I don’t like Mondays, this Monday in particular. A bad day for Philadelphia sports. Monday, December 7 found us at a loss with the passing of gregarious Inquirer and Daily News sports columnist John Smallwood, and the Philadelphia Phillies legendary Dick Allen.
Often regarded as this city’s “Jackie Robinson” for his role as a Black man breaking color barriers. Allen was the first Black player for the Phillies, the last National League franchise to integrate. Also known for his b-ball records: 1964’s National League Rookie of the Year for one, a seven-time All-Star, for another, a 165 OPS+ from 1964 to 1973 to boot. Allen has never been given a fair shake by league elders. Why isn’t he in the Baseball Hall of fame, for instance?
Much attention has been given over to Allen’s having to defend himself, at that time, against an all-white team, management, league, sportswriters and, the Phillies’ predominantly white fans. Allen got into fights with white, fellow teammates. They attacked him. And he missed games. Frankly, because he had other interests. Like watching his horse run at Monmouth Park, a gentlemen’s sport that he delighted in with a stable of horses.
Fact is, Allen liked to mix it up, have some fun. Often to the chagrin of Phillies Manager Gene Mauch.
“Dick was a fun guy with many diverse interests,” said Jerry Blavat – Philly’s Geator with the Heater and Boss with the Hot Sauce – warming his bones in Florida, while reminiscing about his old friend.
“Dick had a pleasant voice, even cut a single, ‘Echoes of November,” said Blavat, singing the song over the phone. “Rich Allen & The Ebonistics ‘Echoes Of November,’ 1968.”
Blavat featured Allen on his “Discophonic Scene” television program, “every other week or so.” Even placing the tune on one of The Geator’s hits-filled compilations, “The Untouchables”. He brought him around to South Philly haunts such as Ralph’s and Prioli’s at 10th and Wolf. He introduced him at Blavat’s DJ parties and live events, and generally just hung out together for a drink or three. When Geator held shows with his club act, The Geatomen, Allen would often be by his side.
“Gene Mauch would call me and tell me to stop hanging out with Dick… ‘You’re ruining my ballplayer. He’s not coming to practice.’ Dick was fine, though. Never missed a step.”
Blavat almost even made a film with Dick Allen, Phyllis Diller and Dan Blocker not too long after local filmmaker H.T. Peters lensed Blavat for his cinematic dramatic debut, “Cycad,” with Gary Merrill and Sammy Davis Jr. “At that point, I was trying to figure out my next move after succeeding in radio and television. Film seemed the logical step.”
The second film never materialized as the first film in the deal didn’t find a distributor, but, Blavat seemed pragmatic about the event, chalking it up to showbiz. And Allen? “He just kept on, racing horses with his wife, Barbara, and having a good time. I miss him.”