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Surprising as it felt, Dick Allen's MVP season in 1972 didn't come out of nowhere.
He was, after all, a Hall of Fame-caliber hitter in the prime of his career coming off eight consecutive seasons with an OPS+ over 140.
The surprise? He was playing for his fourth team in four years.
Therein lies the turbulence of Dick Allen's career—an uncommonly great hitter dogged by persistent personal conflicts.
Allen got his start with the Philadelphia Phillies, a franchise known for its hostility toward black players.
Allen outplayed the prejudice, and in 1964, he became the second player in franchise history to win the Rookie of the Year award.
Allen's success didn't meet with admiration from the Philadelphia faithful. Known for his habitual lateness and short temper, Allen earned a reputation as a malcontent and soon found himself the target of both boo birds and batteries.
The dystopian relationship between Allen and the organization culminated in a trade to the Cardinals when Allen was just 28.
(Side note: The Phillies were supposed to receive Curt Flood in the trade, but Flood refused, instead seizing the moment to challenge baseball's reserve clause and eventually clear the path toward free agency.)
Allen no doubt had a surly streak, but the breakup was as much a sign of the times as it was an indictment of Allen's behavior.
As Bruce Markusen put it in an article for The Hardball Times:
"Some of Allen’s problems were self-inflicted; others were created by a 1960s American culture that was still plagued by deep-seated racism and segregation."
Racism, of course, wasn't exclusive to Philadelphia. Allen's strong personality stirred trouble elsewhere, and he lasted in St. Louis just one year. After a season in Los Angeles, Allen ended up with the White Sox, where he turned in the finest year of his career and captured the AL's top prize.
The MVP glow didn't last long, and a conflict with Ron Santo precipitated his trade back to Philadelphia in 1975.
In was perhaps the oddest twist of all—the team that once banished him to a life of baseball transience welcomed him back as a prodigal son.
Allen played a support role on a '76 Phillies team that won 101 games before retiring with the Oakland A's in 1977.