Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven had not yet heard the news on the death of Dick Allen when Bert answered a phone on Monday night in Fort Myers.
"That's very sad,'' Blyleven said. "We are losing so many greats in baseball in the past few months. And Allen was one of those – a tremendous hitter.''
Allen died at 78 in his hometown of Wampum, Pa. And what a fabulous locale for a smasher of baseballs: the Wampum Walloper.
Blyleven and Allen are linked by an astounding event in Twins lore: On July 31, 1972 at Met Stadium, Blyleven was pitching, Allen was playing first base and hitting third for the White Sox, and he became the first big-league player to hit two inside-the-park home runs in a game since 1932.
This comment was offered to Blyleven in Monday's conversation: "My guess is you can't think of Dick Allen without thinking of Bobby Darwin?''
Blyleven laughed and said: "Good guy, Bobby Darwin. He was a left fielder, not a center fielder.''
Frank Quilici had replaced the fired Bill Rigney earlier in July and it was quite an outfield the young manager came up with on that Monday at the Met:
First baseman Rich Reese in left, corner outfielder Darwin in center and utility player Cesar Tovar in right. And it paid an immediate dividend for the visitors:
Pat Kelly and Luis Alvarado reached base to open the first, then Allen hit a liner to center. "I believe that's the one that Bobby dived for,'' Blyleven said Monday.
Whether it was a dive or a slip on wet grass from a morning rain, the ball bounced over a splayed Darwin and Allen charged around the bases to make it 3-0 for Chicago after three batters.
Alvarado had singled home Kelly to make it 4-0 in the fifth, and this time Allen hit a drive to deeper left-center. Darwin lunged, the ball went past him to the 430-foot mark and Allen was able to cruise home.
"That one, Allen hit the ball so hard that it knuckled,'' Blyleven said. "He was one of the few hitters who was so strong his line drives would do that. He reminded me of Frank Howard, not in size, but in how hard he could hit a ball. His forearms were enormous, and like granite.''
What was the formula for getting him out – get ahead, then throw the world's best curveball?
"You had to get the pitch in on him,'' Blyleven said. "If you did that, you had a chance. But if you didn't get it in far enough ... well, he'd hit the ball to Bobby Darwin.''
Allen was batting .310 with 27 home runs and 77 RBI after the game of July 31, and Chuck Tanner, the extra-positive White Sox manager, was predicting a Triple Crown for his star.
"He's the best player in the big leagues,'' Tanner said. "He can run. He can field. He can hit for average and for power. And I'll take him running the bases over any guy … I'm not talking about being the fastest, but how he turns the bases. He makes the perfect square.''
Allen came to the White Sox after six raucous seasons in Philadelphia, then one apiece in St. Louis and with the L.A. Dodgers. He was the Phillies' first Black superstar, and any mistakes made – making 41 errors as a third baseman, showing up late at the ballyard at times – brought out the racism in fans.
One irritant: The Phillies billed him as "Richie'' when he first arrived in September 1963. He hated that – "sounds like I'm a 10-year-old kid,'' he said – and told management to refer to him as Dick. The Phillies continued to send out information and the limited promotional items at the time calling him "Richie.''
He was Dick Allen in Chicago and he brought back crowds to Comiskey Park in his MVP year of 1972. That was the last before the American League went to a designated hitter to get more hitting. Allen led the AL with 37 home runs and 113 RBI, and finished 10 points behind Rod Carew's .318 for the batting title.
Allen was back in Philadelphia in 1976, fighting injuries and in decline at 34, and the Phillies were trying to repeat an epic collapse from 1964. The '76 Phillies led the National League East by 15 ½ games on Aug. 24 and. by mid-September, that lead was down to four games.
What must be understood about the Phillies is this:
They entered the National League in 1883. For 20 years, only the NL pennant was available and the Phillies never won it. They played in two World Series (1915, 1950) without winning starting in 1903.
And here the Gene Mauch-managed collapse in 1964 -- 6 1/2 games ahead with 12 to play in the National League -- was now being challenged by their ancestors 12 years later.
By 1976, Mauch was managing the Twins. On Sept. 10, with the Phillies lead down to five, I went to Met Stadium early and mustered the audacity to ask the "Little General'' for a comparison, Fading Phils then (1964) and now (1976).
Mauch was standing in the grass in front of the dugout, watching early batting practice. As per usual, he had a lit cigarette. There was small talk and then I asked: "Gene, what do you remember about '64?''
He always contemplated an answer. This one he contemplated for nearly a minute. Then, he tossed the cigarette in the grass, twisted out the flame with his spikes and said:
"Only every pitch,'' with an adjective or two for good measure.
Thirty minutes. All him. Me scribbling. And some Dick Allen tales in there, too.
(Notes: The Phillies won the East in 1976, finally won a World Series in 1980, and another in 2008. Gene Mauch never made it to a Series. Greg Gagne for the Twins was the last big-league hitter with two inside-the-park home runs in a game on Oct. 4, 1986, in the Metrodome – against the White Sox.)