Spinning Wheel Got To Go ‘Round

Old Comiskey Park was the site of tumultuous events on one day in 1977.(via Rick Dikeman)

Reggie Jackson, who struck out more than any other batter, once observed, “There are one billion Chinese who do not care if we won or I struck out.” A very cogent observation, a maxim I invoke in my times of failure–and success.

Today, as I worked my way around south Texas less than 24 hours after the completion of the 2017 World Series, a buzz was heard after the Houston Astros won their first World Series. My city and the area are ebullient after 56 years of Colt .45s/Astros false starts. I saw no reports of such celebration from China as I scanned the morning news sites. Reggie summed it up best–baseball fandom slows to a trickle near some lines on the big-world Cartesian map.

The Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, in positing his theory of synchronicity, suggested that “meaningful coincidences” are weakly, but not entirely, disconnected from the causality of events. Jung visited North America three times between 1909 and 1925; he had no documented contact with baseball. Too bad, because he would have been a lightning-rod speaker on the luck-versus-skill debate.

My training and experience are as an American K-12 educator, and my world view is Protestant Christian; those facts inform my understanding of the hows and whys about billions of people crossing and not crossing paths. With a lot of theory and spirit bouncing around the known-world’s gaps, I find it convenient and delightful when all the changes in latitudes and changes in attitudes bring notable people and events together in one place at one time.

Sunday, June 19, 1977 was a day of notable synchronicity or Cartesian convergence (if you like one term or the other) in the careers of three players and the American League West pennant race.

The Oakland A’s and Chicago White Sox doubleheader games in Comiskey Park were an important setting in a day that played out with synchronous events in the careers of three one-time White Sox players—Wood, Allen, and Johnson.

White Sox first-baseman Lamar Johnson called the doubleheader to order by singing the National Anthem of the United States (picture the atrocious Sox 1970s polo jerseys as he sings one of the American songbook’s most difficult songs). The A’s had their own vocalist in their dugout—first baseman Dick Allen had performed and recorded with Philadelphia area doo-whop group Rich Allen and the Ebonistics. Allen’s tenor pipes were silent this day. Stanley Burrell, A’s bat boy and front office executive, was left behind in Oakland to await his day as MC Hammer of ’90s hip-hop notoriety.

Not quite done with the spotlight, Johnson popped two solo home runs off Mike Norris for Chicago’s only runs, RBIs and hits in a 2-1 victory in the opening contest. (Johnson ended his career in 1982 with a unique career line vs. Norris: a .192 OPS, four hits in 22 at-bats, a walk, and seven RBIs with three run-scoring sacrifice flies.)

On the hill for the Sox, 35-year-old Wilbur Wood went the distance and gained his first win in 13  months. On May 9, 1976, Wood had taken a Ron LeFlore line drive off his left knee, thus ending his season. The big workhorse was 0-1 in six starts prior to the first-game of this 1977 twin bill.

On the A’s side, 35-year old Dick Allen batted clean-up, played first base, stroked a pair of singles, and grounded into a double play off his former White Sox teammate. Allen had finished his second Phillies tour the season before and was signed by A’s owner Charlie Finley late in 1977 spring training to a one-year, $125,000 contract.

Completing a sweep in the second-game, the Sox defeated the Athletics with a 5-1 victory behind Francisco Barrios scattering seven hits and a walk. It was a routine game on the field. Kevin Bell of the Sox had a two-run single off Doc Medich in the fourth-inning to plate Johnson and Chet Lemon. Brian Downing doubled home Bell, which brought in Pablo Torrealba for Medich. And so it went, typical 1977 A’s stuff—a team reeling with low morale from the loss of its dynasty players to free agency and Charles Finley’s Bowie Kuhn-foiled fire sale of a transition plan. The expansion Seattle Mariners finished a game ahead of the A’s in the division. Oakland was a mere two years removed from a four-year run as AL West champion.

The top of the seventh of the late game was seemingly innocuous as Allen strode to the plate with his 42-ounce war club to pinch-hit for rookie Tony Armas, whom Barrios had induced to hit into two groundouts in as many at-bats. Allen, of Wampum (Pa,) High School class of 1960 and wearing the Five-Serif A’s kelly green jersey with “Wampum 60” on the back, entered his 200th at-bat at .240 BA/five homers/31 RBI. Earl Williams stood at second, and Willie Crawford was a-huggin’ first with two outs with a 4-1 White Sox lead. Barrios struck out Allen to end the inning. The world wide web does not show us the details or suggest any drama or gravitas of the at-bat.

At the conclusion of his at-bat, Allen left the field and was never seen again as a major league player–no more smoking drives from his bat or smoking sticks from his lips.

Finley went into the Comiskey Park clubhouse to dress down the Athletics after the sweep and later reported, “I saw Dick Allen in the shower, in the sixth inning, and that’s all I wanted to see of Dick Allen.” Finley suspended him for a week. Allen did not return and presumably spent the remainder of 1977 on the suspended list. He was not released by the A’s until the end of 1978 spring training after he showed up unexpectedly for duty.

Card Corner Plus: Dick Green and His Fumbling Photo
A brief history of the man behind an oddball image.

(No, reader, I don’t understand this either. Allen’s 1977 one-year contract presumably had expired, making him a free agent. Thus, there was no player contract to release him from. All I have is that his release on Baseball-Reference.com is dated March 28, 1978. Also, while I’ve broken the fourth-wall of this narrative, does anyone know the details of why Jerry Tabb pinch-hit for Allen on April 11, 1977 after Allen was on the lineup card as DH but did not make it to the plate—Allen’s only career listing as a DH?)

Allen, with a 0.2 WAR grade for 1977 (a syndicate of other A’s first sackers was negative 2.4), seemingly with that Chicago shower washed away some big league time. Hardball Times contributor Bruce Markusen reported in 2009:

When the A’s tried to make Allen a DH, he bristled at the idea of becoming a one-dimensional player. The A’s released him, leading to his retirement—this time for real—from the game in which he had carved out such an unusual niche.”

Perhaps also in play on the sudden departure of Allen, 1970s major league Man of Mystery, was the replacement 11 days earlier by Finley of good-guy, leave-them-alone Jack McKeon with my-way-or-the-highway Bobby Winkles. Perhaps also in the pot Allen was boiling: Mike Jorgensen started game two of that doubleheader at first base, was flawless with the glove, and rapped two singles in four at-bats. After Allen’s pinch-hit appearance, Earl Williams came out from behind the plate to play first base, with Jorgensen stepping further back to play right field.

Dick Allen, Wilbur Wood and Lamar Johnson–synchronous career moments one 1977 day in Chicago.

And the baseball world kept turning–108-stiches-at-a-time–elsewhere that day. Frank Robinson was dismissed as Cleveland manager as Jeff Torborg took over the Tribe. Joe Torre, a month shy of 37 years of age and two weeks into player-manager status with the Mets, had his player contract released the day before, thus he was a non-player for the first weekend in his adult life.

In Boston, Yankee Jackson played the whole game in right field. This was newsworthy, as the day before Reggie and Yankee manager Billy Martin had an NBC-televised, middle-school-drama dugout confrontation over Martin’s decision to replace Reggie in right field with one out in the sixth inning with Paul Blair.

Jackson had a good view of the Yankees falling out of first place and the Red Sox’s power as Boston finished a 16-home run, three-game weekend sweep against New York. (Martin disliked intentional walks more than he disliked incomplete games from starting pitchers.) Even Denny Doyle, the softest of the Sox regulars with 14 career homers entering the match, got in on the mashing by tapping an eight-iron shot into the Fenway bullpen in the first inning of the Sunday game.

The AL West champion Kansas City Royals, at their season’s nadir but lying like a king snake in the weeds, were in fifth place on the morning of this date. Their day ended with a start to their unceasing ascent to the top of the standings with a walk-off win at first-place Minnesota as John Mayberry doubled home George Brett. Fifty-eight games later, the Royals were in first place to stay.

And many miles away on a New Mexico farm, a 10-year-old boy, with Mike Schmidt’s swing in his head, celebrated Father’s Day with his three grandfathers and his own father then watched the Dodgers beat the Cubs 3-1 on WGN-TV, Jack Brickhouse and Lou Boudreau with the call.

Did you have synchronicity with baseball on June 19, 1977? Share so in the comments, please.

References & Resources


Dave Vocale lives in San Antonio, Texas.
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frangipard
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frangipard

“my-way-or-the-highway Bobby Winkles”

Is it just me, or does “Bobby Winkles” sound like the name a five year old girl gives to her cat?

Listen up, you bastards, I’m in charge now, or my name’s not Timothy Twinkleboots!

Jetsy Extrano
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Jetsy Extrano

OMG Dick Allen sang doo-wop? It’s on YouTube. This is great.

Rob
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Rob

Great piece, Dave. I love reading anything Dick Allen-related.