Despite the growing number of Negro Leagues greats inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, there remains a backlog of deserving players. One of them is Newt Allen, a gifted second baseman who passed through Detroit for many years as a member of one of the most famous black nines ever, the Kansas City Monarchs.
Allen, together with shortstop Dobie Moore, formed one of professional baseball’s greatest double-play combinations during the 1920s. “When you see Newt Allen and Moore, you could take Charlie Gehringer, Frankie Frisch, and any of that bunch,” exclaimed teammate Frank Duncan. “Brother, you’re talking about a combination!”
Allen stood about 5-8 and weighed 155 pounds. His nickname was an abbreviation of his proper name, Newton, not a comment on his size. The Austin, Texas native played or managed 21 seasons with the Kansas City Monarchs between 1922 and 1948, an unusually long association with one club, particularly by negro league standards. Outside of the usual winter ball in Mexico and the Caribbean, his only time spent away from the Monarchs were brief stays with the St. Louis Stars (1931), the Detroit Wolves and Homestead Grays (1932), and the Indianapolis Clowns (1947).
The Detroit Wolves were members of the short-lived East-West League, which disbanded in July 1932 after just a few months of play. This was a tough break for the Wolves, who were in first place with a 29-13 record at the time. Surviving scoresheets reveal Allen batted .300 for the Wolves, who played their home schedule at Hamtramck Stadium.
Batting from both sides of the plate, the speedy Allen compiled a .296 career average. In 1945, he helped groom his successor at second base, a pigeon-toed multi-sport star named Jackie Robinson. Because of injuries, Robinson wound up playing shortstop for the Monarchs. While Robinson broke the majors’ color line two years later and went on to a brilliant big-league career with the Brooklyn Dodgers, his tutor became the foreman of a county courthouse.
Allen died in Cincinnati on June 11, 1988, just three weeks after his 87th birthday. He’d lived to see Robinson and several other negro league contemporaries inducted into the Hall of Fame. Newt himself was on the list of 39 candidates considered by Cooperstown in the special 2006 election to recognize overlooked black players and executives, but he wasn’t one of the 17 selected for induction. He remains one of the most likely candidates for future enshrinement, however, an honor that many baseball historians believe is long overdue.