Monday, December 22, 2008

RIP, Dock Ellis: 1945-2008

By Manifesto Joe

Former major league pitcher Dock Ellis died Friday at the age of 63. Dock was a one-time All-Star who won 138 games in 12 seasons -- a very good pitcher, but not remembered as a great one. He won't make the Baseball Hall of Fame, not by a long shot.

Even if his career stats had been more impressive, Dock would have had a tough time making the Hall anyway, for one big reason. He's mainly remembered for an evening in June 1970, when he pitched a no-hitter -- high on LSD.

It apparently wasn't premeditated. Dock had a few days off and flew back to his home turf in the Los Angeles area, where he partied insanely with friends, as he was apt to do when off the mound.

In the morning of one of those days, he took a hit of acid. He appears to have lost track of the time, but his girlfriend happened to pick up the morning paper and reminded him: Hey, Dock, aren't you scheduled to pitch tonight in Pittsburgh? (Dock was in the Pirates' starting rotation.)

Oh, shit, he must have said. So Dock was on a plane before long, and made it back to Pittsburgh before the game.

It was described as the ugliest no-hitter ever. Dock didn't tell any sportswriter until years after his retirement that he was blasted on acid, but he admitted to recalling only bits and pieces of the game amid his euphoria. He walked eight batters and hit one with a pitch. (He usually had good control.)

But he said that he focused on that catcher's mitt -- I'll bet it was glowing. Anyway, nobody got a hit, or scored, for the opposing San Diego Padres. Bill Mazeroski and other Pirates teammates made stellar defensive plays. And Willie Stargell hit two home runs. The Pirates won, 2-0, and Dock got his no-hitter, even though he started talking about it in the dugout, which violates a taboo in baseball.

Dock was known for his antics, and for being erratic and combative. He wore curlers to a game once, apparently in response to sportswriters' comments about his changes of hairstyle. He said the gel would help him throw his spitball. He beaned Reggie Jackson once so badly that Reg had to be carried off the field. He chased a heckler in the stands decades before Albert Belle. He threw at a succession of Cincinnati Reds batters before being pulled from the game.

He somehow had a couple of great seasons, and several good ones, but was through at age 34. He was doing booze and coke in frightening amounts, he himself said. In 1980, he went through rehab and reportedly stayed clean thereafter.

But before passing any judgment on Dock, or others of his generation -- pitcher Bill "Spaceman" Lee once told a reporter that if the commissioner was going to fine all players who smoked pot, "He'd be a very rich man" -- let's fast-forward.

Give me Dock Ellis or Bill Lee over any of the steroid beefcakes who have been setting tainted records in recent years. The older guys were doing what they were doing mainly for pleasure, and largely at the long-term expense of their careers -- not setting juiced-up records.

These guys may have been colorful in the wrong way. But Barry Bonds always came off like a calculated business plan in the form of an athlete. He will be remembered that way, like an automaton.

Yeah, the Babe never did acid. That's probably because it hadn't been discovered yet.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.


Anonymous said...

This was a pretty fun read until you started preaching.

Manifesto Joe said...

Man ... I thought when a comment showed up from "Anonymous," that you might be calling me some kind of brain-damaged old hippie who's condoning drug abuse! I'm preaching, it turns out.

The sermon encapsulated: I prefer a self-destructive drunk or doper any day over a steroid-injecting cheater.

You'll find more than one sermon on this blog. This ain't "Seinfeld" -- it's very much intended to be ABOUT SOMETHING. I hope the posts can entertain, but in the end they are very much meant to proselytize the reader. Here, you're going to find OPINIONS, like on the op-ed page of a good newspaper. Take 'em or leave 'em, dude.

Anonymous said...

I never said you weren't some kind of brain-damaged old hippie who's condoning drug abuse. I was just dwelling on the negative since it is the holiday season.

Manifesto Joe said...

Was I preaching, or condoning drug abuse? You're going in circles.

When it comes to left-brain, straight-line, logical reasoning, it seems like I could spot myself a few lost IQ points when dealing with certain commentators. If I couldn't, it would be an even more deplorable mismatch than it already is.