Sports: Me ’n’ Richie

As a kid in Havertown, filmmaker Mike Tollin was in awe of controversial Phillies star Dick Allen. In an excerpt from a work-in-progress screenplay, Tollin details Allen’s place in the city — and how his own idol-worship transformed into a real relationship

Crowded and loud, the Main Line institution is buzzing on a typical weeknight. The three kids are sitting in a roomy corner booth with SOL, their 35-year-old father. It’s their first weekly dinner under the new arrangement. Everyone is uncomfortable.

Sol: Okay, who’s ready for a surprise?

The kids look up from their corned beef sandwiches expectantly. And with great fanfare, Sol produces four multicolored strips of tickets for the upcoming 1964 World Series.

Michael: But Dad …
I know, I know, they’ve lost a few in a row, but you think Mauch’s going to let that keep happening? And then we’ll get to play the Yankees in the World Series. C’mon!

“Six-and-a-half-game lead with 12 to play” — the phrase that every middle-aged Phillies fan remembers more clearly than the multiplication tables. And then comes the Swoon of All Swoons — the Phils drop 10 games in a row to lose the NL pennant by a game.

FADE-UP GRAPHIC: July 3, 1965, Connie Mack Stadium

The Phillies are taking batting practice before a game with the Reds. Thirty-five-year-old Frank Thomas is taking a ribbing from Richie Allen and Johnny Callison for an untimely strikeout the night before. An angry retort with racial overtones from Thomas leads Allen toward home plate, and fisticuffs ensue. Thomas blasts Allen on the shoulder with his bat.

A bicyclist with a cloth bag slung over one shoulder fires a rolled-up newspaper onto the lawn, and in an instant, Michael and Larry, now nine and 12, come barreling out of the house. A tug of war for the Bulletin ensues, but Michael comes away with it.

Suburban living room. Michael devours the sports page, while Larry plays the Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun” on the Farfisa organ, while singing horrendously.

Larry: (interrupting himself) Yeah, go ahead, take your time. But you’re going to have to listen to this until you give me the sports page.

Michael ignores him, crestfallen as he reads the news of the Phillies fight. Frank Thomas has been released by the team with virtually no explanation, and Allen, hitting .348, is forbidden to tell his side of the story. The phone rings. Michael picks it up, and immediately he hears Sol’s voice.

Sol: Can you believe they let Thomas go? It figures they took the kid’s side, just ’cause he’s off to a hot start.
But Dad, you don’t know what happened. …
Pathetic. I knew this kid Allen was gonna be no good.

Things will never be the same in Philadelphia for Allen. The Phillies’ first black superstar now becomes the team’s most polarizing figure, booed unmercifully and dividing the city along racial and generational lines.