No doubt about it, Dock Ellis marched to the beat of his own drummer.
He was outspoken and outlandish, wore curlers in his hair on the field, and had a style perfectly suited for the 1970s.
Happy Dock Ellis Day! 50 years ago, tripping on LSD, he no-hits the San Diego Padres. pic.twitter.com/rbpLUa8qFI
— Super 70s Sports (@Super70sSports) June 13, 2021
Then there was the time Ellis allegedly took a strange “trip” on his way to a no-hitter.
During his career, Ellis pitched for five different teams, won a World Series, and was an All-Star.
He was also good copy for the legions of fans and reporters that covered him.
This is the story of Dock Ellis.
A Bad Habit Leads to a Profitable Future
Dock Phillips Ellis Junior was born on March 11, 1945, in Los Angeles.
His father was a business owner who made sure his three kids were taken care of.
In fact, Dock (who also went by ‘Peanut’ or ‘Nut’) had advantages that many of his friends did not.
“In high school, I got an allowance of $5 a week, and that was a lot,” said Al Rambo, Ellis’s longtime friend. “Nut had a car, a $50-a-week allowance and a gas credit card. One summer, he had a gas bill of $300. And gas was 30 cents a gallon.”
Ellis attended Gardena High School in the LA suburb of the same name.
Gardena High was filled mostly with white students, and Ellis, who was black, found himself on the receiving end of racial slurs throughout high school.
Not one to back down from confrontation, Ellis fought back.
“You always hoped no one would challenge Dock racially,” future Pittsburgh teammate Al Oliver said. “He would stand up for himself. You did not want to mess with him.”
When he was a sophomore, Ellis tried out for the school baseball team.
Today we feature Los Angeles native DOCK ELLIS.
” BLACK AND PROUD”. He attended Gardena High School and Los Angeles Harbor College. He signed with Pirates in 64' and played for the Pirates from 68-75 His life was the subject of the 2014 documentary film No No: A Dockumentary. pic.twitter.com/h2VkXgI4iL
— LOS ANGELES BLACK BASEBALL MUSEUM -#LABBM (@LA_BLACKBALL) September 3, 2020
One of the older players on the team called Ellis by a racial epithet, although Ellis didn’t know what the word meant.
When he found out, he walked up to the player and knocked him out.
Ellis then left the baseball team and played basketball instead.
He played hoops well enough that UCLA was interested and sent him a scholarship application.
Ellis was mortified when an assistant principal tore up the application with a pointed message.
“You can’t get a scholarship with a 1.9,” the vice principal said.
Ellis’s grades were below average, but his athletic ability was not.
When he was a senior in high school, Ellis was caught smoking marijuana and drinking in a school bathroom.
He had begun drinking and doing drugs when he was 14, and this was not the first time Ellis got into trouble.
However, instead of suspending him, administrators said Ellis could avoid suspension if he played baseball for the school.
Ellis returned to the team, became a pitcher, and was named all-league.
After graduating from high school, Ellis took his talents to Los Angeles Harbor College, a junior college in LA.
He performed well enough that a number of MLB teams expressed interest.
Eventually, Ellis signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates who were known to dole out hefty signing bonuses.
For the next few years, Ellis made his way through the Pirates farm system as a “can’t miss” prospect.
In order to cope with the high expectations, Ellis began taking amphetamines.
Amphetamines, or “greenies” as players called them, are stimulants used by ball players to enhance performance through improved cognition and concentration.
Of course, if abused, greenies can become addictive.
For the remainder of his baseball career, Ellis claimed to have never played a game without taking amphetamines (and sometimes alcohol) first.
Dock Ellis claims to have never pitched a single MLB game while sober. He even pitched a no hitter while high on LSD. pic.twitter.com/XmMekQBoKH
— Did You Know? (@Know) May 6, 2015
In the meantime, Ellis encountered even more racism while traveling and playing in the South.
At one point, he chased a fan through the stands with a bat after the fan called him a name.
Another time, Ellis responded to racist fans in North Carolina by pirouetting on the mound with his middle finger raised in the air.
“It’s very difficult to put yourself in the shoes of a black person who grew up in the 1950s,” said Peter Golenbock, a longtime sports writer. “The racism was just horrendous. I’ve known so many people of that age who just grew up incredibly angry. Every day, they were reminded of the fact that they were not [considered] good enough because they were black.”
Called Up to the Parent Club
In June of 1968, the Pirates called Ellis up to the majors.
He had pitched for the parent club a few times previously, but this time, he stayed.
After beginning his time in Pittsburgh as a relief pitcher, he was moved to the starting rotation later in the season.
That year, Ellis posted a 6-5 record, with a 2.50 ERA, two complete games, and giving up 38 walks and four home runs.
Dock Ellis, Roberto Clemente, and Willie Stargell with the The 3 Degrees, 1970s pic.twitter.com/HuUMudQv8O
— Baseball In Pics (@baseballinpix) August 14, 2022
In 1969, Ellis played the entire year in Pittsburgh and had an 11-17 record, 3.58 ERA, 76 walks, and allowed 14 home runs.
An Unexpected No-No
During the 1970 season, the Pirates were playing well, and Ellis was becoming a reliable starting pitcher.
He had a 13-10 record and 3.21 ERA along with allowing 87 walks and nine homers.
During a game against the San Diego Padres on June 12, Ellis pitched his first and only no-hitter.
That feat by itself is an accomplishment. However, the story behind the no-no has become the stuff of legend.
When the Pirates arrived in San Diego, Ellis had a few days off before he pitched and asked his manager if he could go to LA to see family and friends.
After receiving permission, Ellis went to LA and hung out with a friend, Mitzi, who was known to drink and do drugs with Ellis.
At one point during their haze of drinking and smoking, Ellis took a tab of acid.
Minutes later, Mitzi looked over and saw a strange look on Ellis’s face.
“Dock,” she asked, “what’s wrong?”
“I’m as high as a Georgia pine,” he said.
They both laughed until Mitzi looked at the day’s paper and read something that startled her.
“Dock, you better get up,” she said. “You gotta go pitch!”
“What are you talking about?” he said. “I pitch tomorrow.”
Mitzi then showed Ellis the date of the paper.
Ellis was scheduled to pitch the first game of a doubleheader that very day.
Even worse, the game was in San Diego, he was in LA, and he had to be there in four hours.
45 years ago today, Dock Ellis pitched the grooviest no-hitter in baseball history. pic.twitter.com/2neRAKAEPD
— Pennies (@Baseball_Photos) June 12, 2015
It occurred to Ellis that he and Mitzi had been in a drug and alcohol stupor for over a day and hadn’t noticed.
“Oh, wow,” he said. “What happened to yesterday?”
The two raced to LAX, and Ellis bought a ticket.
He landed in San Diego after a short flight and reached the ballpark 90 minutes before he was scheduled to pitch.
The Umpire Is Richard Nixon!?
Ellis’s teammates knew something was up when he arrived.
It wasn’t long into his pitching effort that the opposing San Diego players also knew there was something amiss with Ellis.
“The opposing team and my teammates, they knew I was high but they didn’t know what I was high on,” Ellis recalled in 2014.
As the game continued, it was hard to tell that Ellis was pitching a no-hitter as he walked a number of batters and also plunked a few.
“I don’t think any of us in the Padres dugout had any clue he was throwing a no-hitter because we had runners on every inning,” said Dave Campbell, the former ESPN announcer who led off for the Padres that night.
“I can only remember bits and pieces of the game,” Ellis recalled in 1984. “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.”
At one point, teammates told Ellis that he was pitching a no-hitter, but Ellis didn’t believe them.
On this day in history: June 12th, 1970, Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis did something that should be completely impossible. He threw a no-hitter in a professional game of baseball while high as a kite on LSD. pic.twitter.com/MORYrnQPST
— BLACK ADAM SCHEFTER (@B1ackSchefter) June 12, 2018
He then returned to the mound and was shocked to see two rather notable figures had entered the game.
“I started having a crazy idea in the fourth inning that Richard Nixon was the home plate umpire,” he recounted years later. “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.”
When he wasn’t hitting or walking batters, Ellis could still bring the heat effectively.
“He had great stuff,” Padres player Nate Colbert told the San Diego Union after the game. “His fastball was breaking so much I couldn’t time it at all.”
After the final pitch, the entire stadium understood what had happened.
Ellis pitched a no-hitter despite having walked eight batters and struck out only six and was helped by some big plays by his teammates on the field.
Public Reaction to the No-Hitter
The sordid details of Ellis’s no-hitter didn’t come to light until many years later when he talked about the acid trip to a reporter.
After the story was published, Ellis was bombarded with interview requests.
Numerous acquaintances who had access to Ellis at the time of the no-no were interviewed.
Some corroborated the story, while others believed Ellis made it all up.
Those who knew Ellis best say the story is 100% true.
“… as far as I’m concerned, nobody is going to listen to anybody about addiction who hasn’t been there. Dock had been there and done it. A lot of people online say, ‘Hey, the [LSD no-hitter] is probably not true. A publicity stunt.’ If you heard him tell the story, you knew damn well that s— was true,” said John Shandy, a recovering addict whom Ellis counseled years after his playing career ended.
Ellis Challenges Anderson
The 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates achieved a number of accomplishments.
First, they had an all-black starting lineup, which had never happened before in MLB history.
September 1, 1971 ◆ Fifty years ago, the Pirates fielded baseball's first all minority starting line-up. The line-up consisted of Rennie Stennett, Gene Clines, Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Manny Sanguillen, Dave Cash, Al Oliver, Jackie Hernandez, and Dock Ellis. pic.twitter.com/WFDBkkPUGr
— Steel City (@SteelCityBrand) September 1, 2021
Second, they won 97 games, the most wins for the franchise since the 1909 Pirates won 110 games and the World Series.
Third, the team had five All-Stars including Willie Stargell, Roberto Clemente, and Ellis.
Ellis, who was in the midst of his fourth big-league season, was humbling opponents on his way to a 19-9 record, which included a career-high 11 complete games.
When he found out he had made the ’71 All-Star game, he also learned that the Oakland A’s Vida Blue, another black player, had been selected for the game and also named the starter for the AL side.
Ellis then took a moment to challenge Sparky Anderson, the Cincinnati Reds manager who was coaching the NL team.
“They wouldn’t pitch two brothers against each other,” claimed Ellis.
Anderson surprised Ellis by naming him the NL starting pitcher.
Although he got what he wanted, Ellis received backlash for his comment from fans and the media.
He also received a letter of support from Jackie Robinson who praised Ellis’s outspokenness.
“I read your comments in our paper the last few days and wanted you to know how much I appreciate your courage and honesty,” Robinson wrote.
During the All-Star game, Ellis pitched well until A’s slugger Reggie Jackson crushed one of the longest home runs in league history.
The next time Ellis faced Jackson years later, he intentionally hit him.
The Pirates Win the 1971 World Series
The biggest accomplishment for the Pirates in 1971 was their appearance in the World Series.
It had been 11 years since their last postseason, and this time, Pittsburgh was facing the Baltimore Orioles.
Ellis had started Game 2 of the NLCS versus the San Francisco Giants and helped win the game.
Dock Ellis showing up at the 1971 World Series about to conduct some goddamn business … pic.twitter.com/au5zJeh8kP
— Super 70s Sports (@Super70sSports) November 6, 2020
He then started the opening game of the World Series but lasted less than three innings in a 5-3 loss.
Pittsburgh recovered to win the Series in seven games for their fourth championship in the World Series era.
Curlers and Mace
A year later, Ellis went 15-7 with a 2.70 ERA as the Pirates posted a 96-59 record and lost to the Reds in the NLCS.
During a game against Cincinnati in May, Ellis and a few of his teammates arrived at the Reds’ ballpark late.
A security guard stopped the players and asked for identification.
Ellis didn’t have any and began arguing with the guard.
Feeling threatened, the guard maced Ellis and he was arrested.
Dock Ellis Maced By Cincinnati Reds Security Guard (press conference in Pittsburgh – May 7, 1972) #Pirates #TBT pic.twitter.com/y9CmccLrxt
— Baseball by BSmile (@BSmile) May 7, 2015
Both Cincinnati and Ellis sued each other before the Reds dropped the suit and wrote a letter of apology to Ellis.
It seemed like trouble followed Ellis everywhere.
In 1973, MLB took issue with Ellis wearing curlers in his hair during pre-game warm-ups.
Dock Ellis with curlers in his hair before a game pic.twitter.com/DULCo2avHA
— Baseball In Pics (@baseballinpix) August 7, 2022
This was standard for Ellis during pre-game until Pirates manager Bill Virdon told Ellis he could no longer wear them.
Ellis sensed that Virdon’s edict came from a higher authority and openly challenged MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn.
“There are many black men who wear curlers to help their hair,” he said. “Baseball is getting behind the times again.”
Ellis Takes Issue with the Reds
By May of 1974, Ellis had had it with the Cincinnati Reds.
Not only was he maced outside their stadium in 1972, but he also felt the Big Red Machine constantly disrespected the Pirates.
According to Ellis, the Reds made fun of the Pittsburgh players during the ’72 NLCS and every time they played each other after.
“All I heard was their players talking about how the Pirates were dumb players, and that’s why they beat us,” said Ellis.
Sufficiently riled, Ellis took matters into his own hands.
During a game in Pittsburgh on May 1 against Cincinnati, Ellis intentionally hit Reds star, Pete Rose.
5/1/74: @Pirates Dock Ellis intentionally hits the @Reds Pete Rose, Joe Morgan and Dan Driessen in succession pic.twitter.com/GiCW48hBS5
— 1970s Baseball (@70sBaseball) May 1, 2016
He then plunked Joe Morgan and Dan Driessen to load the bases.
The fourth batter, Tony Perez, looked like he was engaged in a middle school dodgeball game.
Perez bobbed and weaved four of Ellis’s pitches aimed at his person and took a walk, sending home Rose for a 1-0 lead.
At that point, Pittsburgh manager Danny Murtaugh came to the mound.
“What’s wrong?” Murtaugh asked, deadpan. “Can’t find the plate?”
Ellis was pulled and sat on the bench for the rest of the night.
Trade to the Yankees
Between 1969 and 1974, Ellis posted double-digit wins each year.
That changed in 1975 when he went 8-9.
His record that year wasn’t the result of bad pitching so much as it was a series of negative events that surrounded him.
Late in the season, the Pirates asked Ellis to pitch in the bullpen, and he refused.
Weeks later, he refused the same request and got into a shouting match with Murtaugh.
In response, the team suspended Ellis for a month and fined him as well.
Months later, the Pirates traded Ellis to the New York Yankees.
The timing was perfect.
That year, Ellis won 17 games, had a 3.19 ERA, and pitched eight complete games.
Dock Ellis and Chuck Mangione. That’s some 70s for ya. pic.twitter.com/Lm8AmMQbJ2
— 70sYankees ⚾️ (@70sYankees) August 29, 2021
He also hit the Orioles’ Reggie Jackson hard enough that Jackson missed several games.
Most people believed that Ellis hit Jackson because of his moon shot off Ellis during the 1971 All-Star game.
He was honored after the season as the Comeback Player of the Year by the American League.
New York went 97-62 and defeated the Kansas City Royals in five games for the ALCS.
The franchise then faced The Big Red Machine in the World Series where they were eliminated in four games.
On the Road Again
Ellis’s honeymoon with the Yankees didn’t last long.
After the team’s run to the World Series in 1976, owner George Steinbrenner gave Ellis a raise.
Ellis scoffed at the amount and blasted Steinbrenner to the media.
“The Yankees got me at a fire sale, and now they don’t want to give me any money,” Ellis complained. “I think he (Steinbrenner) should stay up in his office, push his buttons, count his money, and stay out of the locker room.”
That statement got Ellis traded to the Oakland A’s where he found himself in trouble again.
During a series against the Cleveland Indians, Ellis became angry when he was asked to chart pitches and proceeded to instead light the charts on fire.
The sprinkler system in the clubhouse was activated, soaking everyone in the room.
“They wanted me to keep charts. I said, ‘Bleep the charts,’ and set ’em on fire,” recalled Ellis.
He was then shipped to the Texas Rangers where he went 10-6 for the year.
Dock Ellis, circa 1978 @Rangers pic.twitter.com/bv8Dit0Prw
— Vintage Jerseys & Hats (@PolyesterUnis) June 9, 2022
In 1978, Ellis vehemently disagreed with Texas manager Billy Hunter’s ban on players drinking alcohol at hotel bars and on the team plane.
“[Hunter] is Hitler, but he ain’t gonna make no lampshade out of me!” Ellis proclaimed.
Return to Pittsburgh and Retirement
Ellis began 1979 with the Rangers but only had one win after six starts.
He was then traded to the New York Mets where he went 3-7 in 10 games.
Dock Ellis, 1979 @Mets pic.twitter.com/BN3b4SkVe2
— Vintage Jerseys & Hats (@PolyesterUnis) May 24, 2022
The Mets sent Ellis back to the Pirates so they could use him in their march toward the playoffs.
That fulfilled Ellis’s wish to “come back and die as a Pirate.”
He was used for three outings as the Pirates beat the Reds in three games in the NLCS and then took down Baltimore in seven games to win the ’79 World Series.
After the season, Ellis retired.
In 12 seasons, he had a 138-119 record, 71 complete games, a career ERA of 3.46, 674 walks, 817 earned runs, and allowed 140 home runs.
Dock Ellis played on three World Series teams, was a one-time All-Star, and had one no-hitter.
Ellis Confronts His Demons
Ellis had only been retired for a few months when he realized a change was needed.
He was no longer a baseball player and his addiction to drugs and alcohol needed to be addressed.
Ellis reached out to former ball player Don Newcombe who helped Ellis get into a rehab facility in Arizona.
He stayed for over a month, and when he left the facility, Ellis began a second career helping addicts.
Initially, he worked with addicts in Beverly Hills and then at various facilities in California.
Dock Ellis ended up a counsellor talking to prison inmates about addiction. To hear him talk about the kids he worked with and how they were every bit as much an accomplishment as his baseball feats. That’s something. #JackieRobinsonDay pic.twitter.com/NbYfmKNVYP
— Oisín Murphy-Lawless (@BikesNBukes) April 15, 2022
Ellis returned to Pittsburgh and began counseling inmates in the Pittsburgh prison system.
His no-nonsense behavior was perfect for his new clientele.
“Dock didn’t take no s—,” said Lou Johnson, a former Dodger and an addict himself. “That’s why he was good in the penal system. He was better there than the workforce.”
Without a doubt, Ellis turned around the lives of several hardened addicts.
“If I had never met Dock, I would probably be dead or doing life [in prison],” said John Shandy.
In 2007, Ellis was diagnosed with cirrhosis and learned that he needed a liver transplant.
Unfortunately, he was unable to get a new liver and his organs began shutting down.
Ellis suffered from heart attacks and a stroke and went in and out of a coma.
He continued to wither away until passing on December 19, 2008, at the age of 63.
Ellis was survived by his fourth wife, Hjordis, three children, and two grandchildren.
His two daughters have since passed away.
years after his death at age 63, Dock Ellis’ name is synonymous with the baseball game he pitched while tripping on acid. But to distill the man’s legacy down to just this story is to do a disservice to the person Ellis really was, and how Ellis himself wanted to be remembered pic.twitter.com/lQ2CbrrpRt
— DockEllisFoundation.com (@DockEllis_) February 4, 2019
Although he is remembered for his no-hitter in 1970, Ellis has also been recognized for his work with addicts and his outspoken activism for people of color.
“I think we lose something important when we just concentrate on that game. He had addiction problems and he knew it, and he used his retirement to address those and help others,” said Louis Moore, Associate Professor of History at Grand Valley State University.
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