by William Bowen
Sweet-swinging slugger Rupert Allen was a key member of the Bluebird dynasty teams from 1907 to 1914 and was the first great home run hitter of the 20th century.
Bluebirds scouts discovered Allen as a toolsy 20-year-old, and word of his compact left-handed power stroke made him one of the top prospects in the game. After a brief and convincing cameo in 1902, Allen’s rookie year was also the first year of the Deadball Era: 1903.
As a 22-year-old, Allen’s natural abilities as a hitter and speed were enough to make him a productive player, although he struck out 113 times and was caught stealing more times (59) than he was successful (54). He rewarded his team's faith in him the next season. In 1904, he halved his strikeout total and led the league in home runs for the first time (13), out-homering one entire team (Buffalo) and equaling another (Chicago). In 1905, he once again halved his strikeout total and found a home in right field after playing center unconvincingly in his first few seasons. Allen became a very reliable defensive right fielder, and in 1906 Allen became a more effective base stealer, posting a respectable stolen base rate for an era in which stealing was frequent but highly inefficient.
By 1907, Allen was a fully-formed superstar. In 1907, he was the only player to hit double-digit home runs. This was also the first of five consecutive seasons in which Allen led the league in home runs. Indeed, he frequently matched or surpassed the home run totals of entire teams. He wasn't just a slugger. In each of these five seasons, he also batted better than .300, struck out fewer than 25 times, and stole more than 30 bases. He managed to do all this despite regularly missing 20 to 40 games each season due to nagging injuries.
Not coincidentally, these were great seasons for the Bluebirds. Led on offense by Allen, fellow slugger Dooley Sauer, and the double-play combo of Madison Field and Alvin Meek, Brooklyn could flat-out hit. With Nathaniel Flannigan and Hokey Lancaster heading the rotation—and, later, Boyle Slocum and Hall of Famer Edgar Blaney—they could pitch, too. They reached the World Series each year from 1907 to 1910, finished one game back in their division in 1911, and reached the World Series again in 1912. They managed to win Championships in 1907 and 1912. In
1910, the Bluebirds moved to Flatbush Park. Its cozy dimensions and short right-field fence inspired some writers to dub the new stadium “The House that Rupe Built.” Allen hit .353 and won the batting title.
After missing small portions of the season nearly every year due to nagging back and leg injuries, Allen missed nearly half the season in 1912. This broke his streak of winning the home run crown, but Brooklyn was happy to see the slugger come October. He had the best World Series of his career, going 11-for-31 (.355) with two home runs and nine RBIs, and leading Brooklyn to an exciting seven-game victory over the Cincinnati Packers.
In 1913, Allen had one last great season. He reclaimed the home run crown: his 21 dingers set both a career high and a league record. He also led the league with a career-high 105 RBIs.
His leg injuries had been slowing his defense down for a few years, and by 1914 it was clear that his bat was slowing down, too. The Bluebirds, however, were as good as ever. Led by rookie phenom Clay Baldwin, Brooklyn cruised to another World Series title, the third and final one of Allen’s career. A poorly timed hamstring strain caused Allen to miss the World Series.
Allen moved to first base for his final two seasons. Hobbled by injuries, Allen was a shadow of the sweet-swinging slugger he once was. On May 15, 1915, he collected his 2000th hit. In the middle of the 1916 season, Rupert Allen decided to retire. The Bluebirds celebrated "Rupert Allen Day" at Flatbush Park on the Fourth of July, holding a retirement ceremony after the game.
Rupert Allen retired with the second-most home runs in history despite playing in the Deadball Era, his total of 148 exceeded only by Hall of Fame Knickerbocker Pierre Ellsworth. Allen slashed .302/.356/.446, good for a 149 OPS+ and 59.6 WAR. He accumulated 2,099 base hits and stole 549 bases. Allen led the league in home runs (1904, 1907-1911, 1913), RBIs (1909, 1913), slugging percentage (1905, 1910), batting average (1910) and OPS (1910). He won Rookie of the Month once, Player of the Week nine times, and Batter of the Month seven times. Allen won three World Series with the Brooklyn Bluebirds (1907, 1912, 1914).
In 1953, voters elected Rupert Allen to the Hall of Fame.