How many hits did Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis have to contend with on June 12th, 1970? Depending on your interpretation of the question it was several or none. In an amazing story that is rarely in any baseball highlight reel, Ellis pitched the only LSD induced no-hitter in the history of major league baseball. Let's see Barry Bonds or Alex Rodriguez enhance their game on psychedelics (no really, let's see it!). Dock Ellis was baseball's first true king of performance enhancing drugs. Ah, but wait... there's more. Dock Ellis is probably the only player in history that intentionally tried to injure his opponents during the event usually so full of jocular goodwill, the annual All-Star game. He's one of the few (the only?) to be pepper sprayed by stadium security upon arrival. How many other major leaguers spent their off-season cruising through the ghettos of Haiti in a borrowed jeep in order to find zombies? These are all amazing, yet typical anecdotes from the life of one of baseball's great eccentrics.
Dock Ellis was a baby of Hollywood born on March eleventh, nineteen forty-five. He was signed to the Pittsburgh Pirates as an amateur free agent in the early sixties. "I signed to play baseball in 1963, right after I was released from jail for stealing a car."
Al Rambo and his girlfriend Mitzi were Ellis' hosts the morning his no hitter acid was consumed. "I met Dock on the front porch of a lady friend's house in 1962," recalls Rambo. "He drove up in a 1959 four-door Chevy Impala with 'The Nut' written on the rear windshield. He walked up and told me he was a singer. I asked him to sing and he said he only did it for money."
Ellis raised the eyebrows of baseball scouts while still in high school. Chet Brewer, a scout for the Pittsburgh Pirates, had spotted him. The Pirates expressed interest in the young pitcher until he got arrested for stealing a car. Dock had finished another dreaded day at Centennial High School and walked over to his Impala. When he got to his parking spot he found that all four tires had been swiped, the car now sitting on crates. He and his friend Ray Jones obtained four makeshift wheels from somewhere nearby, none of which matched let alone fit the car properly. The next day Ellis remained upset over the incident and told Ellis they should steal a car and commandeer some proper tires. Jones recalled, "We drove out to Harbor, and he gets out of the car and he takes his keys with him, and he went over there and started up a fifty-five Chevrolet. So I look over there, and it's blasting, and he's sitting in it. So I thought, 'You don't have no choice, now, but to move it.' So he moved it, and I followed him in his car. We go over [to our neighborhood] to rip the wheels off and a dude looks over at us, and tells us, 'Hey, man, those are fifteen inch!' And we had fourteen inch on the Impala! And they don't fit no way. So we done stole something we can't even use!' The police got wise and the two were fined and spent the afternoon in jail. Ellis was fortunate enough to only suffer probation, allowing him to continue with baseball unabated. Probation conditions stated that Dock Ellis could play ball, however it required that he report to the police of every town he played in. Ellis moved to Batavia, New York and started pitching for the Pittsburgh Pirates farm team.
During a stint playing in the minor leagues of Alabama, he confronted catcalling racists often. When one cracker shouted epithets, Ellis abandoned his position and climbed into the stands. To the horror of all surrounding rednecks, Dock cozied up next to them and pretended to watch the game. "What happened to all those niggers up here? All those niggers calling me a nigger?" An awkward silence ensued as the racists palpitated with confusion thanks to this non sequitur. Dock says that he had a gun on him for every game he played down South, but he never specified exactly where on his uniform he may have had it stashed.
Even in Geneva, New York, where the Batavia Pirates had their season opener, Ellis was treated to a white fanatic shouting taunts of "Stepin Fetchit! Stepin Fetchit!" Ellis explained, "That's the time I went into the stands with a leaded bat ... We were playing the Geneva Senators ... At that particular time, I was wild. I couldn't stand to hear this kind of shit. I'd go crazy ... I was up in the stands swinging a leaded bat. They had to come get me in a hurry."
Incidents like these turned Ellis toward what he described as "a heavy black thing." He followed Malcolm X's ascent into the Nation of Islam. He read Elijah Speaks and intentionally kept himself isolated from white teammates. The style and attitude that kept Dock Ellis in the headlines for his entire career was shaped during his time in the minors. He desperately wanted to get out of the small town league. "There was nothing but two or three black families there. It was near a blind school ... All I was seeing was blind people and shit." Dock found ways to cope with his sense of disorientation.
"I got involved in drugs when I was young, playing around in the alley on 135th Street ... Drugs was taking me all kinds of places ... I was into alcohol pretty good until I got into baseball. Then I got started with cocaine. That was around 1965 in New York. From there I was off and flying. By 1968, I was gone. I got involved with drugs real heavy when I got to the major leagues, because when you get to the big leagues, you start getting big league dope." One practice morning in the early sixties Ellis was hung over and sleeping on the dugout bench. Teammates tried to rouse him as he was supposed to be pitching shortly. An elder passed him a cup. "I said 'What the hell is that?' He said, 'Juice.' I drank it and next thing I know, I was out there on the mound ... I liked it." Dock had downed a liquid amphetamine to bring him back to life. For the following twelve years Ellis would never pitch a game without consuming some uppers. "Doctors aren't gonna come out and say it, but it enhances your game," recounted Ellis when interviewed by filmmaker Keven McAlester, "The thing is, you get addicted to it. You take half a pill and do great. Then you take half three weeks later and don't do so good, so you ... take the other half ... It got to the point where I had to take it just to be on the bench, when I'm not pitching."
Ellis explained that once he was in the majors he never had to pay for any of his drugs, whether they were performance boosters or strictly recreational. "Naw, the only dope I ever bought was some heroin, one time ... I flushed it. I don't count that as buying it, 'cause I didn't use it, so I never bought any drugs."
During his minor league stretch, Dock kept in shape playing in the winter leagues of the sunny Dominican Republic. Among Ellis' various roomies were Manny Mota, Rito Carty, Manny Sanguillen and Tito Fuentes. He was hearing from various sources about zombies across the border in Haiti. Ellis wanted to see the spurious demons for himself. "I got a jeep ... from one of Manny Mota's friends ... Mota told me ... 'Don't go up there!' I said, 'I'm gone!' I tried to get Tito to go with me," but, says author Donald Hall, "Tito wanted no part of zombies." Dock Ellis continues, "I had to go. Zombies. It could have been zombies. We were in a jeep. We got to a certain area. I saw these people walking - four of them, zombies, and a woman too - but they were walking funny. I say, 'This shit's got to be like Knott's Berry Farm, animated for a show.' I was talking shit like, 'Well, the circus is over,' and they didn't move. I wasn't too hip on coming to a stop. I ain't saying it was zombies. When I got back to the Dominican, I told people. Tito Fuentes, he believes in me. He knew I went and saw the shit."
Ellis belonged to the Pittsburgh Pirates but dwelled in their farm leagues for longer than he would have liked. It wasn't until 1968 that Ellis found himself starring in the major league line-up with consistency. Once there he did his best to act major league. Dock Ellis drove a red Cadillac to Pittsburgh Stadium every game. Purchased one day while hanging out with teammate Willie Stargell, the car salesman told the boys the Cadillac had been custom made for a prodigal pimp who'd recently been "sent up the river." Imprisoned and unable to claim his custom ride, the pimpmobile was up for grabs. "Man, this is your car," Stargell told Ellis. It was immediately furnished with vanity plates reading "DOCK."
Ellis consumed the LSD that would generate his greatest performance the afternoon of June number twelve, nineteen seventy, the year of our Lord. Ellis woke up that morning hung over from twenty plus hours of screwdrivers, reefers and amphetamines. He was back in his hometown of Los Angeles enjoying some leisure time prior to a Pittsburgh series with the San Diego Padres. By his own admission, Ellis was a regular day-off connoisseur of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide. He had christened a room in his Hollywood home "The Dungeon" where he would enjoy mind-expanding experiences guided by the LPs of Iron Butterfly and The Jimi Hendrix Experience. His indulgence in the L.A. generated "Purple Haze" strain of acid was an easy choice for the devoted Hendrix buff. Such rituals had him prepared, to some degree, for the notorious experience that went down at Jack Murphy Stadium on a caliginous San Diego day.
Ellis described sports' most psychedelic event on NPR in the spring of 2008, "We flew out of San Diego and I asked the manager could I go [to my home in Los Angeles] cause we had an off day. So he said, 'Yeah,' so I took some LSD at the airport cause I knew where it would hit me. I'd be in my own little area where I knew where to go, so that's how I got to [my friend's] house. She said, 'What's wrong with you?' I said, 'I'm high as a Georgia pine!' The next day, which I thought was the next day, she told me, 'You gotta get up, you gotta go pitch!' I said, 'Pitch? I pitch tomorrow. Hell, what are you talking about?' Cause I got up in the middle of the morning and took some more acid. She grabbed the paper, brought me the sports page and showed me... THUNK. I said, 'Ah, wow. What happened to yesterday?' She said, 'I don't know, but you better get to that airport."
The Dallas Observer recounted that Ellis estimated the LSD would not last until the evening's game, which was scheduled to start later than usual. Then Ellis remembered why the game was scheduled late, "The pirates had a doubleheader. And he was pitching the first game. He had four hours to get to San Diego and pitch."
Dock Ellis: "Now this was in the seventies and greens was Dexamyl. That was the drug of choice back then ... a stimulant. Over ninety percent of the major league was using Dexamyl when I was playing. When I got to the game, there was a lady down there in San Diego who used to always have the Bennies for me - Benzedrine ... I went out to the dugout and reached up 'cause .... she always stood over the rail. Had a perfect little gold pouch. So I got the Bennies, went back over to the clubhouse, took them. The game started and the mist started. Misty rain. So all during the game was a little mist. The opposing team and my teammates, they knew I was high but they didn't know what I was high on ... They had no idea what LSD was other than what they'd see on TV with the hippies.
"I didn't see the hitters. All I could tell was if they were on the right side or the left side. The catcher put tape on his fingers so I could see the signals. We had a rookie on the team at that particular time named Dave Cash and he kept saying after the first inning, 'You got a no-no going,' a no-hitter. I said, 'Yeah, right.' Around the fourth inning he'd say it again ... I'd look, 'Yup.' But I could also feel the pressure from other players wanting to tell him to shut up. It's a superstition thing where you're not supposed to say nothin' if somebody's throwing a no-hitter. There were times when the ball was hit back at me. I jumped because I thought it was coming fast but the ball was coming slow. Third baseman would come by and grab the ball and threw somebody out ... I thought there was a big old ball and then sometimes it looked small ... I covered first base and I caught the ball and I tagged the base all in one motion and I said, 'Ooh, I just made a touchdown.'
"I didn't pay no attention to the score, y'know, I'm trying to get the batters out. I'm throwing a crazy game. I'm hitting people, walking people, throwing balls in the dirt, they're going everywhere. It was easier to pitch with the LSD because I was so used to medicating myself. That's the way I was dealing with the fear of failure, the fear of losing, the fear of winning, it was part of the game. You get to the major leagues and you say I got to stay here... what do I need?" It is widely believed no footage of the game exists, however an HBO Documentary crew apparently dug up a black and white copy for Ellis to show to a group of prisoners for a drug counseling session a couple years ago. The footage was missing a few innings but it did include a post-game interview with Dock veering into abstract philosophical rambling - naturally leaving the group of prisoners that viewed it howling.
Before the 1971 All-Star game Ellis made the controversial assertion that he knew he would not be the starting the game because National League manager Sparky Anderson would never start a Black pitcher against the American League's opener Vida Blue who was also Black. White sports writers were livid, claiming there was no such thing as racism in America, let alone baseball. Other articles simply dismissed the statement, explaining that if there was any racism in baseball it was Dock Ellis who brought it to the field. To prove Ellis wrong, Sparky had Dock head the line-up. This was, apparently, Dock's master plan all along. In the following days, sports editorials continued to take Ellis to task for throwing a gratuitous tantrum and injecting controversy into a game that should have been bereft of embroilment. Peppered with the hostile catechisms of sports writers all week long, Ellis responded that he didn't "give a fuck what anybody thought." A week after having an enclave of white sportswriters gang up on him, Ellis received this letter.
I read your comments in our paper the last few days and I wanted you to know how much I appreciate your courage and honesty. In my opinion progress for today's players will only come from this kind of dedication. I am sure also you know some of the possible consequences. The news media while knowing full well you are right and honest will use every means to get back at you. Blacks should not protest, as you are, even though they know you are right. Honors that should be yours will bypass you and the pressures will be great ... There will be times when you ask yourself if it's worth it all ... I can only say, Dock, it is. I again appreciate what you are doing - continued success.
The 1971 All-Star game was an impressive and star-studded venture. Dock Ellis and his legendary teammate Roberto Clemente represented Pittsburgh for a most colorful combination. Reggie Jackson would hit a memorable home run off an Ellis pitch - memorable not just for the fans, but for Ellis who retained this anamnesis for an unhealthy length of time. Later that year, Pittsburgh beat the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series. Years later Ellis remembered, "I was in two World Series. We won in 1971 against Baltimore and we lost against Cincinnati in 1976 when I was with the Yankees. People ask me where my [World Series Championship] rings are ... I left one in the bathroom on Highway 10 in Arizona and the other on top of a car that my nephew was washing. I could call the people who make the rings and get new ones to replace those but I really don't care."
The same season had Ellis in a minor battle with Pittsburgh management about autographs. Manager Joe L. Brown (son of famed thirties screen comedian Joe E. Brown) had ruled that star players were to remain in a caged area near the stands and hand out pre-autographed photos of themselves before games. "I went up there and looked at it, so I said, 'I'm not going to be in a cage. I'm no monkey in a cage.' So they said, 'Well, if you don't do it, we're going to fine you." It wasn't that Dock had a problem greeting fans, he didn't like the clinical impersonal way management had set things up. The white press had a field day, indicating that Ellis was pompous, "militant" and "uppity." Not long after, management changed the format so that players sat at tables and handed out autographed photos to fans that lined up. Ellis had no problem doing this. However, the front office approach remained somewhat detached. "We don't sign them," explained Ellis, "Somebody else signs them ... They tried to get us to sign the autographs [right before the games] ... I should have signed all those pictures two and a half weeks ago. But a lot of guys wouldn't do it, so they just said, 'Forget about it,' and they hired a girl to write the names. She does it close!"
1971 was also the year Dock Ellis joined a USO tour that sent him overseas to josh with servicemen stranded in Vietnam (It seems unlikely that Bob Hope spent much time talking with Ellis). "My friends were coming back from Vietnam and they were telling me different things. I had a tendency not to believe them. I wanted to see what it was. Willie Stargell and Mudcat had been over there, and they were telling me different things." Dock told the organizers, "Hey, if a brother is going - I'll go to Vietnam," explaining, "I like to cut into different type dudes, but on THAT trip, I wouldn't know anybody ... At the beginning, it was supposed to be me, Bobby Bonds and Reggie Jackson. I knew Bobby Bonds, but I didn't know Reggie. So I asked Bobby about Reggie, he said, 'Man if that dude go, I ain't going.' I say, 'Why What the fuck? We can all go and have fun.' 'I ain't going with him.' [Reggie couldn't make it] When we arrived in Vietnam it was Bobby Bonds, myself, Nick Colossi the umpire, Jim Enright - a sportswriter, Mike Hedlund and Mike Kilkenny ....
"When we were leaving, going back, we had a meeting with General Adamson. He was telling us all sorts of shit. He was trying to tell me the way the service was going to be. 'It's going to be voluntary.' I say, 'Wow that's a trip. Now we're going to be nothing but a military police state'. He was also talking about how there wasn't much drugs [in Vietnam]. I said, 'Bullshit.' I'm looking right at it. I saw the capsules of heroin around. I was offered heroin many times. Several dudes, they got high on heroin ... while I sat there. What the fuck? That's their thing. They were shooting and snorting both."
The following season, it wasn't Dock's fast mouth that got him in trouble but the way he styled his hair(!). According to his biography, Ellis' blackified hairstyles were the focus of an Ebony magazine profile in 1973 (although Google's Ebony archive doesn't produce it. It might be an apocryphal account). But just like drugs and intentionally hitting players, Ellis' hair was one of his defining characteristics. "I was seen at the time as a militant, a black militant, with braids in my hair. No one knew what that was, so I rolled with that. Then there were curlers. I had curlers in my hair. I was the original gangster Superfly ... on the mound with pink curlers in my hair! Chemicals killed my hair. Chemicals and drugs." When the Pirates arrived in Cincinnati for a game against the Reds, Pete Rose sent a book over to the Pittsburgh club house titled All You Want to Know about Curling - the popular ice sport. When sportswriters got wind of the joke, Ellis was asked about it in a post-game interview. "I read the book," he said, "Now [Pete] Rose better learn to play [curling] because I'm gonna challenge him at $500 a game." This was a not-so veiled reference to Rose's gambling habit.
Dock Ellis articulated about being Black in the majors in a 1975 anthology on the major league experience:
The black man has passed the stage where he is happy just to be playing major league baseball. I say, keep the records, trophies, and awards, and just give me the money.
A ballplayer has fewer days off than the average man. Did you know that? I worked it out. I nearly took off to Florida the other day between starts. The only reason I'm playing anyway is to keep in shape, and for my momma and my baby. So my momma can talk and my baby can talk.
Things just arise. They had a big story in Pittsburgh quoting me saying the people aren't coming out to see us because so many of us are black. I been saying that for eight years.
I've been keeping quiet this year, and I had hoped to continue being
quiet. But I can't. There are many black men who wear curlers to help
their hair. Baseball is getting behind the times again. Four or five
years ago, they wouldn't let players wear mustaches, goatees, long hair
or long sideburns. Look around now.
Mr. Commissioner, would you be posing with me if I had on my hair curlers?
I could conform in Cincinnati, like they want. I'd like to play for Cincinnati, but I know nobody else in the world would have me but Pittsburgh. This is the only place where they take my guff.
However, years later, when pressed on the issue by poet Donald Hall, Ellis gave a totally different reason for putting his hair up in curlers. Hall asked Ellis why he never ever saw him wearing his hair up in curlers off the field. "That's when I was throwing spitballs," Dock finally elucidated. "When I had the curlers ... my hair ... the ends would be nothing but balls of sweat ... Just one touch at a time. [Spitballs were] something I experimented with. I do well with them ... Every once in a while, I want to load up. I don't fool with it. I throw it sometimes to left-handed hitters, when I get two strikes on them, if a man's on first, to get them to hit into a double play. In nineteen seventy-two, at the end of the year ... I threw it four consecutive games. Natural sweat. At the end of my hair there are balls of water. Before every pitch, I would get it ... pick up the resin." Ellis pitched well during the height of his curler-spitball phase in the summer of nineteen seventy-three, but he eventually retired the spitball, and the controversial hair-do that was required. He found it too much of a hassle to keep his cool when pulling off these clandestine methods.
May 5th, 1972. Riverfront Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio. "Ellis was sprayed with chemical mace by [security guard] David Hatter, who later signed a warrant charging the 27-year-old- hurler with disorderly conduct," explained Gordon White of The New York Times. When the court case started, David Hatter testified Ellis refused to identify himself, "made threatening gestures with a clenched fist," and was carrying a half-drunk bottle of wine. Ellis denied any gestures and denied carrying any booze and says he showed his World Series championship ring as identification. Eventually all charges were dropped, as David Hatter was found to have fabricated the reasons for what turned out to be an unprovoked attack. Hatter was fired.
May 1st, 1974. Dock Ellis and The Pittsburgh Pirates were again playing the Cincinnati Reds. According to an interview he did with Jet Magazine in 1984, Ellis was high on LSD for this game as well (No where else has this ever been suggested, mentioned or confirmed). Tripping or not, there was no semblance of peace and love. Ellis had planned to throw the ball at every head, limb or appendage that came up to the plate. Forget the strike zone, he was on a sadistic mission to injure. He apparently was quoted prior to game time as having said, "We gonna get down. We gonna do the do. I'm gonna hit these motherfuckers." Prior to the game Ellis spoke to his catcher Manny Ellis and explained that there was no need for them to do their normal briefing about what batters they'd be facing or what pitches to throw. "I'm just going to mow the line-up down ... Don't even give me no signal ... If you can't catch it, forget it." He used his fastball to knock down, in succession, the five batters he faced in the first inning: Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Dan Driessen, Tony Perez and Johnny Bench. Rose was bashed in the ribs. Joe Morgan dodged enough to avoid the same fate, absorbing the blow on some athletic blubber. Driessen turned and was hammered in the back. Perez, now knowing what to expect was able to dodge four errant tosses to draw a walk and bring in a run. Johnny Bench took two pitches near the head, "chin music" as the play-by-play cliché goes. "I tried to deck [Bench] twice ... I threw at his jaw and he moved. I threw at the back of his head and he moved." The Pirates' manager then wisely removed his starter from the game. One can only imagine the fun if Ellis had been traded to the Reds two seasons later. Donald Hall wrote, 'In his May Day experiment, [Dock's] point was not to hit batters, his point was to kick Cincinnati ass.'
Dock was quite philosophical about the whole concept of hitting batters. For the Pittsburgh pitcher, intentionally beaning the opponent was just part of the game. Shocking to some, the concept is similar to the defense of fighting in hockey. Said Ellis, "[Beaning the hitters] is such an important aspect of the game ... All hitters know they're gonna get hit. They just don't know when. The kicker for the truly good hitters is, you cannot hit me as many times as I'm gonna hit you. They take that hit to get six hits. But you gotta pop their ass so you can get an 0 for 4 on them one day. Don't get cocky now, motherfucker. The challenge is on. So let's get it on. Other guys might explain it differently, have different reasons, but that was mine." Sandy Koufax once said, "Pitching is the art of instilling fear." Ellis obviously took that dictum not just seriously, but to new levels."[Orlando] Cepeda is the biggest. He was trying to take advantage of me [in 1968] because I was a rookie. He was trying to scare me. I let him know, then, that I was not the type [of] dude to fuck around with. It was a big thing because who would be hitting Cepeda? If you went for the biggest guy, it meant you would go for anybody."
Today when a player is smacked by a pitcher, a brawl often ensues and suspensions follow. In the past twenty years, the rules were adjusted and umpires were instructed to immediately eject any pitcher from the game who was suspected of intentionally trying to injure batters. The rule change is due to the example set by Ellis. "Right about the time I left, it changed. You can't throw at anyone without getting thrown out of the game. The announcers say it ruins the game ... Barry Bonds? I'd hit him at least once a game. 'Cause he's got all that [gear] on. Yeah, let's see that shit stop the ball from hurting him if I hit him on the motherfucking elbow ... I'd hit him just to see, 'Does it work?" Ellis' views have oscillated depending on whom he was speaking to. In the 1984 Jet interview he seemed to express remorse, "Those guys were in my hands. I was trying to hit them, and that's dangerous." On second thought, maybe it isn't remorse - its just Ellis stating the facts.
The 1974-75 season. The newswires featured ominous headlines. Clouds Gather Over Ellis said the Associated Press. Dock Ellis Suspended for Thirty Days Without Pay said The Boston Globe. The Pittsburgh Press published the full scoop.
A furious Danny Murtaugh told Dock Ellis to get out of uniform and leave the clubhouse last night after the problem-child pitcher berated the manager in front of the entire team.
As a result of this incident, Pirate manager Joe L. Brown suspended Ellis without pay. Brown said, "I don't care what Ellis is going to do. He has been treated fairly by the Pirate organization and has not reciprocated."
Ellis may remain on the suspended list for no more than thirty days. Asked what would happen after that, Brown said, "We'll leave that to my fertile imagination..."
When the Pirates arrived at their clubhouse at Riverfront Stadium for a 4:45 game with Cincinnati yesterday, Ellis was in the process of getting into uniform and seemed in good spirits. He conversed freely with his teammates, but had a "no comment" for all questions from reporters.
Player representative Jim Roker went to Murtaugh telling him that Ellis would like to have a team meeting and wanted the manager present. Murtaugh consented.
"I thought and I think everyone else thought that he wanted to apologize," Murtaugh said.
As events were soon to prove, that was not on the mind of Ellis, who failed to last the first inning in his two previous starts and had been relegated to the bullpen.
"When he started talking I didn't realize what he was saying at first," said Murtaugh. "I wasn't expecting it. When it finally dawned on me I realized it was one of those speeches you hear but you can't believe. I can't remember what he said, but it was detrimental to the management, to the manager and some of the players."
Murtaugh, an easy-going man who seldom shows anger, was too furious to talk to reporters until some fifteen minutes after the incident.
"I was listening to what he was saying," related the manager, "and I thought, 'Hey, I've got to act.' So I acted."
When it was over, Murtaugh stormed out of the clubhouse. Ellis immediately began dressing and was gone some twenty minutes after the blowup.
The incident was widely covered in the press with varying accounts, all of them negative. The Pittsburgh fans finally turned against Dock Ellis for good. And the hate mail came pouring in. Shortly after the incident someone stole Ellis' vehicle with the DOCK vanity plates and burned it to the ground.
When the Yankees started negotiating a high-profile player swap with the Pirates, their main goal was to obtain second baseman Willie Randolph. The Pirates said there would be no dealing of Randolph without the inclusion of Dock Ellis. Pittsburgh wanted to unload all the controversy, and the only apparent way to do it was blackmail. "They wouldn't trade Willie unless the Yankees took me," said Ellis. "The Pirates had to get me out of there. I had worn out my welcome. Danny Murtaugh and I didn't see eye to eye on certain things. The General Manager for the Pirates, Joe Brown, made a bet with the Yankees General Manager, that I would win more than 12 games." Despite the headaches, GM Brown knew that Ellis was a good player, one of their best in fact. Manhattan could absorb, even welcome, Ellis and his proclivity.
July 27th, 1976. Dock was a full-fledged Yankee and the great Reggie Jackson was now a Baltimore Oriole. Dock Ellis stayed true to his philosophy of murdering-my-opponent-is-part-of-the-game. He unleashed a monstrous fastball to Reggie Jackson's face. The axiom "You wouldn't hit a guy with glasses, would you?" did not apply for Dock Ellis. Jackson's famous four-eyed face exploded with blood, his mug covered in shards of glass, a scene of gory snowflakes. The opposing outfield ran inward to check the damage. Dock Ellis was said to sheepishly ask the home plate umpire who was squatting down next to the still body on the ground, "Is he dead?" Jackson left the field in a stretcher. Afterward, assured that Reggie Jackson was still alive, Ellis defended the assault. "I owed him one," was his quote in the post-game interview. It was apparently retaliation for Reggie Jackson's monstrous home run off that Ellis pitch during the 1971 All-Star game. What a guy.
Despite such sadism, many players were tacitly thrilled with the intentional cutting down of Reggie Jackson, who was widely perceived as arrogant. Ellis claims that when he showed up for his next game, his clubhouse locker was filled with twenty dollar bills and that players all across the league bought him drinks throughout the rest of the season. Other pitchers shared the ill feelings. Journeyman pitcher Harold Knowles was a Jackson teammate and said of Reggie, "There's not enough mustard in the world to cover that hot dog."
Come 1977, Dock Ellis' best seasons were behind him. He started the year anew with the Oakland Athletics and went on to break a major league record that had nothing to do with his ability as a player. Oakland A's Manager Jack McKeon was fired and replaced with Bobby Winkles shortly after the start of the season. A few days later Ellis was sold out right to the Texas Rangers, managed by Frank Luchessi. A week later Luchessi was fired, replaced by Eddie Stanky. Stanky resigned after managing only one Rangers game. Connie Ryan was Stanky's successor but only on an interim basis until a proper replacement could be found. The replacement, Billy Hunter, was hired six games later. So Ellis played under six managers in one season, a strange kind of record, not likely to ever be broken.
In 1979 Ellis hopped from The Rangers to The Mets and finally finished his season and his career pitching three final times for Pittsburgh. For many years Ellis had thought of leaving baseball for radio. He had notions of disc jockey flamboyancy in the realm of Wolfman Jack. He had loved the film American Graffiti (1974) and had grand designs to invest in the making of a film called Black Graffiti. These ideas never came to fruition. Instead he spent the remainder of his life devoted to noble irony, becoming a drug counselor, spending the next twenty years touring prisons and delivering lectures about drug addiction. He died in December 2008 at the age of sixty-three after a long bout with Cirrhosis.
Here is a hilarious excerpt from Dock Ellis and The New World Order written by Rob Trucks about the day he spent with Ellis in 2005.
In Los Angeles, Dock Ellis and I stop at a Fatburger. Dock is a baseball original, a former Pittsburgh Pirate pitcher best known for throwing a no-hitter on acid. This Fatburger, though, is not the original, Dock tells me ... After one bite of the cheeseburger before him, Dock loudly hails the attention of the Asian cook behind the counter.
"Hey, man, this is not a Fatburger."
"Yes," the cook replies. "This is a Fatburger."
"Bullshit," says Dock. "You may have that Fatburger sign up there, but I've eaten Fatburgers and this is not a Fatburger burger."
"We use fresh meat patties," the cook protests.
"I'm not saying anything about your fresh meat patties. All I'm saying is that this is not a Fatburger burger." The cook and Dock turn to face other business. "See, I understand what he's saying, but he don't understand what I'm saying,"
Dock tells me ... "I don't owe baseball shit. I don't owe them shit. Hey, we used each other. That don't stop me from having animosity towards baseball, but I don't owe them shit, and they don't owe me nothing ... Why is baseball part of me? I was destined to be who I am and known that throughout no matter what I did. I had a predestination to be me. I could've been in politics and still have been the same motherfucker. The same arrogant motherfucker. Charismatic individual, politician motherfucker."
In the Country of Baseball by Donald Hall and Dock Ellis (1976, Simon & Schuster)
The Harder They Fall: Celebrities Tell Their Real Life Stories of Addiction and Recovery by Gary Stromberg and Jane Merrill (Hazeldon, 2007)
Baseball by Tom Clark (Dawson, 1976)
More Tales from the Yankee Dugout by Ed Randall (Sports Publishing, 2002)
Jet Magazine (April 30, 1984)
http://www.dallasobserver.com/2005-06-16/news/balls-out/ (An excellent and extremely helpful piece by Keven McAlester - The man who made the Roky Erikson documentary!)
Special Thanks to Western Wyoming Community College Hay Library and Nelle Ilel of NPR.