Why Aren't These Two Players in the Baseball Hall of Fame?

No, we're not talking about Shoeless Joe Jackson and Pete Rose.

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If you didn't hear yesterday's announcement that former Cincinnati Reds shortstop Barry Larkin had been elected to the Hall of Fame, then you understand how the HOF voters get away with some of the selections they make—or in some cases, don't make. This isn't a knock against Larkin, who deserves a plaque in Cooperstown; in 19 seasons Larkin hit over .300 nine times, made twelve All-Star teams, and stole 379 bases. He was as good or better than most shortstops already in the Hall—Phil Rizzuto, Pee Wee Reese, Luis Aparicio.

But there should be several other players joining Larkin at the induction ceremony in July—players, to be honest, who are more worthy than Larkin and who have been waiting around even longer. Only in a sports week dominated by the NFL playoffs and the college football championship could the Hall of Fame slip by with such omissions without being criticized for them.

I'm going to put aside discussion of the obvious merits of Shoeless Joe Jackson, a .356 hitter for 13 seasons banned from baseball forever for his part in the 1919 Black Sox Scandal, and Pete Rose, baseball's all-time hits leader under suspension for having bet on games while managing the Cincinnati Reds. Jackson will probably never be exonerated. Rose will eventually be reinstated and become a first-ballot Hall of Famer.  But no matter how many hits Rose got, there are at least two players I regard as more worthy of the Hall than he is. 

Dick Allen—known for most of his career, to his intense irritation, as Richie—may be the best player eligible for the HOF who isn't there.  Allen played just 10 full seasons over a 15-season career between 1963 (when he played just 10 games) and 1977, though he lost a significant number of games to injury.  He was Rookie of the Year in 1964, led the National League in home runs twice and RBIs once, on-base average twice, and slugging average three times.  He won the 1972 American League MVP award and made seven All-Star teams.  And he did it all while playing in perhaps the worst period for hitters since baseball's dead ball era back before World War I. 

That Allen has been virtually forgotten by HOF voters—both the regulars and members of the Veteran's Committee—is puzzling. Orlando Cepeda, a contemporary of Allen's who also played most of his games at first base, hit 379 home runs to Allen's 351. Cepeda, despite being involved in a post-career drug scandal, was voted into the Hall in 1999.   But Cepeda batted nearly 1,600 more times than Allen to produce those 28 more home runs.  Another HOF first baseman who played in that era, Harmon Killebrew, hit 573 home runs in 22 seasons, but Allen hit him .292 to .256, won three slugging titles to Killebrew's one, and hit more doubles, triples and stolen bases while batting 1800 fewer times.

Nearly all deserving players who have been denied Cooperstown have been kept out by involvement in some kind of scandal such as gambling or drugs.  With Allen, the problem is harder to pin down.  William C. Kashatus, a Philadelphia-based historian and author of a book on the Phillies 1964 collapse, September Swoon, says, "Dick had a very undeserved reputation as a malcontent.  For several years he clashed with the Philadelphia sportswriters, who were then the hardest to deal with in the country, and Phillies fans who believed what they read."  This is a polite way of saying that Allen was young, black, and defiant in a time when the sports press, by definition white, preferred their black athletes to be jovial and humble in a Willie Mays mode. 

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Allen Barra writes about sports for the Wall Street Journal and TheAtlantic.com. His next book is Mickey and Willie--The Parallel Lives of Baseball's Golden Age.

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