ONE WEEK AGO yesterday, we celebrated the 39th anniversary of two events that shook the cosmos.
On July 20, 1969, astronaut Neil Armstrong stepped from the bottom rung of the
lunar lander ladder onto the powdery surface of the moon.
"That's one small step for man," his voice crackled from the Sea of Tranquility. "One giant leap for mankind."
About 238,355 miles away, an earthly landing took place.
Richard Anthony Allen walked into the Connie Mack Stadium clubhouse, ending a 30-game absence that began on June 24.
I wrote: "That's one small step for man. One giant leap for Rich Allen."
Historical note: Coincidentally, Jimmy Rollins showed up late on Thursday, July 24, exactly 39 years from the date that Allen made his first appearance following his hiatus.
Not to diminish the impact of Rollins and his disturbing regression from National League MVP to a merely good middle infielder, but when it comes to breaking rules, J-Roll couldn't carry Allen's fine slips.
There is one ball club no-no Allen was never guilty of, however. Let's make that clear: No. 15 never, ever, took a play off. He used to tell writers, "All I owe anybody is a hard game of ball." And he gave them that and more. Even when manager Gene Mauch stuck him in left when he was too injured to throw a baseball 20 feet to designated relay man Bobby Wine, Allen ran the bases hard and knew his role in the offense.
It is one reason why, despite all the off-field stuff during his career - and let's be real here, Crash did cause the exit of two managers - his teammates generally liked and respected him.
When Rollins got stuck in traffic last Thursday, driving his own auto from the Phillies' Manhattan Le Parker Meridien hotel, he wound up at Shea Stadium less than an hour before a 12:10 p.m. start. That was well past a club rule that considers any player late who arrives after the arrival of the second team bus.
Manager Charlie Manuel benched him for his tardiness, the shortstop's second official demerit of the season. The first was for failing to run out a fly ball that was misplayed. Manuel waited until the end of the inning that time, then sent Eric Bruntlett out to shortstop.
A more serious breach of Charlie's hustle policy cost the Phillies a run in the last Marlins series. Rollins was on first with two outs when Shane Victorino sliced a fly down the leftfield line. With two outs, fair or foul was not an issue. A runner should be busting. Rollins jogged and was barely at second when the ball finally came down just fair. He should have scored standing. Instead, he settled for third. I think he forgot there were two outs, a mental error, but an inexcusable gaffe for a player of MVP stature.
Meanwhile, Manuel needs to add a third rule to his short list of, "1. Be on time. 2. Always hustle." No. 3 should be, "All players without exception must travel with the ballclub to road games." That includes guys going on their own in stretch limos with blacked out windows.
Fans who have been around a while can't help relate Rollins showing up late last Thursday to Allen not showing up at all on June 24, 1969. But it's not even in the same ballpark of rules misdemeanors.
If Allen had read the itinerary, he would have been reminded that the originally scheduled night game was now a twinight doubleheader that included a makeup game that started at 5:35 p.m.
When No. 15 left Monmouth Park race track in Oceanport, N.J., he thought he'd have no problem getting to Shea in time for a night game. But he was stuck in gridlocked traffic when the first game started and heard on the radio that he failed to show up for the first game and had been indefinitely suspended. Allen called Shea Stadium when he got to the hotel and his suspension was confirmed. So he got in his auto and drove home.
There were occasional Garden State Park sightings as the weeks unraveled. The next Phillies road trip started in Montreal where Gene Mauch was managing the Expos. No. 4 said, "What would I do? I'd find him, I'd fine him and I'd play him."
Mauch had been fired in 1968, days after Allen staged what amounted to a sitdown strike during a trip to Houston and the West Coast. He had been fined and sent home after showing up late and unsteady for a home game. The media was told he had a leg injury. During each game of the trip, Rich took a seat in the bullpen. Around the seventh inning, he would go to the clubhouse.
When he left Candlestick Park, where there were no bullpens, he had to cross the entire field to get to a clubhouse entrance in the rightfield corner used by both clubs. Allen would stop and chat with leftfielder Jim Ray Hart, then exchange pleasantries with Willie Mays in center and finally pay his respects to rightfielder Ollie Brown before exiting through the double doors leading to adjacent clubhouses. The moment the final out was made, he was out the door, fully dressed.
Before the final game of the trip, in Dodger Stadium, owner Bob Carpenter rescinded most of the fines. Mauch complained bitterly that his authority had been compromised.
The Little General was fired June 14.
His successor, Bob Skinner, resigned Aug. 6, 1969, 17 days after Allen and Neil Armstrong landed.
Crash had raised the non-compliance bar so high by then, J-Roll is not close to being rebel enough to soar over it . . .
Allen's sitting streak is as safe as Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak. *
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