December 20, 2008


Former Pirates pitcher Ellis dies (BEN WALKER, AP)

Dock Ellis, who infamously claimed he pitched a no-hitter for Pittsburgh under the influence of LSD and later fiercely spoke out against drug and alcohol addiction, died Friday. He was 63.

Ellis died in California from a liver ailment, former agent Tom Reich said.

"I've been in this business for 40 years and there was never a more standup guy," Reich said. [...]

At a time when drugs, race and other issues in American society were colliding with baseball, Ellis often was at the forefront. He spoke his mind and stood by what he said while playing with the likes of Willie Stargell, Dave Parker and Roberto Clemente.

"He didn't take nothing from nobody," Reich said. "He was very much ahead of his time."

DOCK ELLIS: A Baseball Player Portrait (Terry Cannon , Cosmic Baseball Association)
Controversy followed Dock throughout his baseball career, yet he steadfastly refused to compromise his principles. Dating back to his formative years in Los Angeles, he refused to play baseball at Gardena High School in protest against the coach's racism. While in the minor leagues in 1964, he went into the stands and swung a leaded bat at a racist heckler in Batavia, New York.

Perhaps the centerpiece of Ellis' stormy career came with the Pittsburgh Pirates on June 12, 1970., when he threw a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres while under the influence of LSD. "I can only remember bits and pieces of the game," Ellis said later. "I was psyched. I had a feeling of euphoria. I remember hitting a couple of batters and the bases were loaded two or three times." He walked a total of eight batters in what might be described as one of the most bizarre no-hitters ever thrown.

The year 1972 found Ellis back in the headlines when he was maced by a security guard at Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium who wouldn't let him into the Pirates clubhouse. (After an investigation, the Cincinnati club apologized to Ellis and fired the security guard.) Another flap ensued in 1973 when he started wearing hair curlers to the ballpark, after Ebony magazine ran a feature on Ellis' various hairstyles. Supposedly an order came down from Commissioner Bowie Kuhn's office to cease and desist wearing curlers on the field.

Perhaps Ellis' most startling act occurred on May 1, 1974 when he tied the major league record by hitting three batters in a row. In spring training that year, Ellis sensed the Pirates had lost the aggressiveness that drove them to three straight division titles from 1970 to 1972. Furthermore, the team now seemed intimidated by Cincinnati's "Big Red Machine." "Cincinnati will bullshit with us and kick our ass and laugh at us," Ellis said. "They're the only team that talk about us like a dog." Ellis single-handedly decided to break the Pirates out of their emotional slump, announcing that "We gonna get down. We gonna do the do. I'm going to hit these motherfuckers." True to his word, in the first inning of the first regular season game he pitched against the Reds, Ellis hit leadoff batter Pete Rose in the ribs, then plunked Joe Morgan in the kidney, and loaded the bases by hitting Dan Driessen in the back. Tony Perez, batting cleanup, dodged a succession of Ellis' pitches to walk and force in a run. The next hitter was Johnny Bench. "I tried to deck him twice," Ellis recalled. "I threw at his jaw, and he moved. I threw at the back of his head, and he moved." At this point, Pittsburgh manager Danny Murtaugh removed Ellis from the game. But the strategy worked: the Pirates snapped out of their lethargy to win a division title in 1974, while the Reds failed to win their division for the first time in three years.

Though talented, he wasn't the best pitcher of even his generation, but, together with the great NH poet Donald Hall, he ended up with one of the best sports biographies ever:
“‘You are scared of Cincinnati.’ That’s what I told my teammates, "Every time we play Cincinnati, the hitters are on their ass.”

In 1970, ‘71, and ‘72, he says, the rest of the league was afraid of the Pirates. “they say, 'Here come the big bad Pirates. They’re going to kick our ass!’ Like they give up. That’s what our team was starting to do." Cincinatti will bull[****] with us and kick our ass and laugh at us. They’re the only team that talk about us like a dog. Whenever we play that team, everybody socializes with them.” In the past the roles had been reversed. “When they ran over to us, we knew they were afraid of us. When I saw our team doing it, right then I say, "We gunna get down. We gonna do the do. I’m going to hit these motherf******s.’” [...]

Taking his usual warm-up pitches, Dock noticed Pete Rose standing at one side of the batter’s box, leaning on his bat, studying his delivery. On his next-to-last warm-up, Dock let fly at Rose and almost hit him.

A distant early warning.

In fact, he had considered not hitting Pete Rose at all. He and Rose are friends, but of course friendship, as the commissioner of baseball would insist, must never prevent even-handed treatment. No, Dock had considered not hitting Pete Rose because Rose would take it so well, ”He’s going to charge first base, and make it look like nothing.” Having weighed the whole matter, Dock decided to hit him anyway.

“The first pitch to Pete Rose was directly toward his head,” as Dock expresses it, “not actually to hit him, ” but as “the message, to let him know that he was going to get hit. More or less to press his lips. I knew if I could get close to the head that I could get them in the body. Because they’re looking to protect their head, they’ll give me the body.” The next pitch was behind him. “the next one, I hit him in the side.”

Pete Rose’s response was even more devastating than Dock had anticipated. He smiled. Then he picked the ball up, where it had falled beside him, and gently, underhanded, tossed it back to Dock. Then he lit for first as if trying out fro the Olympics.

As Dock says, with huge approval, “You have to be good, to be a hot dog.”

As Rose bent down to pick up the ball, he had exchanged a word with Joe Morgan who was batting next. Morgan taunted Rose, “He doesn’t like you anyway. You’re a white guy.”

Dock hit Morgan in the kidneys with his first pitch.

By this time, both benches were agog. It was Mayday on May Day. The Pirates realized that Dock was doing what he said he would do. The Reds were watching him do it. “I looked over on the bench, they were all with their eyes wide and their mouths wide open, like, 'I don’t believe it!’

“The next batter was [Dan] Driessen. I threw a ball to him. High and inside. The next one, I hit him in the back.”

Bases loaded, no outs. Tony Perez, Cincinnati first baseman, came to bat. He did not dig in. “There was no way I could hit him. He was running. The first one I threw behind him, over his head, up against the screen, but it came back off the glass, and they didn’t advance. I threw behind him because he was backing up, but then he stepped in front of the ball. The next three pitches, he was running, "I walked him.” A run came in. “The next hitter was Johnny Bench. I tried to deck him twice. I threw at his jaw, and he moved. I threw at the back of his head, and he moved.”

With two balls and no strikes on Johnny Bench—-eleven pitches gone: three hit batsmen, one walk, one run, and now two balls—-[manager, Danny} Murtaugh approached the mound. “He came out as if to say, 'What’s wrong? Can’t find the plate?’” Dock was suspicious that his manager really knew what he was doing. “No,” said Dock, “I must have Blass-itis.” (I was genuine wildness, ªnot throwing at batters—-that had destroyed Steve Blass the year before.)

“He looked at me hard,” Dock remembers. “He said, 'I’m going to bring another guy in.’ So I just walked off the mound.”

Eccentric pitcher Ellis dies at 63: Best known for no-hitter, free spirit succumbs to liver ailment (Tom Singer /

Dock Philip Ellis, whose rich pitching talents were obscured by his role as a controversial and colorful leader of the eccentric fringe of '70s baseball, is dead at 63. reported the former right-hander's death in California on Friday from a liver ailment, confirming the news with Ellis' former agent, Tom Reich.

Ellis, who broke in with the 1968 Pirates and pitched for four other teams, retired in 1979 with a record of 138-119 -- including a 1970 no-hitter in San Diego that he later claimed to have pitched while on the hallucinogen LSD.

Diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver, Ellis went on a waiting list for a liver transplant seven months ago.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at December 20, 2008 8:53 AM
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