship.

That’s surprising because the statuary adorning the Cell and the retired numbers displayed on the outfield walls would suggest the Sox are the most nostalgia-conscious Chicago outfit south of the Field Museum. Allen, though, is largely overlooked in team lore, and he seemed to recede further from memory each time Frank Thomas or Jim Thome or even Jermaine Dye put up numbers that surpassed his 1972 run at the Triple Crown.

But anyone who saw Allen play during that electrifying MVP ­season was moved by the experience. He might well have saved the White Sox for Chicago. The ­Chicago Baseball Museum believes he did and prevailed upon the White Sox to honor the ’72 team before a
June 24 game against the Milwaukee Brewers. Allen will throw out the ceremonial first pitch.

Gray-haired, a little heavier than his sculpted playing weight of 187 pounds and 70 years old, he was the warm and engaging star of a Monday media session announcing the event.

“I am humbled by this,” Allen said. “I didn’t get a chance to thank the White Sox and the fans all those years ago. I do it now, from my heart. That was a great and memorable time for me.”

In 1970, as the White Sox were compiling baseball’s worst record (56-106) and poorest attendance (490,355), relocation seemed inevitable, with Old Comiskey Park crumbling and near extinction.

Two years later, the Sox won 87 games, chased the eventual world champion Oakland A’s into mid-September and more than doubled their attendance, to 1,186,618. ­Roland Hemond brought real savvy to the task of reshaping the roster as player personnel director. Chuck Tanner, in his first tour as a major-league manager, was the calm, self-assured leader of a young, impressionable team.

But Allen, acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers for pitcher Tommy John in November of 1971, was its heart, its soul and its engine.

“Everything a ballplayer could do or should do, he did for us: hitting, fielding or ­running the bases,” Hemond said. “Plus, he was terrific with all the young guys we had on the team.

“It was one of the most impactful seasons a ballplayer ever had, and I’m delighted the White Sox are recognizing it.’’

Allen hit .308 and led the league with 37 home runs and 113 RBI. He slugged .603 and had a .420 on-base percentage for an OPS of 1.023. Each homer seemed to come with a story.

On June 4, after the Sox beat the Yankees 6-1 in the first game of a doubleheader before 51,000 fans, Tanner told Allen he wouldn’t need him in Game 2. With the Sox trailing 4-2, Bill Melton walked and Mike Andrews singled with one out in the ninth inning, so Tanner sent a batboy to the clubhouse in search of Allen.

“I was eating a chili dog when I heard Chuck wanted me to hit,” Allen recalled. “I had chili all over my shirt, so I put on a new one and a pair of pants with no underclothes. Sparky Lyle threw me a slider, and it wound up in the seats. We won, and it was a memorable moment.”

One of dozens he provided before walking away from the Sox with 18 games left in the 1974 season. Allen’s judgment didn’t always match his Hall of Fame talent over 15 big-league seasons, but he insists he has only one regret.

“I wish I could have started my career here and ended it here with Chuck Tanner,” he said. “The fans here accepted me and appreciated me for what I was, what I did.”

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