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Dock Ellis Dies at 63


Last Edited: December 21, 2008, 9:36 am

Friday, December 19, 2008
Ex-pitcher Ellis dies of liver disease 
By Jerry Crasnick

Dock Ellis, the former major league pitcher best remembered for his flamboyance and social activism as a member of the great Pittsburgh Pirates teams of the 1970s, died Friday of a liver ailment in California, his former agent, Tom Reich, confirmed. Ellis was 63.


Ellis spent 12 years in the majors with Pittsburgh, the New York Yankees, Oakland, Texas and the New York Mets. He retired in 1979 with a record of 138-119, but was best known for several colorful incidents on and off the field.


In his autobiography, "Dock Ellis in the Country of Baseball,'' Ellis revealed that he threw a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres in June 1970 while under the influence of LSD.


In May 1974 -- in an effort to inspire a lifeless Pittsburgh team -- Ellis drilled Pete Rose, Joe Morgan and Dan Driessen in the top of the first inning. After walking Tony Perez, Ellis threw a pitch near Johnny Bench's head and was lifted from the game by manager Danny Murtaugh.


Ellis also gave up Reggie Jackson's memorable home run off the Tiger Stadium light tower in the 1971 All-Star Game in Detroit.


Off the field, Ellis spoke freely about racial issues, once telling reporters that he wouldn't start against Oakland's Vida Blue in the All-Star Game because Major League Baseball would never start "two soul brothers'' against each other.


"Dock Ellis was my first client in baseball, and he gave me as much joy as anybody outside of my family," Reich said. "He was so unique. He was viewed by some people as an outlaw, but he was far from that. He was so ahead of his time. He was so intuitive and smart and talented and independent. And he wasn't about to roll over for the incredible prejudices that existed at the time.


"He was a very special person and he had an absolute army of fans and friends. He was at the cutting edge of so many issues, and he never backed down. I was proud to be his friend and stand with him."


Ellis suffered from cirrhosis of the liver and was placed on a list to receive a liver transplant in May. The Los Angeles Times wrote that Ellis had no health insurance, but received help paying his medical bills from friends in baseball.


Bill Scaringe, an agent who represented Ellis after he retired, said Ellis worked for years in the California department of corrections helping inmates transition from prison back to the community. He also ran a drug counseling center in Los Angeles.


"It's very disheartening," Scaringe said. "Dock was such a likeable person -- very gregarious, very outgoing. I would set up personal appearances for him, and after like 30 seconds, people were like relatives or neighbors. Dock was very easy to talk to. He was just a pleasure to be around."

Entry #642


Coin TossComment by Coin Toss - December 21, 2008, 12:12 am

He was a character indeed, read on:


Claim: Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis hurled a no-hitter while under the influence of LSD.

Status: True.

Origins: Dock Phillip Ellis,
best remembered as the winningest pitcher on the champion 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates baseball club, was also one of his sport's more colorful personalities, although his exploits were generally overshadowed by those of players (Curt Flood, Richie Allen, Reggie Jackson) more talented and more controversial. Ellis' intolerance for slights which he perceived to be related to the color of his skin was well-established long before he reached the major leagues (he declined to play on his high school's baseball team because it was coached by a "racist," and while in the minor leagues he once took a bat into the stands in pursuit of a racially-motivated heckler), and he was the subject of several headline-grabbing altercations during his prime years in the big leagues:

* On 5 May 1972, Dock Ellis engaged in an argument with a security guard who barred him from entering through the players' gate at Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium and then maced him. The guard, David Hatter, maintained that Ellis had failed to adequately identify himself, "made threatening gestures with a clenched fist," and was carrying a half-empty bottle of wine; Ellis denied that he had intended to punch the guard or was carrying a bottle of wine and claimed he was rebuffed (and sprayed with mace) despite proffering his World Series ring as proof of identity. Ellis was brought before Municipal Court in Cincinnati for disorderly conduct a few months later, but the charges were dropped after his attorney reported to the court that Ellis and Hatter had settled their differences. (The Cincinnati Reds ball club later apologized to Ellis and fired Hatter, and the Pirates' general manager issued ID cards to all the Pittsburgh players.)

* In August 1973, after Ebony magazine ran a piece featuring Ellis' variety of hair styles, the pitcher took to wearing curlers to the ballpark. When Ellis starting leaving the curlers in place as he exited the clubhouse to take part in pregame warm-ups (where they could be seen by early-arriving fans), he was ordered by management to remove them henceforth before setting foot onto the field. An angry Ellis disclaimed the order to the press, maintaining that it was discriminatory and had been issued at the behest of the commissioner's office:

"I know the orders came from [baseball commissioner] Bowie Kuhn, and I don't like it. Look around, there are fellows who wear white shoes in practice. Some wear jackets. Others don't wear hats.

I wasn't going to say anything, but since they seem to be aiming in my direction, I'm going to say things. They didn't put out any orders about Joe Pepitone when he wore a hairpiece down to his shoulders."

* In 1974, feeling that his teammates had lost their aggressiveness and were too easily intimidated, Ellis decided to put on a show against the Cincinnati Reds (who had come from behind to defeat the Pirates for the 1972 National League pennant on a run-scoring wild pitch in the bottom of the ninth inning of the final playoff game). In a May 1 start against the Reds — having announced before the game that "We gonna get down. We gonna do the do. I’m going to hit these motherf***ers." — Ellis opened the contest by drilling leadoff hitter Pete Rose in the ribs; hitting the next batter, Joe Morgan, in the side; and then plunking Dan Driessen in the back to load the bases. Although clean-up hitter Tony Perez managed to dodge Ellis' pitches long enough to draw a walk before being hit, Ellis aimed his next two offerings at Cincinnati catcher Johnny Bench's head, whereupon he was unceremoniously yanked from the game by Pittsburgh manager Danny Murtaugh.

But, Dock Ellis oddly enough, the most notorious aspect of Dock Ellis' playing days wasn't disclosed until several years after he had retired, and it involved an accomplishment that is usually the highlight of any pitcher's career.

On 12 June 1970, Ellis hurled the first no-hitter of the 1970 season as he blanked the Padres 2-0 in the opening game of a double-header in San Diego. Ellis' feat was a bit unusual in that he seemed particularly wild that day, walking eight batters and hitting one, but many pitchers have achieved stellar results despite laboring with obvious control problems. (Yankee hurler Bill Bevens came within one out of throwing a no-hitter against Brooklyn in the fourth game of the 1947 World Series despite issuing the Dodgers an astounding ten bases on balls.) In post-game interviews Ellis said he had been thinking about a no-hitter from the fourth inning onwards and attributed his wildness to his efforts to keep the ball away from hitters:

"I know guys who don't want to talk about it, but if you're going to throw [a no-hitter], you're going to throw it. The ball I was throwing was moving. I was keeping the ball away from the hitters. That's why I walked so many."

Fourteen years later, however, Dock Ellis revealed an alternative explanation for his lack of control that day: he was under the influence of LSD at the time. According to accounts he gave the press in April 1984, Ellis had spent the morning of 12 June 1970 relaxing in his home town of Los Angeles, under the mistaken belief that the Pirates had the day off. Ellis said he ingested LSD around noon, but at about 1:00 PM his girlfriend picked up a newspaper and discovered that not only were the Pirates scheduled to play a double-header in San Diego that evening, but Ellis was slated to start the first game for Pittsburgh. Ellis' companion hustled him off to the airport by 3:30 PM and got him on a flight to San Diego, where arrived at 4:30 PM, in time for the double-header's 6:05 PM start.

Ellis told reporters he remembered little of what took place during the game itself:

"I can only remember bits and pieces of the game. I was psyched. I had a feeling of euphoria.

I was zeroed in on the [catcher's] glove, but I didn't hit the glove too much. I remember hitting a couple of batters and the bases were loaded two or three times.

The ball was small sometimes, the ball was large sometimes, sometimes I saw the catcher, sometimes I didn't. Sometimes I tried to stare the hitter down and throw while I was looking at him. I chewed my gum until it turned to powder. They say I had about three to four fielding chances. I remember diving out of the way of a ball I thought was a line drive. I jumped, but the ball wasn't hit hard and never reached me."

At this juncture we must point out that our assignment of a "True" status to this story is a guarded one: only Dock Ellis knows whether or not he actually took LSD the day he pitched his no-hitter, and therefore we have to take him at his word. Even if Ellis did ingest LSD that day, however, judging the extent to which the drug was affecting him by the time he took part in that evening's game is problematic. Baseball is a difficult game to play at the major league level, even for skilled professionals free from the effects of mind-altering substances, yet Ellis managed to pitch a complete game that evening, apparently did not act so unusually that his teammates or manager took notice, and was quite lucid while conducting post-game interviews with the press. Although Ellis might correctly be described as having been "under the influence of LSD" during his no-hitter, quite possibly the drug's primary effects had peaked and were wearing off by game time. (Dock Ellis also maintained that he never pitched again while under the influence of LSD but admitted he had taken pep pills before the 1974 Cincinnati game in which he intentionally thre
Coin TossComment by Coin Toss - December 21, 2008, 12:18 am

threw at the first several batters.)

An unfortunate aspect of Dock Ellis' admission is that he is now remembered by many people (especially those too young to have seen him play during his heyday with the Pirates) as "the guy who pitched a no-hitter on drugs," a characterization which not only slights a baseball career that included some very fine moments, but also obscures the many acts of charity and conscience in which Ellis engaged both during and after his playing days: he worked with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to rehabilitate black prisoners, helped start the Black Athletes Foundation for Sickle Cell Research, and served as the coordinator of an anti-drug program in Los Angeles.

Last updated: 9 June 2003

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