Back in March of this year, a semi-gag interview with the Phillies’ 1B Ryan Howard ran in City Paper and provoked just a bit of discussion in this forum about a) the nature of Philadelphia fandom and b) whether or not it was appropriate to compare Howard to Dick Allen.

On both counts, we can now defer….to Dick Allen. From the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Claire Smith (link lifted from Repoz and Baseball Think Factory)

Could it be that the Phillies will finally produce their first bona-fide black superstar?

“I think the city’s ready, don’t you?” said Dick Allen, the former Phillies all-star first baseman, now a Phillies community relations executive who works extensively with the team’s Reviving Baseball in the Inner City youth-development initiative. “A lot depends on the Phillies. If this opportunity does not happen, a lot will go out the window, because this is a very marketable guy.”

“That’s a wonderful kid we’ve got here, and we’ve never really had a billboard, marketable kid like this,” Allen (above) said. “I love Howard. I’m proud of him – not for what he’s done, but for what he really could be. And that’s a shining star for the 8-, 10-, 12-year-olds.”

Howard also gave the organization more evidence that he might finally be the guy the Phillies can count on to close a gap that has existed since, well, 1947.

“I’ll speak from my heart,” Allen said. “Jackie Robinson made very large footprints. He endured so much. But a lot of that has gone down the drain because his contributions and legacy have somehow been lost. What, only 1.9 percent of African American youth play baseball? Everyone wants to play basketball or football. Question is, where did it start to fall apart?”

“It was tough back then, particularly for a black man in the ’60s,” said Allen, who was rookie of the year in 1964 but became a bigger star in Chicago, where he was the American League MVP in 1972. “Things were crazy, going from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali – like they say, the times were changing,” Allen said. “Hippies, street gangs, the mob. But I looked at it like Joe Frazier – toughness was in the heart, that’s how you dealt with segregation and people coming at you, wanting to hurt you.”

Philly’s Chase Utley extended his hitting streak to 26 games with a 2nd inning, 2-run HR off the Snakes’ Brandon Webb, as Arizona dropped a 6-4 decision. David Delucci added a solo shot off Webb in the 3rd.

It’s Alex Rodriguez’ 31st birthday today, but the Rangers’ pitching staff was handing out the early gifts on Wednesday night. Texas relinquished leads of 4-2 and 7-6 during the 8th and 9th innings respectively, losing 8-7. Antonio Otsuka allowed a leadoff single to Derek Jeter in the top of the 9th, then grooved one to Jason Giambi that might still be traveling had it not collided with a satellite. Even more embarrassing for the Rangers was the massive ovation that greeted the Giambino’s blast — presumably there are sports fans in the Dallas area with bigger things on their mind than Cowboys training camp, but you can’t hear them when the Yankees are in town.