Thursday, April 21, 2011

#145 - Dock Ellis

Dock Ellis gets a "5" card. As much as I liked him as a player, I do believe this honor was unearned in '74 as there were a bunch of guys more deserving. That said, Dock was a colorful guy: there was the LSD no-hitter, the curlers on the bench, the dissing of Steinbrenner, the macing in Cincinnati. I remember he had a daughter with a name about a mile long. He also had his thing with Reggie. In '73 elbow problems plagued Dock and although most of his numbers were quite good, he put up a losing record. His best moment during the season may have been when he threw a changeup by Padre Leron Lee that, according to Willie Stargell, just wrecked Leron's career right then and there. Here he looks mildly perturbed - or confused - at spring training. Hopefully not because he's seeing Jimi Hendrix at the plate again.

Dock Ellis was from LA. While growing up he played against a bunch of future major leaguers: Norm Miller, Bob Watson, Ron Woods, and Bobby Tolan to name a few. He was signed by the Pirates in '64, a few months out of high school. He was immediately successful and in '65 won 14 at Single A. In '66 he won 10 at Double A, but in '67 he had a tough time in Triple A at Columbus. He then worked with Harvey Haddix, the Pirates' roving pitching coach, and got back on track, in '68 moving to the Columbus bullpen and going 2-1 with a 2.35 ERA. Those numbers allowed him to get promoted and he had a fine rookie year, going 6-5 with a 2.50 ERA as both a starter and reliever. When Dock came up his first roommate was Willie Stargell, but Dock would try to talk to Willie all night and Stargell had to get a new roommate by the end of their second week. In '69 Dock moved full time into the rotation, but - due to the rule change - it was a tough year for young pitchers and he was no exception as he went 11-17 and his ERA bumped up a run. But he had his selfless side and that year began working with incarcerated guys. In '70 he refined his slider and while the strikeouts came down so did the ERA and his record returned to the winning side. He also threw his infamous no-hitter in which he later claimed he pitched for a full inning to Jimi Hendrix who was swinging his guitar. In '71 it all came together for Dock as he won 19 on the Series champs. He - and his 14-3 record at the break - was the starter at the All-Star game at which he gave up Reggie's massive homer. '72 was arguably a better season - only 33 walks in 163 innings - but he missed some time after he got maced by a security guard at Riverfront who refused to believe he was a player.  The elbow continued to impair Dock's numbers the next two seasons - though he went 12-9 with a 3.16 ERA in '74 - and in '75 he posted his lowest number of decisions since his rookie year. It was also during that time that the hair curlers became an issue, so big changes were coming.

In '76 Dock, along with Ken Brett and a rookie named Willie Randolph, were traded to the Yankees for Doc Medich. It turned out to be an awfully good trade for NY as Brett would bring the Yanks Carlos May, Willie would be their second baseman for the next decade-plus, and Dock would double his win total, grabbing 17 on the way to winning Comeback Player of the Year. He threw a good game against KC in the playoffs and got bombed by the Reds in the Series. '77 started off pretty good - a 1-1 record and 1.83 ERA in three starts - but in a a famous quote Dock said George Steinbrenner should keep out of the locker room. That sent big George into a tirade and pretty soon Dock was on his way to Oakland for Mike Torrez. Dock matched the horrible A's season by going 1-5 in seven starts with an ERA that approached 10.00. The Rangers bought him that June and in a little over half a season the rest of the way he went 10-6 with a nice 2.90 ERA. Unfortunately for Dock the rest of his career would resemble his '77 Oakland stay rather than his Texas one and after a '78 with the Rangers and a '79 split between Texas, the Mets, and the Pirates Dock was all done. He went 138-119 with a 3.46 ERA, 71 complete games, 14 shutouts, and a save. In the post-season his record was 2-4 with an ERA just above 4.00 in his seven games.

Ellis was a big talker and while at times his mouth got him into trouble during his career, he also used it to advocate for others. After he retired he continued to counsel inmates and after he revealed his own drug usage he became a narcotics councilor as well. In 2008 he passed away at 63 of liver disease.

Obviously back then nobody at Topps knew the whole story of the no-hitter or that second star bullet could have been a lot juicier. Dock WAS a dresser and normally made various Top Ten lists in that department.

I never knew his given name was Dock. Besides winning the Comeback Award, '76 was memorable for Ellis for a couple other reasons. One is that he published his memoir that year, "Dock Ellis in the Country of Baseball." It was co-written with Donald Hall, who would become the country's poet laureate which I thought at the time was pretty cool (I could never find a copy of the damn thing though). He also moved to the AL that year. That meant that he finally could face Reggie again. After giving up the All-Star homer in '71 Dock said he would plunk Jackson the next time he faced him. So when he got a start against Baltimore after Reggie finally showed, that's exactly what Dock did, almost five years later. But the main reason that was memorable is that the opposing Baltimore starter was Jim Palmer. According to Jim, it was the only time he threw a ball at someone intentionally, in retaliation for Ellis hitting Jackson. The first batter Palmer faced was Ellie Hendricks, who Palmer wasn't going to hit because he threw to him for a bunch of years. So he hit the next batter instead, Mickey Rivers.

Now for the double hook-up. First for Alston as manager:

1. Ellis and Bill Robinson '75 Pirates;
2. Robinson and Andy Kosco '68 Yankees;
3. Kosco managed by Walt Alston '69 to '70 Dodgers.

Now Alston as a player:

1. Ellis and Ron Kline '68 to '69 Pirates;
2. Kline and Mike McCormick '66 Senators;
3. McCormick and Whitey Lockman '57 Giants;
4. Lockman and Johnny Mize '49 Giants;
5. Mize and Walt Alston '36 Cards.

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