Woke up to this news this morning: Dock Ellis has passed away from a liver ailment. How sad.
Amid all the hype about his no-hitter on LSD, people will overlook that Ellis was a very good pitcher. But at the same time more than a bit of an enigma. What could he have done had he actually applied himself? If you haven’t yet, you should read his autobiography. It is called Dock Ellis in the Country of Baseball. It was co-written by future poet-laureate Donald Hall. The prose wirtten by Hall in the first chapter stands all by itself as a great piece. The balance of the book reads at times like a conversation. Sometimes it is Hall and Ellis speaking. Other times it is Hall and a friend of Dock’s or a childhood buddy of Dock’s.
A quick scan of the various articles on his death reveals an error in the article by Jerry Crasnick at ESPN.com. Regarding that no-no, Crasnick states that Ellis revealed in his autobiography that he threw the game while high on LSD. (The article at the NY Daily News makes the same mistake.) Not at all true. In the book he claims to have been drunk. It wasn’t until an appearance on “60 Minutes” in the 1980s that Ellis revealed he was high on LSD. In a later edition of the book, co-author Donald Hall explains, “When I described Dock pitching a no-hitter after a night spent drinking screwdrivers, I lied…Dock was high not on vodka, but on acid.” Hall describes the scene of he and Ellis going over a final draft of the manuscript in the winter of 1976, after Ellis had been traded to the Bombers. Hall’s epliogue states, “When we came to the pages about his acid no-hitter, Dock shook his head sadly: ‘I am working,’ he said, ‘for Mr. Steinbrenner.'”
The Crasnick article does speak about his start on May 1, 1974 in which he purposefully hit Pete Rose and Joe Morgan, walked Tony Perez (only because Perez kept moving out of the way of pitches aimed for him) and then hit Johnny Bench before being pulled by Danny Murtaugh in favor of John Morlan. Ellis felt the Pirates were intimidated by the Big Red Machine and wanted to prove that he, at least, was not.
I have yet to read any obituaries where it mentions Dock wearing curlers in his hair on the field or applying velvet to the barrell of his bats because it felt cool.