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

Mike Tollin is a producer and director (Radio, Coach Carter, Varsity Blues, Arli$$, Smallville, Wild Hogs) living in Los Angeles. He is working on a film about his boyhood hero and the unlikely intersection of their lives. What follows are excerpts from that work-in-progress.

FADE-UP GRAPHIC: September 1963

Roly-poly MICHAEL, age seven, turns on the TV in a well-appointed living room. The screen comes to life slowly, revealing the black-and-white image of a baseball diamond and a large, well-chiseled hitter ambling toward the plate. He wears number 32 on the back of his road Phillies uniform. CUT BACK to the living room, where Michael seems mesmerized and edges closer to the blue Magnavox console encasing the 19-inch screen.

Twenty-one-year-old RICHIE ALLEN, just called up from Triple A Little Rock, swings a 42-ounce war club and rakes a blue darter off Johnny Podres into the gap for a run-scoring triple.

A whole generation of Phillies fans becomes hooked almost immediately. His size, his elegance, his supercilious demeanor, the way he swings that massive lumber, his deceptive speed, those gargantuan homers, and yes, his blackness, all make Richie Allen a dangerous but irresistible hero.

FADE-UP GRAPHIC: One year later

The sounds of a Phillies game can be heard from a radio positioned in an open window. Michael, his 11-year-old brother LARRY and their six-year-old sister CINDY are in their cramped backyard, playing running bases. The screen door swings open, and their grandfather SI, 55, appears.

Si: C’mon, kids, let’s go. You’re coming with me to the apartment. Your mother’s meeting us there.

A dilapidated Chevy station wagon. The three kids sit in the backseat, quiet and nervous. The car radio plays a baseball game between the Phillies and the Pirates.

Michael: So Grandpop, why are we going to your house? Did someone die?

Small den of an apartment on the outskirts of Philadelphia. The three kids sit in a row on a black-and-white tweed loveseat. The Phillies game is now on TV. The sound is turned down, but Michael is laser-focused on the game. Richie Allen is on deck. RUTHELLEN, the  31-year-old mother, enters. She’s clutching a tissue, fighting back tears.

Ruthellen: Kids, I have some bad news. Your father and I have decided to split up. That means he’s not going to be living with us at the house anymore. He’s going to have his own apartment, but you will still see him all the time. And the main thing you need to know is we both love you very much. …

His attention is drifting, from his mother’s voice to the TV set, where Richie Allen is in the batter’s box. Larry’s eyes are red, fighting back tears. Cindy has crawled into Ruthellen’s lap, bawling like a baby. Allen swings and lines a base hit to center field. Michael tries to suppress a smile.

The Phils are in first place with a seemingly insurmountable lead. Richie Allen, now 22, is on his way to earning Rookie of the Year honors. But by mid-September, the team is starting to show cracks.

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.

Fast-paced series of images shows highlights and lowlights from Richie’s next five years with the Phillies; fans boo as Richie comes to bat; he hits one over the roof, and the same fans cheer. Michael celebrates his bar mitzvah as Ruthellen and Sol look on admiringly from opposite sides of the temple; Allen, traded to St. Louis, insists on being called “Dick Allen.” Then on to the Dodgers, the White Sox (where he wins an MVP), back to the Phillies in ’75, then to Oakland to finish out his career with the A’s in ’77.

FADE-UP GRAPHIC: June 1977, Oakland, California

In the far corner of the cramped and spartan dressing quarters sits Richie, now 35, wearing a home A’s jersey that says “Wampum” — his hometown — instead of his name on the back. The shirt is open, and Richie sits pensively, smoking a cigarette and sipping a beer. Michael, now a 21-year-old senior at nearby Stanford University, enters the room tentatively, carrying a microphone and an audiocassette recorder. He spots his boyhood hero and slowly walks in his direction. His hands shake as he pushes the “record” button and extends the microphone.

Michael: In the seventh inning, Perry got you on a curve in the dirt. Were you expecting a fastball?

Richie takes a drag of the cigarette. Then a sip of the beer. He stares straight ahead.

Michael (continued): What do you think the A’s have to do to turn things around?

Still no response. Michael slowly retreats from Allen’s locker, shell-shocked. It’s been almost 14 years since the “imprinting” of that autumn afternoon in ’63, and now this? Michael sets his tape recorder on the concrete floor beneath one of the wooden benches. New approach — friendly, non-media, longtime admirer. He walks slowly and tentatively toward Allen, who remains seated, still engrossed in his two vices.

Michael (continued): Hi, Dick, I wanted to say hello. I’m from Philadelphia.

The hint of a smile, and Richie Allen makes a quarter-turn in Michael’s direction.

Richie: Ah, sorry about that.

(Hard to tell if he’s kidding.)

Richie (continued): What part?
Yeah, okay. What are you, Jewish?

(Michael pretends not to hear the question. Why is he asking that? He can’t possibly be asking that.)

Richie (continued): So, you Jewish?
Michael: Uh, yeah … I am.
Well all right, God’s Chosen People! Sit down, hoss, have a beer.

The two men, from Wampum and Havertown, drink, talk, and laugh heartily. Michael is giddy. There is clearly a connection between the two Philly expatriates, and it feels to Michael like the beginning of a deep friendship.

Almost a full decade passes, and Richie and Michael transition into new lives. Michael returns to Philadelphia to begin his career as a filmmaker. He then moves to New York, first working for Major League Baseball Productions, then starting his own production company. Richie, now retired as a player, focuses on his other passion, horses, and dips in and out of baseball as a coach. They stay in touch, largely through Michael’s quest to write a book with Richie.

FADE-UP GRAPHIC: March 1986, Sarasota, Florida

Downscale establishment, a notch above a diner. Richie and Michael sit in a booth. Richie, now 44, puts on his glasses so he can read from a letter.

Richie: (pointing to letter) This guy here says he wants to write a book on me. Philly sportswriter, that’s got to be trouble, huh.

They share a laugh.

Michael: Well, so do I, as I’ve been telling you for years.
(taking a drag of his cigarette and a sip of beer) All right then, Stanford, let’s do it. You and me.

He puts out his hand for a soul shake. Michael takes it, ecstatic with the realization of a long-held dream.

Michael and Richie, half a generation apart in age and a world apart in so many ways, continue to grow closer. But their book project gets derailed when that “Philly sportswriter” lands a more substantial financial offer than Michael can muster, and Richie decides to go with the better dough. It’s a huge betrayal for Michael, one that leaves him deeply hurt, more personally than professionally.

In the corner of a dimly lit tavern, Richie and Michael sit with cocktails.

Michael: And you didn’t even think to call me? I mean, this is like giving a ring to a girl and then finding out from someone else that she’s marrying some other guy!
I’m sorry, Stanford. You’re right. Meant to call you. My bad, hoss. My bad.

Michael can barely listen. He turns away, trying to hide his emotions. He knows that’s all he’s going to get from Richie. He is trying to process it, trying to find forgiveness.

By the early 1990s, both men have moved to Los Angeles, and Michael conspires with Richie’s wife, Willa, to throw the kid from Wampum a 50th birthday party.

FADE-UP GRAPHIC: Sherman Oaks, California

Ranch house on a hill overlooking the San Fernando Valley. The hosts, Michael and his wife ROBBIE, mingle with friends from Philly, WILLA ALLEN, and friends of her husband. The guest of honor is expected at any time.

The party has thinned, as has Willa’s patience.

Willa: Well, I knew he was going to the track, but he said he was only going for a couple of races. I’m sure he’ll be here any minute.

The hosts nod and feign understanding.

Only Michael, Robbie and Willa remain. They say their goodbyes.

Robbie: (looking to comfort her husband) I’m sorry, honey. You okay?
Michael: Yeah, I figured he probably wouldn’t show.
Robbie: Then why did we have the party?
Michael: ’Cause he’s Richie Allen. He used to be my hero, and now he’s my friend. That’s good enough for me.

It’s been said there can be no greater sadness for a parent than the loss of a child. Richie Allen had three kids, two sons and a daughter named Terri, who was the great joy of his life. In 1991, Terri was shot and killed by an ex-boyfriend.

A typical neighborhood blacktop in southern California. The midday sun bakes the asphalt. The two hoops, slightly bent, are netless. A blue ’59 Studebaker Lark approaches and stops; two men get out, one with a basketball.

Richie: I like your ride, hoss.
Michael: Yeah, I’ve had it for about 10 years … hope it’s the last car I ever buy.

The SOUND of the ball bouncing. Michael passes it to Richie, who stands at the three-point line in his cowboy boots. He drains shot after shot. The man once described by ex-Princeton basketball coach Butch van Breda Kolff as the greatest natural basketball talent he had ever seen hasn’t lost his touch. They continue without a word for a while, but finally Richie breaks down.

Richie: I thought this’d be the best place for me. But damn … this is hard.
Michael: I can’t even imagine what you’re going through, Wampum. But I know how much she loved you, and I know she’ll be with you forever.

Richie sobs inconsolably. Michael goes closer; they hug, all alone on the court.

Just a few years after losing his daughter, Dick has to bury his beloved mother Era, the matriarch of the family. (He’d been one of eight kids.) He moves back to the family house in Wampum, venturing out to California to spend time with his wife and going to Clearwater to help out in spring training. It’s an increasingly reclusive life. Twice, he is lured from his outpost in western Pennsylvania to make cameo appearances in movies produced by Michael.

Movie clips of Summer Catch, featuring Richie Allen as The Scout in the Black Hat; and Dreamer, with Richie Allen in a racetrack scene with Kurt Russell.

FADE-UP GRAPHIC: August 18, 2006

Richie and Michael sit in a spacious red leather booth, drinking margaritas and eating enchiladas.

So now after all these years, I find out my son Dickie thought I should have done more to help him get a job with the Rangers. Can you imagine, after all these years?
Well, you gotta call him. It doesn’t matter how many years it’s been. If that’s how he feels, you have to go see him and get him to talk about it. Get it out. No matter how painful it is to hear.
Yeah, you’re right. I’m gonna call him. Thanks, Stanford.

They raise their glasses and toast. Michael’s cell phone rings.

The color is drained from his face. He excuses himself from the table with a distracted wave and exits the restaurant onto a crowded North Hollywood street.

Michael: What do you mean, he’s dead? He’s not dead. … HE CAN’T BE DEAD!

Then silence. On the other end of the phone, Michael’s two siblings describe a horrible accident that has killed their father Sol.

Michael returns to the table and tells Richie the news. Richie grabs his friend and holds him tight, then releases him and puts his hands on Michael’s shoulders.

Richie: Listen, you’re the point guard now. You’re bringing up the ball. Get home, tell Robbie and the kids, and get to Philly on the next flight. They’ll be needing you there. Geez all, man, I’m sorry, Stanford.

Through the five days of “shiva” (mourning) following the funeral in Philadelphia, Richie Allen calls once a day. His voice is understanding and comforting. He feels almost like a member of the family. Then, two and a half years later, there is another opportunity to share an emotional journey, but this time a joyous one.


Michael: So Wampum, I just got a call — it turns out they’re inducting me into the Philly Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, with my dad, posthumously.
Hey, that’s great, Stanford!
I know you’re not coming — you didn’t even come to your own birthday party — but I wanted you to know about it.
That’s beautiful. Really. And with your dad, too, ain’t that somethin’. Well, if there’s any way I can be there for you two, you know I will.
(smiling) Yeah, sure.


Antiquated auditorium, well-dressed people listening to a rambling speech.

Michael, in suit and tie, mid-speech.

And he says, “Aw, sorry about that. What part?” I say “Havertown,” and he says, “Yeah, okay. What are you, Jewish?” I can’t believe he’s really asking me that, but I say, “Uh, yeah, I am.” And he says …

INTERIOR AUDITORIUM — CONTINUOUS  CLOSE-UP on Richie, standing in the corner of the auditorium, smiling broadly, mouthing the words ’cause he knows what’s coming: “Well all right, God’s Chosen People! Sit down, hoss, have a beer!”

Michael: So after all those years, there I was — just me ’n’ Richie …

Richie Allen, nodding his head as if to say, “Yep, that’s the way it happened” and dabbing at his eyes.

FADE OUT.                                                  

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