[NY Times December 21, 2008] Dock Ellis, a leading pitcher for pennant-winning teams with the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Yankees despite a long addiction to drugs and alcohol, died Friday in Los Angeles. He was 63.
The cause was liver disease, his wife, Hjordis, told The Associated Press.
Ellis won 138 games in his career and was the National League’s starting pitcher in the 1971 All-Star Game. After 12 years in the major leagues, he spent many years as a substance-abuse counselor. But he was remembered mostly for bizarre episodes on and off the field.
In his 1976 biography, “Dock Ellis in the Country of Baseball,” Donald Hall, later the poet laureate of the United States, wrote that Ellis had been drinking before he pitched a no-hitter against the Padres in San Diego in May 1970. But in his epilogue to the paperback edition, published in 1989, Hall wrote that Ellis had told him he was actually using LSD before the game, not realizing that he would be pitching the opener of a doubleheader, and had washed away the effects with amphetamines.
“Doc was high not on vodka, but on acid,” Hall wrote in that epilogue. “He told me the story while he was still working for the Pirates.”
When the book was about to be published in 1976, Ellis was with the Yankees and, fearing the reaction of their owner, George Steinbrenner, did not want that LSD admission to be made public, Hall wrote.
Just before the 1971 All-Star Game, Ellis said that the Cincinnati Reds’ Sparky Anderson, the N.L. manager, would not name him as the league’s starting pitcher because the Oakland A’s Vida Blue would be the starter for the American League and “they wouldn’t pitch two brothers against each other.” Anderson did start Ellis, who gave up a mammoth home run to Oakland’s Reggie Jackson.
In the Ellis biography, Hall wrote that reporters had criticized Ellis for inflaming racial issues, but that it was only a ploy.
“The only way I could start was to say they wouldn’t start me because I was black,” Hall quoted Ellis as telling him. “I call it child psychology. I said they wouldn’t do it, so they had to.”
In May 1972, a Reds security guard sprayed Ellis with Mace after refusing him admission to the ballpark, unsure that he was actually a ballplayer. The Reds later apologized. In a May 1974 game, Ellis hit the first three Cincinnati batters to face him and said later that he did so because the Reds had made disrespectful remarks about the Pirates after defeating them in the postseason two years earlier.
During the 1973 season, Ellis wore hair curlers for a time during pregame drills, supposedly to keep the back of his hairdo straight, allowing sweat to drip down, enabling him to use the moisture for spitballs.
Dock Phillip Ellis Jr. was born in Los Angeles, where his father owned small businesses. His father had been named Dock because his own father wanted him to become a physician. (Somehow a “k” was added to Doc.)
Ellis, a right-hander, had a 19-9 record for the 1971 Pirates, who defeated the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series, and he was 17-8 for the 1976 Yankees team that was beaten by the Reds in the Series. He also pitched for Oakland, the Mets and the Texas Rangers, and retired after the 1979 season with a record of 138-119.
Ellis told The Los Angeles Times in 1985 that he began using drugs as a teenager, started to have alcohol problems while in the minor leagues, and “never pitched a game in the major leagues I wasn’t high.”
He entered a substance-abuse treatment center in Arizona after leaving baseball and worked after that as a drug and alcohol counselor in California. The Yankees hired him in the 1980s to speak about substance abuse to their minor leaguers.
In addition to his wife, Ellis had a stepdaughter, Jasmine Ellis, according to The Victorville Daily Press of California.
In recounting his career as a counselor, Ellis told The St. Petersburg Times in 1989 that “education is the only way.”
As he put it, “If you can teach kids A-B-C, you can teach them about drugs and alcohol.”