By Steve Zalusky
Several major league teams held their own version of “Let’s Make a Deal” on December 2, 1971.
Traders included the Baltimore Orioles, who parted ways with a key member of two of the world champions, former NL and AL MVP Frank Robinson, who was sent along with teammate Pete Richert to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Behind the curtains of the Orioles were four young players, including pitcher Doyle Alexander, who almost 16 years later was to be traded by the Atlanta Braves to the Detroit Tigers for a pitcher named John Smoltz.
The Kansas City Royals reached their purse strings and acquired a future mainstay in their lineup, John Mayberry, from Houston.
And on the heels of a 79-83 season and a third-place finish in AL West, the rising Chicago White Sox also traded.
The Sox made a modest deal, but one that paid off nicely, when they sent infielder Rich McKinney to the Yankees for pitcher Stan Bahnsen, a 21-card winner for the Sox the following season.
But it was a “quickie” deal compared to the Big Deal which got the 1964 NL Rookie of the Year and the 1967 All-Star Game hero Richie Allen. All it cost the Sox was player Steve Huntz and musty Tommy John, who had collected an 82-80 record in seven seasons on the South Side and had not been the same since splitting the pitching shoulder in a match with Detroit’s Dick McAuliffe in 1968.
Moved galvanized Sox fans to dive into their own bags of ticket money, something they had been reluctant to do in recent years.
On December 8, Sox general manager Stu Holcomb told columnist David Condon: “The White Sox phones have rung like I’ve never heard them ring in my time with the club. It seems like everyone is talking about us.” Holcomb said the box office had already reported over $ 100,000 in season tickets.
Condon captured the mood when he wrote that McCuddy’s, the venerable watering hole across the street from White Sox Park, would have two additional bartenders on duty for the home opening, while Schaller’s Pump, another neighborhood institution, would add a gourmet chef.
Meanwhile, a headline on the banner suggested that Allen and Bill Melton should form the core of a new line of killers.
Despite this wave of local optimism, the Sox, in light of writers in other cities, had been given a zonk, the “Let’s Make a Deal” designation for an unwanted prize. Continuing the stereotype of Allen as moody, difficult to deal with and toxic to managers, critics pointed out that after all, the Sox would be Allen’s fourth club in four years.
Charley Feeney, who wrote in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, said that Allen “is now (Sox Manager) Chuck Tanner’s problem,” adding: “It’s a shame that Allen does not take baseball more seriously. He could become the first 200 big player in history. “
A columnist, Frank Dolson, wrote how he told Dodgers Vice President Al Campani the year before: “I think a year from now you will regret having Richie Allen at your ball club.”
And when Tanner was quoted as saying, “I’ve known Richie Allen for a long time. And I think he will play well for me,” Boston Globe writer Clif Keane said, “Famous last words heard every year.”
What was lacking in these press assessments was insight into Allen’s point of view.
An exception was a letter to Philadelphia baseball writer Bill Conlin written by The New York Times George Kiseda in the Philadelphia Daily News on November 3, 1971. He wrote about Allen’s stay in Philly from 1964-69, saying, “The Phillies could not even understand them. small things that bothered Allen – small things like the name. He preferred to be called Dick Allen. He tolerated Rich Allen (and signed autographs that way). He did not like Richie Allen. He thought it made him sound like a GUT “How did the Phillies react? Every day at Connie Mack Stadium, the preacher introduced RICHIE Allen.”
For his part, Tanner feels good vibes, and plays up the fact that his home in New Castle, Pennsylvania, was only 20 minutes from Allen’s hometown of Wampum, Pennsylvania.
“I do not expect any problems with Richie. We are neighbors,” he said.
Tanner said he had spoken to Allen’s mother, who was happy with the deal.
But it was difficult to maintain optimism when Allen entered the Sox training camp in Sarasota on March 14, 1972, rejected a contract offer, asked for a trade and did not return until March 31, signing a $ 135,000 contract the next day. , which coincided with the start of a strike in major league players.
Finally, Allen’s 40 ounce bat had the last word.
He earned AL MVP awards and led the league in home races and races beaten.
Meanwhile, the Sox finished second behind AL West champion A with an 87-67 record, drawing 1,177,318 fans, third best in the league and better than the 1971 attendance of 833,891.
In Chicago, South Side fans came to appreciate Dick, not Richie, Allen, and the skeptics were silent for a while.