- March 11, 1945
- 6' 3"
- 205 lbs
- Major League Debut:
- 6-18-1968 with PIT
It was a bizarre world in the late 60’s and early 70’s and there was no one more bizarre than one of the Pittsburgh Pirates greatest starters during the time period, a man by the name of Dock Ellis.
To say Ellis was one of the most colorful characters in the history of the franchise is an incredible understatement. He wore curlers in the clubhouse, he once lit the teams bat rack in the clubhouse on fire when the team was in a slump claiming the bats were getting no use, he time and time again put himself in one controversial situation after another, often times, as he would later admit, because he was under the influence of drugs. While his antics often times overshadowed is immense talent, make no mistake, even with all that went on during his time in the Steel City, there have very few pitchers to wear the black and gold that were ever better.
After a successful minor league career, Dock came up in 1968 and was impressive with a 6-5 record, 2.51 ERA and a minuscule .213 opponents batting average. He slipped a little in ’69 having his worst season in a Pirate uniform with an 11-17 mark, before finally coming to the forefront as one of the ace’s of the Bucco staff in 1970.
Ellis went 13 –10 that season, but on June 12th would forever etch his name in major league baseball history. That night Dock, despite the fact he walked eight batters, no hit the San Diego Padres 2-0 on the strength of two Willie Stargell home runs. Also that night, which he admitted later on, was the fact that Ellis pitched his gem with on LSD, welcome to the wild and bizarre world of Dock Ellis.
The following season in 1971, Ellis completed probably one of the best seasons he would pitch in his entire career that including winning 13 consecutive decisions. By the All-star game, Dock was flirting with 30 wins as he came into the break with a 14-3 mark. Fearing he would not be selected as the starting pitcher in his first mid summer classic he was elected to, Dock came out saying that he probably wouldn’t get a chance to start because they would never let “two soul brothers” start an all star game, referring to he and the A’s Vida Blue who was the best American League pitcher. Ellis’ ploy worked and both pitchers got a chance to start, although in hindsight, maybe he shouldn’t have gone out. Ellis gave up the legendary mammoth home run to Reggie Jackson that bounced off the roof at Tiger Stadium and a two run shot to Frank Robinson. He was the losing pitcher in the only all-star game the senior circuit would lose in a 20-year period.
While his arm was sore by the end of the season and Ellis finished off the 1971 campaign 5-6 to finish with a NL 5th high 19 wins, he still ended up 4th in the league’s Cy Young Award voting. He also would be outspoken in one situation after another.
On September 1st, 1971, the Pirates fielded what was considered to be the first all-black lineup in the history of major league baseball. Ellis was the starting pitcher and was paranoid that the umpires were aware of the lineup and would try and do anything to get him out of the game. He claimed in Al Oliver’s book “Baseball’s Best Kept Secret”, that he was throwing everything down the middle and they kept calling them balls. He genuinely thought he was going to kill the umpire so to prevent that, he flew to Los Angeles, and went to the Willie Crawford’s house where he passed out in his living room and woke up the next morning to fly back to Pittsburgh. Ironically, with Ellis throwing balls, the Bucs were warming up another African American hurler, Bob Veale.
As bizarre as it was, the event wasn’t to be the only controversy that Ellis got himself into in 1971. By the time the NLCS came around, Dock’s arm was sore and it was apparent that he was not the same pitcher now, that he had been earlier in the season. He openly scoffed when manager Danny Murtaugh suggested that he would like to have Ellis as the starting pitcher if the series went to five games. He had hurt his elbow, which Ellis had in the past, but he thought it was more serious this time claiming that it was a different kind of hurt and thought his season was over.
He also gave management some flack when he complained that the plane ride back from San Francisco was too crowded with more than just Pirate members aboard. Ironically while he complained, he also had his wife and daughter on board.
After a fine 15-7 campaign the following year with a 2.70 ERA, 9th best in the national league, Dock hurt I his elbow again in 1973 and finished the year with his second losing mark in his Pirate career.
While it looked like his good days were behind him after getting off to a 3-8 start in 1974, Ellis put it all together and looked like the Dock Ellis of old as he went 9-1 with a 1.87 ERA afterwards. In the last contest of the streak, Ellis was facing the Phillies when a Willie Montanez line drive hit him and fractured his right hand, putting Dock out for the rest of the season.
He once again got himself into another “colorful” situation in 1974. He was mad at the Cincinnati Reds and in an attempt to wake up his team, which he felt was lackluster at the time, wanted to make a statement in a game on May 1st. That day he hit Pete Rose, Joe Morgan and Dan Dreissen, the first three Reds to come up in the game and then proceeded to throw at Tony Perez’ head and two balls at Johnny Bench, before being taken out of the game.
Dock never really came back to form after the broken hand and was only 8-9 in 1975, before being dealt to the Yankees after the season with Willie Randolph and Ken Brett for Doc Medich.
Ellis found that he loved Yankee manger Billy Martin’s competitiveness and went 17-8 for the club in 1976 including a victory in game 3 of the ALCS. For his efforts, Dock was named the AL Comeback player of the year.
The 32-year LA native went from the Yanks to the A’s and finally the Rangers in 1977 where he finished the season 10-6 in Texas with a 2.90 ERA. It would be his last truly effective season as he went 9-7 in 1978 with the Rangers with a 4.20 ERA before being bounced around to the Yankees and finally back to the Burgh in 1979 where he had a 2.57 ERA in 7 innings ending his major league career where it began.
Luckily, the story for Dock Ellis had a happy ending. He got treatment for his dependence problem, and was the head of a drug rehab clinic where work with street addicts. He unfortunately passed away in 2008 at the age of 63.
- Dock Ellis