Category Archives: REVIEWS

TV Watch: Justified

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Timothy Olyphant starred in “Justified” from 2010-15

 

It’s been three and a half years since the last piece in my “TV Watch” series came out. That last article in February 2014 covered the action-packed Cinemax drama “Banshee” starring Antony Starr and Ivana Milicevic.

Since that time, more and more Americans have taken on the phenomenon of binge-watching television series. This involves watching all episodes of a show in a short period of time via an OnDemand service, or through a pay service such as Netflix or Amazon.

Many times, I have found myself in conversations regarding which series folks are currently binging. Some of these conversations have turned me on to some of my favorite television shows.

I have also passed along some of my own favorites as a recommendation to others. That is what I’ll be doing now with ‘TV Watch’ over the next few months. As the series continues with occasional pieces, I’ll be highlighting some of my favorite shows from the last decade or so that have concluded their original runs, but which are available for you to enjoy on those various OnDemand or pay networks.

Near the top of any recommendation list that I could make would be “Justified”, which originally aired on the FX network from March 2010 through April 2015. It’s 78 episodes over six seasons make up one of the best and most original cop dramas in television history.

Timothy Olyphant stars as deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, who battles the bad guys operating in and around his home turf of Harlan, Kentucky.

Harlan is a small town and county located in extreme southeastern Kentucky near the Cumberland River, bordered by mountains and ridges. The mountainous geography and warm, humid climate help set the stage for the series.

Olyphant is in some ways the typical smart aleck style law enforcement officer. His quick wit and superior intelligence often helps him disarm his opponents, both literally and figuratively.

One of my all-time favorite lines in TV history came out of the mouth of Raylan Givens:

“You run into an asshole in the morning, you ran into an asshole. You run into assholes all day, you’re the asshole.”

And as with many a good ol’ Cowboy hat-wearing southern boy, he can back up his mouth. Raylan is good with both a gun and with his fists when needed. But he’s quick enough with both that wit and his gun that he rarely needs to actually use his fists.

A running thread throughout the series finds Raylan battling with the outlaw Crowder family, especially one whom he knew since childhood. Boyd Crowder, as played marvelously by Walton Goggins, proves to be Raylan’s principle nemesis.

Raylan’s personal life is complicated by ongoing flirtations with both his ex-wife Winona Hawkins (Natalie Zea) and Ava Crowder (Joelle Carter), Boyd’s sister-in-law. Though Winona disappears for large stretches of the series, she will return and prove critical as it winds to a conclusion.

Both Raylan’s personal and professional lives are also constantly complicated by his father, Arlo Givens (Raymond J. Barry), who is suffering from the early signs of dementia. Unlike Raylan, Arlo has spent much of his life on the wrong side of the law, often with Boyd’s father Bo Crowder (M.C. Gainey) who is a key figure in the shows first season.

As the show progresses, Raylan is forced to battle newly emerging threats, some from locals such as the Bennett and Crowe families, others from out of town drug operatives.

That renegade Bennett clan includes family matriarch Mags Bennett, played by Margo Martindale, and her sometimes bumbling but always villainous son Dickie Bennett, played by familiar face Jeremy Davies. Both Martindale and Davies won Emmy Awards for their roles. The Crowe family is a bunch of alligator farmers, and is led by another familiar face in Michael Rapaport.

Assisting Raylan on the law enforcement end are his immediate boss, Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Art Mullen. The chief is played brilliantly by Nick Searcy as a father figure to Raylan. He is much more of a straight, by the book lawman.

Based largely on Raylan’s track record of success, and simply liking him personally, Art tends to give Raylan a great deal of latitude in getting the job done – most times. Fellow deputies Rachel Brooks (Erica Tazel) and Tim Gutterson (Jacob Pitts) work out of Raylan’s office and usually have his back.

The shows theme song is “Long Hard Times to Come” by Gangstagrass, a New York based group that combines blue grass and rap in an original sound. The song was nominated for 2010 Emmy Award.

Over it’s history, “Justified” won a 2010 Peabody Award and the two Emmy Awards. Among the numerous nominations that it received over it’s run were eight Emmy Award nominations, including for both Olyphant and Goggins. The show, Olyphant, Goggins, and Carter all received Critic’s Choice Award nominations over the life of the series.

You rarely, if ever, get this style of law enforcement shown on television. Rural and small-town life highlighted, and the law enforcement in the form of the U.S. Marshal’s office rather than some big city police.

Whether you are a fan of cop shows or not, I believe that you would find “Justified” enjoyable. It’s smart, well produced, and well acted. If you’ve never seen it before, add it to your list of shows to binge-watch sometime soon. You won’t regret it.

Book Review: “So You Think You’re A Philadelphia Phillies Fan?”

Like everyone else in Philadelphia during the year 2008, Scott Butler was completely caught up in the exploits of the Philadelphia Phillies baseball club.

The Fightin’ Phils were on their way to the club’s second of five consecutive NL East Division crowns that summer. The season would culminate in the Phillies capturing just the second World Series championship in franchise history.

 

With all that fanfare as a backdrop, the Penn State grad decided to get in on the blogging game. He founded the “Phils Baseball” blog at philsbaseball.com that year.

Those were heady times for a Phillies fan, and it was a joy to keep up the blog for the first few seasons. The last few? Well, as every Phillies fan knows, things have become much more of a chore.
Undeterred by the recent losing seasons, Butler has published his first book through Sports Publishing. “So You Think You’re a Philadelphia Phillies Fan?” comes along with a subtitle advertising it as “stars, stats, records, and memories for true diehards.” In its 213 easy to read pages, Butler’s book delivers what it promises.
Every summer, I look for a couple of baseball themed books that I can read on the beach, or in my backyard. I love it when I can find one relating to my hometown Phillies. This one is perfect.
Butler breaks his book down into four sections. At the start of each, he poses a set of trivia questions. With each section, the questions get increasingly more difficult.
But then during the ensuing chapter he doesn’t simply answer each of the questions. Instead, Butler gives you the stories behind those answers.

FROM ROOKIE TO VETERAN

The first section title “Early Innings – Rookie Level” has a total of 30 questions. He prefaces the chapter in this way: “There are plenty of difficult questions in this book, but you won’t find them in this chapter. Here are a few easy ones to get you started.
Do you know the Phillies all-time career leaders in Home Runs, Wins, Strikeouts, and Saves? The team nicknames of the 1950 and 1983 Phillies NL champions? You’ll find these Phillies basics here.
Even though many of you will know the answers for the first section, reliving these great players, teams, and moments makes for light-hearted fun reading.
The second section titled “Middle Innings – Veteran Level” also has 20 questions. Here things get a bit more difficult for the youngest fans. A number of the questions here are on the great Phillies teams of the past, including the 1915, 1950, and 1964 clubs.

FROM ALL-STAR TO HALL OF FAMER

Section three is “Late Innings – All-Star Level” is filled to the brim with 50 questions, and gets into some deeper trivia.
Which player had more RBI in one game than any player in Phillies history? Who turned the last Phillies triple play? Who was the last Phillies batter to hit for a “Cycle”? The only two Phillies to ever hit 30 or more home runs and steal 40 or more bases in a single season?
The last section is “Extra Innings – Hall of Fame Level” and finishes up with 20 final questions. For instance, do you know the player received by the Phillies as a throw-in for an 1896 trade, and who would go on to become a Hall of Famer? Do you know the two Phillies players who each hit two home runs in a single inning?
Grab this one up and enjoy some of that light summer reading. No matter your personal level of expertise on the team, you’re guaranteed to learn something new. “So You Think You’re a Philadelphia Phillies Fan?” would also make the perfect gift for your own favorite Phillies fan.

Book Review: The Impossible Dream 1967 Red Sox

For younger fans of the Boston Red Sox, and Major League Baseball in general for that matter, this might be hard to believe. But for a long stretch of my lifetime, those Bosox were considered to be jinxed at best, chokers at worst.

The Red Sox have captured three recent World Series crowns in 2004, 2007, and in 2013. They have reached the postseason four other times as well in this century. They are considered one of the leading AL contenders once again this season.

But from 1908 until 2004, just short of a full century, the Red Sox could not manage to win a single World Series championship. In fact, during that stretch, the Sox captured just two American League Pennants.

The first of those came in 1946, when Ted Williams and company were edged out by the Saint Louis Cardinals thanks famously to the “Mad Dash” of Enos Slaughter in Game Seven.

I began following baseball in 1971, and distinctly recall rooting for Boston in the 1975 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. One of the attractions for me to the Red Sox cause was that lengthy frustration, attributed to the “Curse of the Bambino” by more superstitious fans.

Famed Boston baseball historian Herb Crehan has a fairly new book out, published by Summer Game Books last year. The book is based on the other AL Pennant won by the Red Sox during that 95-year stretch.

The Impossible Dream 1967 Red Sox: Birth of Red Sox Nation“, was released in 2016, written by Crehan. His bostonbaseballhistory.com website is the definitive stop for all things Red Sox. The book includes a forward by pitcher Jim Lonborg, who played a pivotal role for Boston in that 1967 season.

HISTORY LESSON

This well-written, easy to read, 267-page effort from Crehan covers that season with a central theme in mind. Crehan opines that those 1967 Red Sox lit the fire for what has become known as “Red Sox Nation.” This is the term for the rabid multi-generational fan base of the team reaching well outside of the New England region.

Before even beginning the 1967 team story, Crehan sets the stage for the reader with an intro titled “A Brief History of the Boston Red Sox” presented as a prologue.

In these 13 pages covering 1871 through 1966, Crehan rolls through one of my favorite subjects, real baseball history. He takes you from the early Boston Beaneaters (now the Atlanta Braves) to the Boston Americans (now the Red Sox), discussing the Boston baseball evolution.
In the 1966 season, Boston finished in ninth place with a 72-90 record in the American League. It was the club’s second consecutive season finishing ninth out of the 10 AL teams playing at that time.

THE 1967 RED SOX: LITTLE HOPE

Crehan opens the story of the 1967 team by setting the scene. The opening of the baseball season provided a respite to the escalating war in Vietnam: “In most minds, the boys of summer promptly took precedence over the boys of battle.”
Crehan quickly explains that the positive feeling regarding the game was not necessarily translating to the Boston area.
“But in Boston, as on so many recent Opening Days, there was little joy, less to shout about and lots of lethargy. It is hard for fans under the age of 55 to appreciate the depth of cynicism surrounding the 1967 Red Sox. It had been 21 years since the team’s last appearance in a World Series and the Red Sox hadn’t finished in the first division since 1958.”
The previous seven-year stretch had been particularly horrendous for fans of the team. The Red Sox finished no higher than sixth place in any season between 1960-66. Fans stayed away in droves.
From that 1946 World Series winner through today, the Red Sox have drawn more than a million fans to Fenway Park in 44 of the 52 seasons. A half-dozen of those eight poorly drawing years came during the 1961-66 seasons.

BOSOX START SLOW

Bottom line, there was no talk in Boston or anywhere else in baseball of the 1967 Boston Red Sox emerging as contenders. In fact, the season started out much as most believed it would, with consistent losing.
On May 20, a loss at Fenway to the Cleveland Indians left the Red Sox with a 14-17 record and in seventh place. At that point, the Bosox were a full seven games behind the front-running Chicago White Sox in the American League standings.
In fact, as late as July 13, the Red Sox continued to struggle. The club split a doubleheader with the Baltimore Orioles that day. They had lost six of eight games. Despite a 42-40 mark they were in fifth place, still a half-dozen games out of first. And then it all suddenly began to turn around.

TURNAROUND TO SURPRISE CONTENTION

It began with a 10-game winning streak in mid-July. By the end of that month, the Red Sox were in second place, just two games behind the White Sox.
It would take three more weeks, but Boston would finally catch the Chisox by sweeping a doubleheader from the Washington Senators on August 22.
One key player, 22-year old right fielder Tony Conigliaro, was not around for all of the drama. A budding star, ‘Tony C’ was hit in the face by California Angels pitcher Jack Hamilton on August 18, and was lost for the season.
The finishing stretch to that 1967 regular season would test the cardiac conditioning of fans all across New England. Over the final six weeks, Boston was never more than a game off the pace, or a game in front.

FINAL DAY MADNESS

Heading into the final day of the season, the Red Sox were tied at the top of the American League with the Minnesota Twins at 91-70. Tthe Detroit Tigers were just a half-game behind.
Remember, this was still two years before the divisional era would begin. All 10 teams were lined up in the league. Whoever finished in first place was the Pennant winner, advancing immediately into the World Series.
On that final day, October 1, Boston skipper Dick Williams sent his ace Lonborg to the hill in a head-to-head showdown with Minnesota for the pennant. Crehan writes of the buildup to that game:
“Lonborg, a native of San Luis Obispo, California, and a pre-med graduate of Stanford University, was the undisputed ace of the Red Sox staff with twenty-one wins already to his credit. However, the big right-hander entered the game winless against the powerful Twins, a team that had always given him trouble. Lonborg couldn’t have known it as the sun came up over Boston Harbor that morning, but he was about to achieve the most important victory of a distinguished career that would span fifteen seasons in the major leagues.”
The Red Sox would thrill the Fenway faithful with a 5-3 victory over the Twins on that final Sunday. Lonborg went the distance, allowing seven hits and walking four batters.

RED SOX VS TWINS

The Twins had broken to an early 2-0 lead, and that scored carried into the bottom of the sixth. Then the Bosox erupted for all five of the runs that they would score on the day against Twins 26-year old ace Dean Chance.
Lonborg incredibly began the big inning with a bunt base hit. It was the first of four straight singles to start the frame. The last of those was a game-tying, two-run single off the bat of future Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski to score Lonborg and Jerry Adair.
Ken Harrelson then hit into a fielder’s choice, with Dalton Jones racing home with the run that put Boston on top for the first time. After that, Chance and the Twins fell apart. A pair of wild pitches, a walk, and an error combined to push two more Red Sox runs across. Those runs would provide Boston’s ultimate margin of victory.
With two outs in the top of the 8th, the Twins tried to rally. Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva registered back to back singles. Then Bob Allison‘s base hit to left field scored Killebrew to cut the Boston lead down to a 5-3 margin.
However, Allison committed the final boner of the day for the Twins. Trying to put himself into scoring position, he went for second base on his clutch hit. Yaz came up firing, and gunned to second baseman Mike Andrews. Andrews’ tag nailed Allison for the final out of the inning and killed the Minnesota rally.

CAPTURING THE PENNANT

In the top of the 9th, the Twins had one final shot when Ted Uhlaender led off with a base hit. At that point in today’s game, had he somehow lasted that long, Lonborg would be lifted. The great lefty bat of Rod Carew was stepping to the plate.
But Williams stuck with his starter, and Lonborg rewarded his skipper. First he coaxed Carew into an easy 4-3 double play. Then he retired pinch-hitter Rich Rollins on a pop out to shortstop Rico Petrocelli to end the game.
The Red Sox and their fans exploded in a frenzied celebration. Yet there was still a potential fly in the ointment. Remember, Detroit had entered that final day just a half-game out. Should the Tigers sweep their doubleheader with the California Angels, they would finish tied with Boston. This would force a playoff for the AL Pennant.
The Boston locker room would eventually settle down, and the team would follow the Tigers-Angels action on a radio broadcast. Detroit had captured the opener 6-4, and moved to an early 3-1 lead in the second game.
But the Angels were no pushover, they roared back with three runs in both the third and fourth innings, coasting home with an 8-5 victory. The Tigers were eliminated, and the Red Sox were officially champions of the American League.

THE 1967 WORLD SERIES

In the World Series, the Red Sox would find the Saint Louis Cardinals waiting as representatives of the National League. Just as had happened 21 years earlier, the Cards would capture a seven-game victory.
The Red Sox beat one future Hall of Famer in that series. Lonborg edged his future Philadelphia Phillies rotation mate Steve Carlton by a 3-1 score in Game Five.
However, Boston simply could not solve the other Hall of Famer in the Cardinals rotation. Bob Gibson went 3-0, allowing just 14 hits over 27 innings with a 26/5 K:BB to earn the Most Valuable Player honors.
Crehan takes you through each game of that World Series, including Williams dice roll in Game Seven, where he started Lonborg on just two days rest.
“Lonborg managed to hold the Cardinals at bay during the first two innings of Game Seven. “I felt pretty good warming up,” Lonborg remembered. “I had pitched on two days rest several times that year…felt a little tired, but in a big game like that you are most interested in pitching command than power.””
Lonborg’s efforts that season were truly heroic. He would be rewarded for a 22-7 season by winning the AL Cy Young Award. But in Game Seven, he just didn’t have it. The Cardinals tagged him for six earned runs on 10 hits. Against the dominance of Gibson, that ineffectiveness proved the difference.

RED SOX NATION

Despite the Fall Classic defeat, the 1967 season was the beginning of major success for the Boston Red Sox. The club would reel off 16 consecutive winning seasons, returning to the World Series again just eight years later.
From that 1967 season through last year, a total of 50 seasons, the Red Sox and their fans have experienced just eight losing campaigns. They have been to the World Series five times, winning the last three.
Fenway Park has become a genuine “place to be” in Boston. The Red Sox have drawn more than three million fans on five occasions, and since 1986 have drawn over two million in every full season.
Just last month, Forbes estimated that the Boston Red Sox were worth $2.7 billion. That makes the club the third most valuable in all of Major League Baseball, behind only the arch-rival New York Yankees and the NL’s Los Angeles Dodgers, two teams playing in much larger home markets.
Crehan doesn’t simply take you chronologically through that 1967 season. The fourteen full chapters each highlight a specific player and their contributions to that Red Sox team. In addition to the players already mentioned here previously, those players include Reggie SmithRuss GibsonGeorge ScottJoe FoyGary Bell, and Jose Santiago.
When you examine the record of the team on the field, the response of the fan base, and the growth in value for the franchise in the last fifty years, it’s hard to argue with Crehan’s ultimate argument.
Those “Impossible Dream 1967 Red Sox” truly did give birth to the “Red Sox Nation”, just as his book title proclaims. This is an outstanding read, particularly for Boston fans, but also for all baseball fans.

Book Review: "Ahead of the Curve" by Brian Kenny

 

There is no book that I have read in recent years that I can more highly recommend than Ahead of the Curve” by Brian Kenny.

Kenny is a 2003 Emmy Award winner who was named as the 2004 Media Personality of the Year by Sports Illustrated. He is now well-known by baseball fans as a studio host for the MLB Network. In addition, Kenny is respected as a boxing analyst and broadcaster.
A longtime ESPN anchor and analyst, Kenny left in 2011 for the television stint with the then two-year old MLB Network. He also hosts ‘The Brian Kenny” show weekdays on NBC Sports Radio.
With his new TV gig, Kenny also joined former player Harold Reynolds on the ‘MLB Now‘ program. The show is highlighted by Kenny espousing modern “Sabermetric” statistical analysis of America’s Pastime.
Those Sabermetric views make up the centerpiece of “Ahead of the Curve“, which comes with an “Inside the Baseball Revolution” sub-title.

JAMES AND SABR REVOLUTIONIZE THE GAME

Sabermetrics principles were introduced decades ago by stats guru and writer Bill James, a hero of Kenny’s. This study and analysis of baseball via a statistical approach draws its name from SABR, the Society for Baseball Research, which itself was founded in 1971.
Kenny writes in chapter four titled “The Epiphany” of his own introduction to James’ questioning of previously long-accepted baseball dogma:
“Reading James unrelenting questioning gave me a vivid illustration of scientific inquiry. Like most everyone else, I had somehow glazed over all of that in Chemistry and Biology. Apply it to baseball? Now it all made sense. And nothing would ever be the same. Other baseball writing, by comparison, would seem like a gossip column.”
But readers of this book review shouldn’t allow the idea of statistics to intimidate you. Any baseball fan with any level of education will easily understand and appreciate the vast majority of Kenny’s brilliant work.

KENNY MAKES STATS ANALYSIS ACCESSIBLE

That is the true genius of this book. Kenny explains things in layman’s terms. He highlights the explanations and arguments with famous baseball events and personalities. As a result, he makes statistical analysis accessible to the common fan.
In comparing Joe DiMaggio to Ted Williams, or Mike Trout to Miguel Cabrera, both of which Kenny does in the book, he supports all of his points. Furthermore, Kenny does so in a language that fans of the game will find both easy and enjoyable to follow.
In the book, Kenny explains some of his favorite principles, such as the “bullpenning” concept. This was an idea touched on in the 2016 World Series.
“If professional baseball were starting now, there’s no way we would use the current model. We would “bullpen” most days. It will take a certain amount of reconditioning, no doubt, but the benefits of doing this would be enormous. No more ‘starters’, no more ‘relievers’, no more ‘wins.’ Another useful habit from the nineteenth century will be broken, giving the first to get there a huge advantage.”

TRADITIONAL STATS UNDER SCRUTINY

Kenny also goes after a number of traditional baseball statistics and theories that he finds to be mostly hogwash. Things like the sacrifice bunt, ‘Errors’ tracking for fielders, the ‘Win’ and ‘Save’ statistics for pitchers, and ‘Batting Average’ as a primary tool to evaluate hitters all come under Kenny scrutiny.
In conclusion, if you haven’t yet read this book, what are you waiting for? The final judgment of my book review of “Ahead of the Curve” is that it is a must-read for every true baseball fan. Therefore, this is one of those rare books that will earn a lasting place in your personal baseball library.

Book Review: "God Almighty Hisself: the Life and Legacy of Dick Allen"

Perhaps the single most controversial figure in the 133-season history of the Philadelphia Phillies franchise is the subject of a new book “God Almighty Hisself: The Life and Legacy of Dick Allen” by Villanova University law professor Mitchell Nathanson.
This is not a clumsy tome hastily thrown together to make a quick buck by giving fans some light summer reading.
Instead, Nathanson has produced a legitimate, first-class biography that tells the story of the 1960’s superstar who made a somewhat triumphant return in the mid-70’s to the city that once spurned him.
Allen was born and raised in and around Wampum, Pennsylvania, a one-square mile borough in Lawrence County on the western edge of the Commonwealth that can be found approximately 40 miles northwest of Pittsburgh and just 10 miles from the PA-Ohio border.
Though the town was overwhelmingly white in population and he was being raised in the racially charged America of the 1950’s, Allen experienced few overt problems thanks largely to his athletic abilities.
He and brothers Hank and Ronnie became basketball stars at Wampum High School, leading the team to championships while each became All-State players.
Allen became a professional baseball player rather than a pro hoops star simply because America’s pastime paid more, and Allen looked to provide a better life for himself and his family
, led by his mother, a God-loving and fearing Christian woman who worked hard to support her boys as a single parent.
He was also part of what Nathanson refers to as the “second generation of black players” who came after trailblazers such as Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby had begun integrating the game a decade or so earlier.
“This was Dick Allen’s generation,” writes Nathanson, “and their stories are, in fact, no less compelling, no less triumphant.”

“But this generation, unlike Robinson’s, did not end with an exclamation mark. Instead it bled slowly and imperceptibly into the modern game, where the racial double standard finally disappeared, and if you don’t look for it, you’re likely to miss it. But it’s there. And Dick Allen, at times unwittingly, at times quite cunningly, is a large part of the reason it ultimately succeeded.” ~ Nathanson

The racial and other societal challenges of the times were made a bit more difficult for Allen than even others in the game, as the Phillies were notoriously averse to bringing in black ball players.
The Phils would become the last major league team to integrate when John Kennedy made his debut on April 22nd, 1957 at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City, NJ as a pinch runner in a game against the Dodgers.
But it was Allen who would become the franchise’ first-ever black superstar during a time when Philadelphia was far less ethnically diverse than it has become today.
Over the first couple of chapters, Nathanson does an outstanding job of setting the stage for the rest of his book, for Allen’s experiences in Philly, and for the slugger’s 15-year big league career. In those pages he paints a clear picture of Allen’s personal life, and of the game in those days.
Things were especially difficult in places like the Phillies’ minor league affiliate at Little Rock, Arkansas, where Allen became the first-ever black player.

When the game was on, everybody was for you,” Nathanson quotes Allen. “When the game was over, everybody walked away from you and you were on your own.

Nathanson covers the rise of the mid-60’s contending Phillies with Allen starring as the club took a run at the 1964 NL Pennant, a run that every fan of the team knows ended in one of the most inglorious collapses in baseball history.
He pulls no punches in covering Allen’s infamous pre-game locker room fight with teammate Frank Thomas, the deterioration of Connie Mack Stadium and its surrounding neighborhood, and other racial elements of the times surrounding the team in the 1960’s in vivid, well-researched, and well-written detail.
He moves through Allen’s deteriorating relationship with the media, and in some ways through them, the Phillies fans, and ultimately with the club’s front office as the decade drew to a close.

By opening night of the 1969 season, hostility was thick in the Philadelphia air; most of those who trudged toward the dilapidated ballpark in the dilapidated neighborhood did so for one reason: to boo Dick Allen.”

Even as Allen finally escaped from Philadelphia in a trade to the Saint Louis Cardinals on October 7th, 1969, there was major controversy attached.
Allen was dealt by the Phils along with infielder Cookie Rojas and righty pitcher Jerry Johnson to Saint Louis in exchange for catcher Tim McCarver, closer Joe Hoerner, backup outfielder Byron Browne, and the centerpiece of the deal from the Philly perspective, a 31-year old outfielder named Curt Flood.
Flood was a 14-year big league veteran who had debuted at just age 18, and who had become a 3x NL All-Star with the Cardinals. The center fielder was riding a streak of seven consecutive Gold Gloves at the time of the trade, and had finished fourth in the 1968 NL MVP balloting.
But Flood refused to report to the Phillies, and would fight the trade in the single most important legal battle in the history of the sport.
Flood would ultimately lose his personal legal battle, but all players owe him a debt for setting the stage for the overturn of baseball’s “reserve clause” and the onset of free agency.
The Phils would be compensated in the end with the inclusion of Willie Montanez in the deal in place of Flood.
But of course, Flood had to have been dealt for Allen. The deal, its historic legal battle, and the reflection and impact on Allen and the Phillies are covered well by Nathanson.
Allen’s career in Saint Louis would last one season, followed by a trade to the Dodgers. That stint would last one season, followed by a trade to the Chicago White Sox.
Those single seasons came despite the fact that he produced, including making the NL All-Star team in 1970.
In Chicago, Allen took his game to another level, becoming the American League Most Valuable Player in 1972 at age 30. He would make the AL All-Star team in all three of his Chisox seasons.
A month into the season (1972) he had decided that he had at last found a home“, writes Nathanson. He quotes Allen during that MVP season:

I like it here in Chicago and I made up my mind that no matter what happens, this is the last club I’m going to play baseball with. I’m just too tired of moving around.”

As the mid-70’s approached, no one in baseball, least of all Allen, could ever foresee his returning to the Phillies, who had become perennial losers.
However, as those mid-70’s unfolded, the Phils emerged as serious contenders once again sparked by a young core of players led by sluggers Mike Schmidt and Greg Luzinski, and veterans like 2nd baseman Dave Cash and pitcher Steve Carlton.
In December of 1974, the White Sox dealt away a then 32-year old Allen to the Atlanta Braves. Holding to his earlier claim that Chicago would be his final stop, Allen balked at the deal for a number of reasons, both personal and professional.
Then in February of 1975, with Allen’s career possibly ending, Phillies legend Richie Ashburn stepped in, paying a “clandestine” visit to Allen at his Pennsylvania farm.
Accompanied by Schmidt and Cash, the trio risked tampering charges to woo Allen into coming back to Philadelphia with the emerging “Yes We Can” Phillies.
It would take months to accomplish, but eventually the Phillies made a deal with Atlanta, while Allen finalized a deal with owner Ruly Carpenter. Like that, he was the Phils’ starting 1st baseman.[teamnews align=”right” topic=”phillies” vertical=”mlb”]
“From the very beginning, I didn’t want to leave here. But I was kind of like pushed,” Nathanson quotes Allen as saying at the news conference announcing his return.

 “I never got the chance to relate to the kids in North Philly the last time I was here. But I’m going to become involved this time.

Allen would hit for just a .233/.327/.385 slash line with a dozen homers over 481 plate appearances with the 1975 Phillies. However, he did drive in 62 runs and banged 21 doubles, while the team took a run at the NL East crown.
After tying for the division lead as late as August 18th, they ultimately would finish 86-76 and just 6.5 games behind the division-winning Pittsburgh Pirates. It was the team’s best finish in a decade.
It would also mark them as serious contenders. The Phillies would go on to win the next three consecutive NL East crowns, and Allen was there to celebrate in 1976. However, his own skills were obviously eroding, especially the light-tower power that had been his calling card.
In many ways, the 1976 season was a mirror image of the one that preceded it: the club ran away from the pack at last but everything surrounding Dick began to unravel,” writes Nathanson.

For the first few months of the season the fans and writers remained solidly behind him; the team’s sparkling play overshadowed his diminishing skills.

In addition to those skills eroding, Allen was once again disgruntled with the organization, which he believed was underpaying him.
He also felt that Tony Taylor, his 60’s teammate with the Phils who was a bench player by this point, was deserving of a final shot at the postseason.
Allen threatened through the press that unless Taylor were included on the postseason roster, he himself would not play in the NLCS or World Series, if the club advanced.
“On the day the club clinched,” writes Nathanson, “word filtered down to Dick that Taylor would not, after all, be added to the postseason roster. The Phils were scheduled to play the Expos in a Sunday doubleheader and needed to win only one of the two games that afternoon to wrap things up. They took care of that in the first game and celebrated their championship in the cramped Jarry Park locker room.”

“Dick declined to join them, choosing instead to remain on the frosty bench accompanied only by his thoughts.”

This preceded what would become, as described by Nathanson, the “Broom Closet Incident” in the bowels of Jarry Park that afternoon.
This sequence of events, which I’ll leave for you to read in the chapter titled “No Apologies“, highlighted a racial divide that was forming in the Phillies clubhouse, and which many believed was being fomented by Allen.
Allen went just 2-9 in the NLCS with three walks and one run scored, his only career postseason appearance.
The ‘Big Red Machine’ swept the Phillies out in three straight games, coming from behind in all three contests. It would be the final ending to Allen’s playing career in Philadelphia.
He signed as a free agent that off-season with the Oakland Athletics, finishing out his career as a part-timer in Oakland, where he hit the final five home runs of his career.
Allen finished with 351 home runs and 1,119 RBI over his career, with a .292/.378/.534 slash line.
He was the 1964 NL Rookie of the Year with the Phillies, the 1972 AL MVP with the White Sox, a 7x All-Star, and had a half-dozen seasons with 30+ home runs.
In 1994, Allen became the 16th man to be enshrined by the Phillies on their Wall of Fame. Eight years later in 2002, Taylor would join him in also receiving that honor.
Nathanson closes this fantastic work with a glimpse at today’s athletes, and the influence of Allen on their ability to both play the game and express their individuality.

The athlete who goes his own way can no longer expect to be disparaged; he might even be worshiped for his steadfastness and resolve. Although many wouldn’t know him if they passed him on the street, all of these athletes owe a debt to Dick Allen for making their lives easier and more prosperous, for going through everything he went through simply because he believed that if he wasn’t himself he wasn’t anybody. For making the sports establishment realize that it didn’t matter so much after all what one did before or after the game provided he could perform at a peak level when it counted. They have reaped the benefits; Dick has paid the price.” ~ Nathanson

Nathanson has written a book that I consider a vital work and a must-read for any fan of the Phillies, of baseball, and in fact anyone interested in the history of America in the second half of the 20th century.
This is the fourth baseball-themed book written or co-written by Nathanson, and is certainly going to lead to my seeking out the others for reading as well. You are surely going to find something else of his reviewed here in the future.