And, man oh man, does all of that strung-out syntax bring us crashing back to Dick Allen, who contains more multitudes than William Carlos Williams' siren call or a universe full of Whitman's samplers--a man who discovered, like our outgoing president, that backlash is more powerful, more relentless, more festering than any force in the dark heart of white America.
Dick Allen did not bear his burdens with grace while he was playing baseball, and that--and the impact of the backlash that imprinted itself on his brilliant but mercurial career--is why he remains an outsider to this day, both in terms of the world at large and in the tiny circle of faux-meritocracy that we clench our throats to call the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Baseball had the healing moment for the 1960s--that frenetic and foul decade that continues to split the country into shards of hate--in its hands for many, many years. It had a chance for one of the great symbolic moments in its history, simply waiting for--no, not inspiration, but mere common sense. It had two players who represented the polarities of the 1960s, the frenzy and the frustration from all sides, the warp and the woof in that tensed canvas of a history that so many have since taken in vain.
The game didn't come easily for Santo--while he was a difficult, daunting personality, he was driven to succeed and arguably overworked himself into a premature exit--one of the reasons that it took so long for him to finally be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Allen, by contrast, made what he did at the plate look easy: he was so good at it, despite imperfect eyesight, that he knew he didn't need to go through what he considered to be the needless rigors of spring training, or pre-game hitting practice. He knew how to marshal his talents, and he kept everyone away from them. Santo kept everyone away by being the most belligerent obsessive-compulsive on any diamond that he inhabited.
Had those words been tempered with mercy and an actual understanding of what was happening in the 60s and 70s, they could have led to the healing event that baseball needed and will never get--the seemingly unimaginable embrace of the Silent Majority and the "Black Maudit." Santo, wheeled onto the dais to give a tear-stained speech about his love of the game and the value of forgiving one's enemies, particularly oneself; Allen, striding with a gingerly grace, admitting that he'd hoped for the honor despite his pose of unwavering indifference and resignation, turning to Santo and saying to him, "Look, Ron, this time we really are teammates...and God bless you."
It should have happened in 2009, the year we installed an African-American in the White House, before he spent too much time trying to appease the forces of white darkness that would look to thwart and hound his every move, and turn back the clock in favor of oligarchy, sexism, and fear-based hate. Those two elderly ballplayers, on the Cooperstown dais on a Sunday not too far removed from the fourth of July, would have told the country that it was finally all right to quit fighting about the 1960s, to put it behind us at last--to let go.
That may be due to the fact that Nathanson often fails to get the flavor of Allen the ballplayer into his narrative. A careful, even-handed recitation of Allen's life as a lightning rod is detailed to a fault, but it rarely brings alive what Allen's presence on a baseball field was like--which was electric in the extreme. In his rush to examine the 1976 season as an example of how Allen could not step away from controversy when it came to management's attitude toward minority players, he undersells Allen's on-field contributions. Pointing out that Allen had only seven home runs in late June, he omits to mention that this total had been amassed in 119 ABs, a ratio that works out to a total of at least 30 HRs over an entire season. He mentions that Allen bristled at being dropped to seventh in the batting order, but he omits the fact that Dick was put back in the fifth slot after hitting .395 in the twelve games he hit from the #7 slot. In short, the world doesn't know (and mostly doesn't want to know) that Allen, when healthy in 1976, was close to his usual self (155 OPS+).
|The man who made it look easy at the plate played hard on |
the field...maybe too hard: he had more than his share of injuries.
As we've said many times, the Hall of Fame needs to be as large and inclusive as it can be in order to maximize its own scope and impact--it must reach out to all the people in order to make its message synonymous with the real meaning of the fourth of July, which is not flag-waving and liquor consumption but "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Those who would tamper with others in those latter elemental efforts should find themselves in front of the kangaroo court that they've allowed to be installed in the so-called highest legal institution of the land and be forced to take the Fifth Amendment in response to relentless and protracted questioning.