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Top 100 Indians: #43 Johnny Allen

LGT's countdown of the greatest players in franchise history continues with Johnny Allen, a starter from the late 30’s teams.

Johnny Allen in 1939
Johnny Allen in 1939

John Thomas Allen

Starting Pitcher, 1936-1940

Height: 6'0" Weight: 180 lbs

Throws: Right; Bats: Right

How Acquired: Trade, December 11, 1935: Traded by the New York Yankees for Monte Pearson and Steve Sundra

Left Via: Sold, December 20, 1940: Sold to the St. Louis Browns for $20,000

Johnny Allen, was born in Lenoir, NC, the son of a police chief. When his mother was widowed shortly thereafter, his mother felt it would be best if he was cared for in an orphanage with two of his three siblings. He grew up in the Thomasville Baptist Orphanage and began to play baseball. After attending Thomasville High School, he became a bellboy at a hotel in Sanford, NC. Famous Yankee scout Paul Krichell (he signed Lou Gehrig and Tony Lazzerri to name two) met Allen there and after Allen noted he was a pitcher, he conducted a tryout and was offered a minor league contract.

Allen's first pro exposure came in 1928 (at age 23) and he played for three teams that year: Fayetteville (NC) Highlanders and Greenville (NC) Tobacconists of the Eastern Carolina League (Class D) and Raleigh (NC) Capitals of the Piedmont League (Class C). But his numbers were not all that special, 3.62 ERA in 189 IP and a WHIP of 1.492, mainly based on 90 walks.

He spent most of 1929 with the Asheville Tourists of the South Atlantic League (Class B) but he did make a single appearance with the Gadsden (AL) Eagles (Georgia-Alabama League, Class D). Again, he was effective as a starter, 20-12 with a 3.23 ERA in 256 IP, but he did not solve his wildness as he issued another 137 walks and finished with a 1.441 WHIP. This did not deter the Yankees as he got another promotion in 1930.

This would be his first extended stay out of his home state as he spent a full season with the Jersey City Skeeters of the International League (AA). The numbers did not fluctuate much from previous seasons, 3.98 ERA, 1.452 WHIP in 208 IP. So in 1931 he began the year again in Jersey City. But he finally showed some improvement that season and finished the season with the Toronto Maple Leafs (International League-AA). His combined numbers were 21-9, 3.02 ERA and a 1.236 WHIP. He even dropped his walk rate down to 3.6.

Joe McCarthy liked enough of what he saw in spring training of 1932 and he broke camp with the Yankees. His first start against the Red Sox wasn't pretty, five earned runs in just 1.2 innings, but he eventually became a regular starter by August. And although his ERA numbers were not super impressive, 3.70 ERA (110 ERA+), he led the league in winning percentage, .810, he won 17, lost just four and saved four games as well. Of his 21 starts, he completed 13 with three being shutouts and he led the league in H/9, 7.6, earning him enough votes to finish 14th in MVP voting. The win total was likely boosted because the regular Yankee lineup that year featured six, yes six, Hall of Famers: Bill Dickey, Tony Lazzeri, Joe Sewell, Earle Combs and of course Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. He only made one start against in the World Series against the Cubs that year, but didn't get out of the first, but the Yankees still won the game and finished the sweep.

His fastball was lively and he threw a good curve, but his best attribute was that he threw from multiple arm angles. This obviously also contributed to the high walk rates in his career. But Allen was also a fierce competitor. He hated losing, and sometimes that would carry over to after games. He was known to throw furniture, etc. and teammates steered clear of him. He always felt he was better than his other Yankee hurlers, complained about not being used enough (he never exceeded 200 innings for the Yankees), held out for more money and missed most of 1934 with a sore arm. And even though he finished 13-6 with a 3.61 ERA, completed 12 of 23 starts, led the league with a 8.0 H/9 and 6.1 K/9, and finished 18th in MVP voting in 1935, the Yankees had had enough of his shenanigans and dealt him to the Tribe for pitchers Monte Pearson and Steve Sundra in December.

He rewarded the Indians for that trade in 1936, going 20-10, completing 19 of his 31 starts with four shutouts, a 3.44 ERA (149 ERA+) in 243 IP, 7.0 WAR and leading the league with a 6.1 K/9. Sadly the Tribe only finished in fifth place that season and he did not receive any MVP votes. It was also during this season that his temper became league wide knowledge. Opposing managers noticed Allen lost focus when opponents needled him. Every team in the league started doing this and Allen got so incensed at Tiger coach Del Baker, the umpires had to restrain him. The Indians even petitioned the league office about the heckling to no avail.

Allen continued his dominance in 1937. He missed about six weeks in June and July due to appendicitis, but headed into his final start on October 3 with a 15-0 record in 19 starts. He had a chance to tie Walter Johnson's consecutive victory record and finish the season with a perfect 16-0 record. After allowing a leadoff double to Pete Fox, Hank Greenberg hit a grounder that went through third baseman Odell Hale's legs, allowing a run to score. Allen would lose the game 1-0 mainly because the Tribe was one-hit by Jake Wade. But Allen blamed the loss solely on Hale and had to be restrained by manager Steve O'Neill twice after the game. His winning percentage of .938 is the best in Tribe history and led the league that year. He had a sparkling 2.55 ERA in 173 IP and completed 14 of his 20 starts. That ERA was good enough for third in league, a staggering 176 ERA+ and a 6.4 WAR. He finished 13th in MVP voting on a fifth place club.

In 1938, Allen continued to shine. At the All-Star break, he was 12-1 with a 2.98 ERA in 127 IP (16 starts). His reputation as a hothead continued when in one start at Fenway the umpire told him to remove a tattered undershirt from under his uniform as it was distracting hitters. Allen refused and he walked off the field, forcing manager Ossie Vitt to call upon a reliever after just one inning. His hot start did earn him a spot on the All-Star roster He pitched three innings and gave up one run on a Mel Ott triple and a Ernie Lombardi single while striking out three. But something happened either during or after that appearance. Either something snapped in his shoulder during those three innings or he slipped on some soap in the shower. But something was wrong with his shoulder as he finished the year on a 2-7 run, with a 6.29 ERA. His hot first half did net him enough votes to finish 28th in MVP voting, even with that horrendous second half.

The off-season didn't heal up Allen much for 1939, he finished 9-7 and 4.58 ERA (96 ERA+) in 175 IP and only 9 complete games out of 26 starts. In 1940, he finally started to show some improvement, finishing at 9-8 with a 3.44 ERA (124 ERA+), but was more of a spot starter as he made 17 starts and 15 relief appearances. Some of that may have been to his involvement in the Vitt's Crybabies incident. Vitt was very critical of the players. He made very rude remarks of both Bob Feller and Mel Harder in front of the team, and Allen along with several teammates openly campaigned to owner Alva Bradley to dismiss Vitt, even though they were in contention for the pennant.

That offseason, Allen was sold to the St. Louis Browns. He imploded in the first half and was waived in late July. Brooklyn claimed him and he did well in 11 appearances for them (2.51 ERA in 57.1 IP) and made three scoreless appearances in the World Series. He pitched okay for the Dodgers in 1942 (10-6, 3.20 ERA in 118 IP) but continued to make management cringe with his antics. He was traded with $30,000 to the Phillies that offseason for Rube Melton. But the Dodgers bought him back just before the season in 1943. Allen was off to a poor start that year and was called upon to relief Melton on May 27 at Forbes Field against the Pirates. After not retiring any of the four hitters he faced, the umpire called a balk on him and he attacked the umpire. Allen was suspended for 30 days and fined. He made 11 more appearances before the Dodgers found a taker for him, sending him to the Giants for Bill Lohrman, Joe Orengo and Bill Sayles. He had 15 decent appearances for the Giants in 1943, but in 1944 after 18 appearances and a 4.07 ERA (90 ERA+). In April 1945 the Giants released him as he would have been 40 that season.

Allen went back home, made nine appearances for the Greensboro (NC) Patriots (Carolina-C), a Phillies affiliate and dominated, 1.31 ERA in 62 IP. That would conclude his playing career. Amazingly enough, the hot tempered Allen became an umpire after he retired. He ended up becoming the umpire-in-chief for the Carolina League before retiring in 1953. He moved to St. Petersburg, FL and opened a real estate business. He passed away on May 29, 1959 of a heart attack.


Wikipedia, SABR Biography Project-Jon Weeks

Indians Career Stats

1936 31 CLE 20 10 .667 3.44 36 31 4 19 4 1 243.0 234 108 93 5 97 165 1 0 13 1030 149 1.362 8.7 0.2 3.6 6.1 1.70
1937 32 CLE 15 1 .938 2.55 24 20 4 14 0 0 173.0 157 55 49 4 60 87 5 0 2 713 176 1.254 8.2 0.2 3.1 4.5 1.45 MVP-13
1938 33 CLE 14 8 .636 4.19 30 27 3 13 0 0 200.0 189 107 93 15 81 112 3 0 7 855 110 1.350 8.5 0.7 3.6 5.0 1.38 AS,MVP-28
1939 34 CLE 9 7 .563 4.58 28 26 2 9 2 0 175.0 199 96 89 9 56 79 3 2 5 763 96 1.457 10.2 0.5 2.9 4.1 1.41
1940 35 CLE 9 8 .529 3.44 32 17 12 5 3 5 138.2 126 61 53 3 48 62 3 0 0 576 124 1.255 8.2 0.2 3.1 4.0 1.29
CLE (5 yrs) 67 34 .663 3.65 150 121 25 60 9 6 929.2 905 427 377 36 342 505 15 2 27 3937 127 1.341 8.8 0.3 3.3 4.9 1.48
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 7/15/2013.

Selected Awards/Leaders

  • AL All-Star: 1938
  • AL MVP: 1937-13th; 1938-28th
  • AL WAR: 6th, 1936-6.5
  • AL WAR Pitchers: 2nd, 1936-7.0; 4th, 1937-6.4
  • AL ERA: 2nd, 1936-3.44; 3rd, 1937-2.55
  • AL Wins: 3rd, 1936-20; 8th, 1937-15
  • AL W/L Percentage: 1st, 1937-.938; 6th, 1936-.667; 6th, 1938-.636
  • AL WHIP: 4th, 1936-1.362; 4th, 1937-1.254; 6th, 1938-1.350
  • AL Hits/9 IP: 2nd, 1938-8.505; 3rd, 1936-8.667; 4th, 1937-8.168
  • AL Bases on Balls/9 IP: 8th, 1939-2.880
  • AL Strikeouts/9 IP: 1st, 1936-6.111; 5th, 1938-5.040; 8th, 1937-4.526; 8th, 1939-4.063
  • AL Saves: 4th, 1940-5
  • AL Innings: 8th, 1937-243.0
  • AL Strikeouts: 2nd, 1936-165; 6th, 1938-112
  • AL Games Started: 8th, 1936-31
  • AL Complete Games: 8th, 1936-19
  • AL Shutouts: 3rd, 1936-4; 4th, 1939-2; 4th, 1940-3
  • AL Bases on Balls: 9th, 1936-97
  • AL Strikeouts/Bases on Balls: 3rd, 1936-1.701; 5th, 1938-1.383; 6th, 1937-1.450; 7th, 1939-1.411
  • AL Home Runs/9: 1st, 1936-0.185; 1st, 1937-0.208; 9th, 1939-0.463
  • AL Wild Pitches: 2nd, 1936-13; 4th, 1938-7; 8th, 1939-5
  • AL Hit By Pitch: 5th, 1937-5; 10th, 1939-3; 10th, 1940-3
  • AL Adjusted Era+: 2nd, 1936-149; 3rd, 1937-176
  • AL Putouts as P: 3rd, 1939-17
  • AL Errors as P: 1st, 1939-5
  • AL Range Factor/Game P: 2nd, 1937-1.83; 2nd, 1939-1.89

Cleveland Indians Career Leader

  • 22nd WAR Pitchers (19.5)
  • 42nd ERA (3.65)
  • t-31st Wins (67)
  • 3rd W/L Percentage (.663)
  • 48th WHIP (1.341)
  • 40th Hits/9 IP (8.761)
  • 38th Strikeouts/9 IP (4.889)
  • 42nd Innings Pitched (929.2)
  • 38th Strikeouts (505)
  • 44th Games Started (121)
  • t-26th Complete Games (60)
  • t-29th Shutouts (9)
  • 38th Bases on Balls (342)
  • 42nd Hits (905)
  • 43rd Strikeouts/Bases on Balls (1.477)
  • 27th HR/9 IP (0.349)
  • t-40th Earned Runs (377)
  • t-35th Wild Pitches (27)
  • 5th ERA+ (127)

Cleveland Indians Season Leader

  • t-29th Pitching WAR (7.0, 1936)
  • 36th Pitching WAR (6.4, 1937)
  • t-39th Wins (20, 1936)
  • 1st W/L Percentage (.938, 1937)
  • t-38th Shutouts (4, 1936)
  • t-14th Wild Pitches (13, 1936)
  • 8th ERA+ (176, 1937)
  • 41st ERA+ (149, 1936)