Sunday, December 21, 2008

Dock Ellis, 1945-2008. R.I.P.

Former major league pitcher Dock Ellis died on Friday while awaiting a liver transplant. He had been diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver in 2007. He was 63.

While not a Hall of Famer, Ellis enjoyed an interesting major league career between 1968 and 1979 mostly with the Pittsburgh Pirates. His best season was in 1971 when he won 19 games for the Pirates who would go on to win the World Series against the Baltimore Orioles. Ellis would start the 1971 All-Star Game for National League in Detroit's Tiger Stadium. That game is best remembered for Ellis giving up a monster home run to Oakland A's slugger Reggie Jackson who hit the ball off the light tower above the right field roof. Years later Ellis would bean Jackson in retaliation.

Ellis was an integral part of the Pirates in the early 1970s. Their arch rivals were the Cincinnati Reds then known as the Big Red Machine. Given the current state of the Pirates and Reds it is hard to believe they had the biggest rivalry in MLB in the early 70s. They faced each other in the NLCS three times between 1970 and 1975. In May 1972, a guard at Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium refused to admit Ellis into the ballpark and maced him. The guard claimed Ellis was going to attack him but Ellis said he was showing him his World Series ring as proof he was a member of the Pirates. Two years later, Ellis attempted to bean every member of the Big Red Machine. He began the game by hitting Pete Rose, Joe Morgan and Dan Driessen. He missed hitting Tony Perez who drew a walk on four pitches. He then threw two pitches behind Johnny Bench's head before Bucs manager Danny Murtaugh removed him from the game.

Prior to the 1976 season, Ellis was traded to the New York Yankees along with Ken Brett (George Brett's older brother) and a young second baseman named Willie Randolph for pitcher Doc Medich. It is the only trade in major league history where one Dock was traded for Doc. Ellis won 17 games for the Yankees and was named AL Comeback Player of the Year. The Yankees would face the Reds in the World Series only to be swept by the Big Red Machine.

That year Ellis would collaborate with poet Donald Hall, later a poet laureate of the United States, on a book of poetry called Doc Ellis In the Country of Baseball.

Ellis went on to pitch for the Oakland A's and New York Mets before returning to the Pirates in 1979 finishing his major league career.

But Ellis is best known for something he did early in his career but was not known until the late 1980s. Ellis threw a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres in 1970. He revealed that he was under the influence of LSD when he tossed the no-no. Ellis said he had forgotten he was supposed to pitch against the Padres until his girlfriend reminded him. Despite not being able to feel the ball or see the plate Ellis did not yield a hit although he did walk eight batters and hit a batter with a pitch.

Ellis revealed this information while working as a drug counselor.

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