Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 60: Catching Up With Rod Allen
Steve Eby | On 04, Feb 2016
As Did The Tribe Win Last Night helps fans count down the days until the Indians retake the field in an official Major League game, we look back at some of the players who wore the Cleveland jersey with pride.
Countdown to Opening Day – 60 days
CLEVELAND INDIANS TRIVIA:
Q: Who was the first Cleveland Indian to wear #60 as a uniform number?
A: Rod Allen
If you’re not a Detroit Tigers fan and you don’t know who Rod Allen is, you definitely get a pass on that one. Allen is now a broadcaster in Detroit, but is also a former outfielder whose last Major League moments as a player came with the Indians in the fall of 1988. Allen’s five games with the Tribe, however, were five of just 31 total in his career.
After a cup of tea with the Seattle Mariners in ’83 and then the Tigers in ’84, Allen was called up by the Indians in September as the reeling Tribe finished out their schedule. Allen was stuck in the minors for a couple of seasons, however, as the Tribe definitely did not lack outfield help.
“I was a borderline Triple-A/Major League player and they had really good talent here in Cleveland in the outfield,” Allen recalled. “They had Ron Kittle, Joe Carter, Mel Hall, Carmelo Castillo, Cory Snyder and Brett Butler. There really wasn’t much of an opportunity for me to play. There were a lot of outfielders that were in my way.”
His call-up in September of ’88 was well deserved, however, after a couple of splendid seasons at AAA.
“Steve Swisher–Nick’s dad–was my manager in Buffalo and Colorado Springs. He pushed me to no end,” Allen said of his former coach. “I was one of the older guys on that team—like 27 or 28—with guys like Jay Bell, John Farrell and Terry Francona. Swisher put me in the number four spot in the lineup every day and never wavered. I drove in 97 runs in 1987 and then drove in 100 runs in ’88. I was the only minor leaguer that year to drive in 100. That got me a call up.”
A 1-for-11 total with a double, a run scored and two strikeouts over his five contests was all that will go down in the Cleveland record books for Allen.
“That’s about it,” Allen summarized. “In ’88, when I was fortunate enough to get to the Big Leagues with the Indians, I spent the month of September with the team.”
The games that Allen spent in Cleveland turned out to be the last of his short Major League career that started when he was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in 1977. Draft day was a big deal for Allen, but not as big of a deal as the players get to experience nowadays.
“Draft day wasn’t nearly as big as it is now. I got drafted in the sixth round out of high school and we were playing an American Legion game that day in Santa Monica, California. My American Legion coach told me that I got drafted in the sixth round. It was an incredible day, but it’s something that you found out about in the newspaper, not on television. It was always a goal of mine to play professional baseball.”
The dream of playing in the Majors then became a reality in 1983, when he was called up to Seattle one season after being traded from the Windy City.
“When I made it to the Big Leagues with the Seattle Mariners in 1983, that was a special day too. To get that call and know that I had made the team and finally got to the Big Leagues was awfully special.”
After eleven games in the Pacific Northwest, Allen was let go by the Mariners and eventually found himself signing with the Tigers as the 1984 squad was ready to make history. The eventual World Series Champs won their first nine games out of the gate and then stormed out to a record 35-5 record through their first 40 contests. Remarkably, the Tigers were 13-0 during those 40 games when Allen made an appearance out of the dugout, but Allen does not take much credit for that undefeated record.
“No, it was not all me,” Allen laughed, “but that is a nice little nugget of information.”
Perhaps not being the sole reason for the Kitties’ hot start, Allen still had a fun run as a player in Detroit—despite his short stay.
“It was special. That 35-5 start—which is the best start in baseball history—was incredible for me to be there and getting to play behind superstars like Kirk Gibson and Chet Lemon. There wasn’t much room for me to play, but I was good enough to be there. It was incredible.”
Even with all of the talent on the Detroit roster, Allen gives most of the credit to the teams’ Hall of Fame skipper for their record beginning.
“Sparky Anderson made the team so special. He was an incredible motivator. He was a dad. He knew how to push all the right buttons, how to talk to the media and there’s a reason why he’s in the Hall of Fame. There’s a reason that he has won the World Series in both leagues. There’s a reason why he was as good as he was. Sparky Anderson was a difference maker.”
The Tigers went on to win the World Series without Allen, as he took his last swings for Detroit in late May. A year later, Allen was traded to Baltimore and then signed as a free agent with Cleveland in May of 1986. It took a year and a half for Allen to get back to the Bigs, but it was that special ’87 minor league season that propelled Allen to the next step in his career.
“Steve Swisher allowed me the opportunity to play every day and put up the numbers that got me the contract in Japan…After that, I signed a three-year contract over there. I had a feeling that I was going to get that opportunity. Dan O’Dowd was the minor league farm director at the time and he told me that Japan was interested. It was nice for me to get the opportunity to go over there and make a little money.”
A few seasons overseas was welcomed by Allen, but the differences between the ways the game is played was eye-opening.
“The talent and the skill set is not the same, but on any given day you could run into a single pitcher who was Major League caliber,” Allen said. “You work a lot harder there. That’s probably the biggest difference. You train like crazy. We’d go to Spring Training here in March, but we’d go over there in January. You’d hit the ground running. It was a lot of work. It was two-a-days and stuff that we’d never experienced as American players. If you wanted to stay, though, you had to conform to their ways.”
Like everywhere else up to that point, Allen’s tenure in Japan was just temporary.
“I went to Japan for three years and then I started coaching,” Allen recalled. “I was with the Florida Marlins for three years and then went to Arizona for a couple of years. After that, I got the break of my life when I became the analyst for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Eventually, I got to broadcast the World Series in 2001 on the radio.”
Allen has since found a home in the booth, but still sometimes looks down at the field with hopes.
“It’s kind of hard to say that I don’t love broadcasting, because I do. I do miss being down on the field. I think, at some point, I might even want to go back out onto the field before it’s all said and done.”
It has now been 18 seasons that Allen has called baseball games and his most memorable moment came during that Diamondbacks title run.
“As an announcer in 2001, we went to New York for the World Series about three weeks after September 11. We got a chance to get there and see it up close and personal. We met with the firefighters and all of that stuff. I’ll never forget that.”
After leaving Arizona in 2002, Allen found himself back in Detroit where he finally has found a permanent home. A Tigers broadcaster since the 2003 season, Allen won Michigan Emmys in 2006 and 2007 for his analysis during the broadcasts on Fox Sports Detroit. Additionally, Allen does some work for Fox Saturday Baseball as well. His successes in the booth may be a bit surprising because it followed such a short playing career, but that fact is not lost on Allen.
“Eighteen years of broadcasting Major League Baseball in Major League cities is amazing…especially when you weren’t a star player,” Allen said. “If you look at most of these guys, they’re guys like Rick Manning, Jack Morris, Kirk Gibson and Orel Hershiser. Those are guys that played a long time in the Big Leagues. I spent the equivalency of one year in the Big Leagues and I’ve parlayed that into an 18-year career as a Major League announcer. I’m extremely grateful for that and extremely proud of that. I’ve had a special career.”
It doesn’t hurt that Allen has got the best seat in the house to watch some of baseball’s greatest players day in and day out.
“I got to watch Randy Johnson win four straight Cy Young Awards with Arizona and got to watch Curt Schilling finish second a couple of times. I watched Justin Verlander win Rookie of the Year, Cy Young, MVP and win the Triple Crown. Miguel Cabrera too…we’ve run out of words to describe how phenomenal he is. I’ve been fortunate to watch some great, great players.”
“I’ve been incredibly blessed,” Allen said with a smile. “I did not get a chance to play in the Big Leagues as long as I would have liked to, but I’ve had a wonderful baseball career.”
Photo: Fleer Baseball Cards