Dock Phillip Ellis
- Bats Both, Throws Right
- Height 6' 3", Weight 210 lb.
- School Los Angeles Harbor Community College
- High School Gardena High School
- Debut June 18, 1968
- Final Game September 29, 1979
- Born March 11, 1945 in Los Angeles, CA USA
- Died December 19, 2008 in Los Angeles, CA USA
"I can only remember bits and pieces of the game. I was psyched. I had a feeling of euphoria. I was zeroed in on the [catcher's] glove, but I didn't hit the glove too much. I remember hitting a couple of batters, and the bases were loaded two or three times. The ball was small sometimes, the ball was large sometimes, sometimes I saw the catcher, sometimes I didn't. Sometimes, I tried to stare the hitter down and throw while I was looking at him. I chewed my gum until it turned to powder. I started having a crazy idea in the fourth inning that Richard Nixon was the home plate umpire, and once I thought I was pitching a baseball to Jimi Hendrix, who to me was holding a guitar and swinging it over the plate. They say I had about three to four fielding chances. I remember diving out of the way of a ball I thought was a line drive. I jumped, but the ball wasn't hit hard and never reached me." - Dock Ellis, on his famous no-hitter
Dock Ellis was an All-Star pitcher and later Comeback Player of the Year. He won 138 games in the majors and often made the league leaderboards in pitching. He won one World Series ring, the same year he was part of Pittsburgh's historic lineup featuring only African-American and Afro-Latino players. He was one of the more controversial figures of his generation. An outspoken African-American pitcher in an era where it was still frowned upon for players to speak up and out against injustices small or large, he may be the only man in history to throw a no-hitter while zonked on the hallucinogenic LSD. After baseball, he helped troubled youth overcome their own issues with drugs and alcohol.
Dock starred for the "Pittsburgh Pirate Rookies" in his youth and young manhood, a team of youngsters in the Los Angeles area put together by former Negro Leagues pitcher Chet Brewer. Teammates included fellow major leaguers Willie Crawford, Bobby Tolan, Reggie Smith and Bob Watson, among several big leaguers to pass through. Attending Gardena High School, Dock did not go out for baseball until his senior year due to an older player using a racial slur in speaking of him. Even then, he only played due to the threat of expulsion after being caught drinking and smoking marijuana in the boys bathroom. Despite playing in only four games, Dock was named All-League. He attended the junior college Los Angeles Harbor College.
Knowing the Pittsburgh Pirates would come for him as a part of Mr. Brewer's (as he referred to Chet) team, he held out for at least $60,000 in signing money until an arrest for stealing a car led to probation. With a $2,500 signing bonus and $500 a month in hand, Dock reported to the Batavia Pirates and began working his way up the Pirate chain. He beat the Cleveland Indians in an exhibition game during July 1965 and was a Double A All-Star with the Southern League Asheville Tourists in 1966, He finished 10-9, 2.77 and spent some time with the big league club, although he did not get into a game. He reached Triple A with the Columbus Jets in 1967, suffering a leg injury during the stretch run that sapped his ability to pitch. Several white teammates circulated a petition among themselves, accusing Dock of malingering and cutting him out of a share of postseason money. Returning to Columbus at the start of 1968, the tutelage of manager Johnny Pesky and pitching coach Harvey Haddix helped get him to the big leagues.
Dock debuted in the bigs in June 1968. He was originally called upon as a relief pitcher, moving into the starting rotation gradually throughout the season. He went 6-5 with a 2.51 ERA in 26 games (10 starts) that rookie campaign, following it up with a strong, if unspectacular in the W-L record, 11-17, 3.58 campaign in 1969. In 33 starts, he walked 76 while striking out 173 and posted a 2.86 FIP, suggesting he pitched in a fair amount of bad luck. His finest season with the Bucs may have been in 1971, when he won 19 games (including 13 straight) for the Buccos. After declaring that he doubted "very seriously if they'll start another brother from the American League and a brother from the National [League]" prior to the 1971 All-Star Game, Cincinnati Reds manager Sparky Anderson made the call to start Dock against Oakland A's sensation Vida Blue, the first time two African-Americans faced off in the Midsummer Classic. Dock took the loss, allowing a mammoth home run to Reggie Jackson that nearly escaped Tiger Stadium. His second half was a bit tough, but he took the bump on September 1st, when the Pirates faced off with the Philadelphia Phillies at Three Rivers Stadium. That night, the Pirates fielded the first all-black and Latino lineup in history, winning 10-7. The Pirates went on to win the World Series that year, with Dock contributing 2 1/3 innings in Game 1, allowing 4 earned runs on 4 hits.
Dock was a double-digit victor in his remaining Pirate seasons, with the exception of 1975 (finishing 8-9, 3.79). After starting 3-8 in 1974, he won 8 in a row and finished 12-9, 3.16. This particular winning streak would not be matched by a Bucs hurler until A.J. Burnett, 38 years later. Dock battled through several controversies over those next few years. He was maced by a Cincinnati security guard at Riverfront Stadium in 1972 for allegedly failing to show proper identification. Apparently, his World Series ring was not evidence enough for the guard on duty; the guard would later be fired for his actions. In August 1973, pictures of Dock wearing hair curlers during pregame warm-ups drew the ire of the commissioner's office, with the Pirates ordering him to cease the practice immediately. Dock later was featured in a piece of Ebony about his hairstyles.
"Cincinnati will bull(blank) with us and kick our ass and laugh at us. They're the only team that talks about us like a dog. Whenever we play that team, everybody socializes with them... 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 gonna get down. We gonna do the do. I'm going to hit these mother(blanks)." - Dock Ellis, as quoted in Dock Ellis In The Country Of Baseball
In 1974, Dock felt the Pirates had taken a back seat to Cincinnati and gone from being the aggressors in the rivalry to being pushed around. With that on his mind, he took the bump on May 1st at Three Rivers and proceeded to start the game by drilling Pete Rose, Joe Morgan and Dan Driessen in succession, then missing Tony Perez in his attempts to drill him, forcing home a run with a walk, before being removed after two pitches at the dome of Johnny Bench. The team was in a malaise at the time, a malaise that would not break until a duel between Bruce Kison and the Reds Jack Billingham in a doubleheader on July 14th. A beanball war erupted into a mammoth brawl between the two teams. The Pirates won the game, 2-1, and took off from there, winning the National League East title before bowing to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Dock's Pirate tenure came to an end after the 1975 season. During the month of August, he called a team meeting in an effort to get the team to loosen up. Instead, he drew the ire of skipper Danny Murtaugh and was thrown out of the clubhouse, suspended for two weeks before returning and spending some time in the bullpen. Knowing his time in Pittsburgh was up, he was peddled as a throw-in to the New York Yankees, with Ken Brett and future All-Star Willie Randolph, in return for George "Doc" Medich. Through 2019, he still ranks 9th in Pirate annals with 869 strikeouts, between Ed Morris and Deacon Phillippe and 19th in wins (between Doug Drabek and Roy Face).
Dock enjoyed his time in the Bronx, winning 17 games and partying hearty with legendary skipper Billy Martin in 1976 as the team returned to the World Series for the first time since 1964. He won the American League Comeback Player of the Year Award that season as awarded by UPI. Dock began his slide out of the big leagues from there. He criticized George Steinbrenner prior to spring training in 1977 for offering him a raise he felt to be lacking and was dealt to the Oakland Athletics in a package for Mike Torrez. He struggled in Oakland and openly plotted rebellion with veterans Dick Allen and Earl Williams. That June, he was purchased by the Texas Rangers, for whom he led an insurrection against skipper Billy Hunter due to his strict rules and regulations. Owner Brad Corbett ultimately sided with Dock and canned Hunter, but, in 1979, Dock's 1-5, 5.98 start had him flipped to the woeful New York Mets at the trading deadline. After going 3-7, 6.04 in Flushing, he requested to be sent back to Pittsburgh, for whom he made his final big league appearances. The Bucs won the 1979 World Series, but Dock had been acquired too late to be eligible for postseason play.
In addition to his pitching prowess, Dock was an excellent baserunner. During his career, he was used 43 times as a pinch-runner. He scored a total of 42 runs and stole 4 bases. In that guise he is comparable to his contemporary Blue Moon Odom, who was also used regularly as a pinch-runner during his career.
Dock dabbled with several different substances during his career. He almost never took the mound without popping some amphetamines and began experimenting with cocaine in the late 1960s. Most famously, he admitted to pitching a no-hitter while under the influence of LSD. On June 12, 1970, he took the mound against the San Diego Padres, the first game of a twi-night doubleheader out west. He walked 8, struck out 6 and benefited from nice defensive plays from Matty Alou and Bill Mazeroski to keep the Friars out of the hit column. He never used LSD again after the adventure, and stated years later he regretted doing so since he could not remember any of the details of the no-hitter.
Dock also struggled with alcohol, particularly as his career was slipping away. He eventually accepted a job with former boss Brad Corbett working for his pipe company while beginning to drink more and more. One day, realizing he was powerless against the bottle, particularly Scotch, he contacted former Cy Young Award winner Don Newcombe, who helped those struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. He spent one and a half months at an Arizona facility cleaning up, giving up all drugs and alcohol while remaining clean and sober from 1980 forward and developing his own program to help troubled youths.
While working as a drug and addiction recovery counselor, Dock was a player/coach for the St. Petersburg Pelicans of the Senior Professional Baseball Association. Taking the mound clean and sober, something he had rarely (if ever) done during his playing career, he went 0-2 with a 1.76 ERA as a part of the team's bullpen. In 1990, Ellis returned to pitch for the Pelicans; in 5 games, he had a 0.00 ERA with 2 saves when the league folded.
Through all the ups and downs, Dock was an outspoken critic during and after his career of things he felt were not right. Dock was an advocate for folks to be tested for sickle cell anemia, as he was a carrier of the sickle cell trait, and did all sorts of work with people in Pittsburgh. He spent time counseling prisoners in Western State Penitentiary and their Grubstake rehabilitation facility during off-seasons with the Pirates. He also was outspoken about the rights of players being able to sell their services to the highest bidder, something sadly he did not get to partake in as his career was unwinding before the mega bucks entered the game. If Dock felt something was not right, he was not afraid to make his voice heard, even if it meant the press would tear him up (the Pittsburgh press seemed to revel in running him out of town, some writers spending nearly five years making a living publishing Ellis will be gone pieces in the early 1970s). He delighted in selling what he called "wolf tickets", fibs and/or boastful boasts designed to get people fired up.
Following his career and achieving sobriety, Dock took up acting for a time, appearing in a bit part in the 1986 Ron Howard film Gung Ho, starring Michael Keaton. With the poet Donald Hall, he had been the subject of the 1976 book Dock Ellis In The Country Of Baseball, chronicling the highs and lows of his career with the Pirates as well as colorful stories from his life. In 1987, he and Hall added the addendum chapter "The Adjustment", detailing his life's travails since the original release and chronicling The Chart in depth, which he used in his work as a counselor with youths for the remainder of his life.
In 2007, Dock was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver. Despite no health insurance, Dock received help from friends in his baseball career to pay for a necessary liver transplant. Sadly, damage to his heart rendered a transplant impossible. Dock died six days before Christmas in 2008.
Prior to his death, in 2008, he conducted an interview with NPR about his LSD no-hitter, clips of which were spliced together and featured in a 2009 animated short film, Dock Ellis And The LSD No-No. In 2014, Dock was the subject of a documentary film entitled No No: A Dockumentary, directed by Jeff Radice.
"I read your comments in our paper the last few days and 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. When I met you, I was left with the feeling that self-respect was very important. There will be times when you will ask yourself is it worth it all? I can only say, Dock, it is, and even though you will want to yield in the long run, your own feeling about yourself will be most important. Try not to be left alone. Try to get more players to understand your views, and you will find great support. You have made a real contribution. I surely hope your great ability continues. That ability will determine the success of your dedication and honesty. I again appreciate what you are doing. Continued success..." - Jackie Robinson, 1970
Sources include: Dock Ellis In The Country Of Baseball by Donald Hall with Dock Ellis and The Forever Boys by Peter Golenbock
- NL All-Star (1971)
- 1976 AL Comeback Player of the Year Award
- 15 Wins Seasons: 3 (1971, 1972 & 1976)
- 200 Innings Pitched Seasons: 5 (1969-1971 & 1976-1977)
- Won a World Series with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1971
- Dock Ellis (as told to George Vass): "The Game I'll Never Forget", Baseball Digest, May 1980, pp. 50-52.
- Donald Hall: Dock Ellis in the Country of Baseball, Fireside Books, Simon & Schuster, New York, NY, 1989 (originally published in 1976). ISBN 067165988X
- Josh Peter: "50 years after Dock Ellis' no-hitter, his story resonates during time of protest", USA Today, June 12, 2020.