Rich Rollins, Bernie Allen and Garry Roggenburk
Most college seniors who sign pro baseball contracts today spend a few years
in the minor leagues. Bernie Allen spent 80 games there before having a
solid rookie season in 1962 at age 23.
Allen was a reluctant star quarterback for Purdue University - reluctant in that he didn't like football. With six kids in the Allen family, he figured when the Boilermakers offered him a scholarship that it was his best chance to get a college education.
Despite being slightly built, even for a 1950s college football player, he survived the Big 10 to sign a big-league
baseball contract for $50,000, and then spent just one season at minor league Charlotte
before bumping aside Billy Martin to take
the Twins' second base job in 1962. He started 159 games and committed just 13
Allen's first major league hit was a run-scoring triple, and he went on to
hit 12 home runs, which at the time was a club record for second basemen. That
rookie season suggested that the Twins had found a man who might anchor that
position for a while.
It had been a struggle for club owner Calvin Griffith to find a
decent second baseman dating back to World War II -- before Griffith moved his
franchise from Washington to Minnesota.
Allen's next season was more the struggle to be expected of a man with about
850 pro at-bats under his belt, and he was batting a Nick Punto-like .198 in
late August of '63 before batting .321 in the last six weeks of the season.
Unfortunately, that was close to the high point for Allen's career in
Minnesota. In 1964, shortstop Zoilo
Versalles made a languid throw to Allen on a double-play ground ball.
Allen hung in at second base as Don Zimmer rolled through Allen's legs.
Allen injured the knee in June, but didn't have surgery until October
because the doctor Griffith allowed to examine the knee said Allen did not need
Foots his own bills
Allen ended up paying his own way on four round-trips to Oklahoma City for
examination and surgery by Dr. Don O'Donoghue, a specialist Allen chose
after carefully investigating orthopedic surgeons. O'Donoghue was the Iowa
native who pioneered knee surgery on athletes such as Gale Sayers, Dick
Butkus, Jim Plunkett, Willis Reed and Earl Monroe.
The surgeon told Allen he had torn his anterior cruciate ligament, which had
subsequently shriveled. The leg could be repaired, but the initial thought was
Allen's career might be over.
Claiming he was too dumb to listen to the doom, Allen worked hard
immediately after his surgery to find his way back. He played both second and
third base for the '65 Twins, but the knee hampered him. Allen ultimately
finished his career in Montreal in 1973, which is not how people in the '60s
thought it would end. About two-thirds of his career games came after he was
told his career was over.
Allen credited pitching coach John Sain
with pointing him down the path to positive thinking, which Allen maintained
helped him during his recovery.
Sain recognized that Allen was struggling with the injury and was feeling
he was no longer part of the team. Sain provided Allen with books on positive
thinking, and kept insisting to Allen that the mind controls the body. Allen
listened, agreed, and fought for his career.
Allen was an intelligent man who even served as an assistant coach at Purdue
during the winter of 1963 while he finished his college degree.