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Random Baseball Card Of The Day: 1969 Dock Ellis May 25, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Baseball, Baseball Cards.
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Ellis logged some impressive seasons for the Pirates in the early ’70s, spent a productive year with the Yankees in ’76, and then spiraled downwards as his drug problems overtook his abilities.

After overcoming a diagnosis of sickle-cell trait, Ellis would become part of the Clemente-Stargell Pirate team of the early ’70s that managed a World Championship and remained the premiere power in the NL east really until Philadelphia would take over that role in the late ’70s, save for the “We Are Family” 1979 Pirate last-gasp.

Ellis would only pitch when high on speed, mostly. He claimed he pitched his 1970 no-hitter while on LSD. He couldn’t feel the ball and could only read the catcher Jerry May’s signals via reflective tape on May’s fingers. He’d hallucinate that Richard Nixon was the home plate umpire.

In other words, he enjoyed that game way more than anyone else.

He said the scariest experience he ever had pitching was pitching sober for a game in 1973.

Ellis was also an outspoken critic of the bad racial attitudes still hanging around baseball in the ’70s, fighting with managers and owners over various issues involving money & dignity. Once when missing a team bus with some teammates, he did not have his ID and got maced by a security guard when Ellis tried to prove who he was by shoving his World Series ring in the guard’s face.

He particularly hated the Reds, not only as rivals in the NL, but clearly on the level of “vendetta.” Once in a 1974 game, he’d bean or attempt to bean EVERY Reds batter in the first inning of the game, getting pulled by Pirates’ manager Danny Murtaugh after hitting the first 3 (Rose, Driessen, Morgan), walking the 4th (Perez), and throwing behind and at the head of the fifth (Bench).  Easy to see how much the game has changed in 40 years – now, the 2nd hit batter or the 1st thrown behind would get the umpire to throw you out of the game, even if it WAS Richard Nixon.

Eventually the Pirates got fed up with his attitude and insisted he be included in the trade with the Yankees where Doc Medich got swapped for Willie Randolph, a deal that would pay dividends for the Yankees for many years to come. Ellis would give them one great season in 1976, helping them to win their first pennant in a dozen years, though he’d lose to those hated Reds in the World Series.

After a fight with Steinbrenner (shocking, huh?), he’d get dealt to the A’s for Mike Torrez, bounce from them to the Rangers, fight with the Rangers’ manager over the no-alcohol policy, get dealt to the Mets and finally back to the Pirates before retiring in 1980.

He’d also finally sober up in 1980, giving up drugs and alcohol. Maybe giving up baseball was the key.

But points to Ellis. Much like the formerly self-destructive NFL QB Ryan Leaf, he’d turn things around and become an addiction counselor and work with minor league players to overcome their own substance problems. But the abuse he’d put himself through had caught up to him. He develop some serious liver problems, get heart problems waiting for the liver transplant, and die too early at age 63.

But at least he’d exorcised most of his demons by then.  He was anything but boring.

 

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