He was one of my heroes from one of the most memorable years of my life.
He was Dick Allen, although we initially called him Richie. He was the slugging rookie third baseman for my hometown Philadelphia Phillies in 1964.
Allen wore No. 15 and he could hit a baseball a country mile. I remember listening to the Phillies games on the radio back then or watching on TV.
There was a buzz of anticipation whenever Allen stepped to the plate. Folks knew what he could do if he connected with a pitch.
There would be a solid crack of his bat and the ball would inevitably travel far over the outfield wall at Connie Mack Stadium in Philly or at some other ballpark on the road against a National League rival.
He almost singlehandedly powered my beloved Phillies to the 1964 pennant. But you know what ultimately happened. The Phillies led the league by six and a half games with just 12 left to play. And they proceeded to lose 10 straight games and blew the pennant to the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals, with star pitcher Bob Gibson, went on to beat the New York Yankees in the World Series.
Allen won the NL Rookie of the Year award for 1964. The Phillies traded him to the Cardinals before the 1970 season. He was with the Phillies (1963-69), Cardinals (1970), Los Angeles Dodgers (1971), Chicago White Sox (1972-74), Phillies again (1975-76) and the Oakland Athletics (1977). He won the American League Most Valuable Player award in 1972.
He died on Dec. 7 at age 78. I celebrated my 66th birthday the next day.
Thank you, Dick Allen, for giving me one of the best years of my life in 1964. Rest in peace, No. 15.