Baseball Behaving Badly: Dock Ellis

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Baseball Behaving Badly: Dock Ellis

Dock Ellis had a good career. He won 138 games. In 1971, he was both an All Star and an integral part of the rotation for the Pirates, who won the World Series. In 1976, he was the American League Comeback Player of the Year. He also had over 1,000 strikeouts. He even threw a no-hitter...while tripping on LSD.

 

Baseball players come from a fairly good cross-section of the population and could even be looked at as a microcosm of the country.

 

Rich and poor backgrounds. English-speaking natives and those who were foreign born and don’t speak a lick. Fat and thin. Guys with graduate degrees and guys that never graduated high school. Mormons and Jews.

 

Some worked in automotive body shops on their days off, some went to school in the offseason to get degrees in engineering. Some have done jail-time, while others became preachers. 

 

Baseball is America’s game in every sense of the world and in 1971, all things hippy were ingrained into a reasonable portion of the population for better or for worse. Is it any surprise that a baseball player dabbled in that end of the world? 

 

Ellis stated that it wasn’t his intention to pitch while under the influence of drugs. He didn’t even know he had to pitch that day.  Other reports say he slept through an entire day due to a bender a couple days before and that's what had him thinking he didn't have to pitch.

 

Regardless, he was in Los Angeles and thought he had the day off. His girlfriend then read the paper and said he was pitching. Ellis had his girlfriend drive him to the airport and he hopped a plane to San Diego. 

 

Ellis’ own description of the game is what really makes this interesting. He couldn’t feel the ball in his glove or see the catcher! Ellis stated the only thing that allowed him to see where he was pitching was the fact that his catcher, Jerry May, wore reflective tape on his fingers, and he’d zero-in on it as a target. He also once stated that at one point in the game, the ball told him what to throw and where. 

 

This game a squeaky-clean model of pitching perfection by any means. He hit a couple batters. He walked eight. He dove out of the way of what he thought was a line drive; however, the ball was so poorly hit it didn’t even make it back to the pitcher’s mound. 

 

This wouldn’t be his only brush with the dark side. He was well known for not bending to the will of anybody, for any reason. 

 

Once, he attempted to bean the Reds' entire lineup. He held the major-league record for most hit batters in an inning with three. He was yanked in the first inning. 

 

He once beaned Reggie Jackson. It was because Reggie hit a long home run off of him in the 1971 All-Star game and Ellis simply wanted to get him back. 

 

He also wore curlers in his hair while warming up, much to the chagrin of management. 

 

Later, he had an altercation with a security guard at Riverfront Stadium, who eventually maced him. Ellis was refused entry into the park, despite showing his World Series ring as proof. Some good DID come out of this, as teams started issuing standardized ID’s to all the players primarily because of this event.

 

Let it be known that Ellis saw the error of his ways. After retirement, the kinder, gentler Dock Ellis became a drug counselor and is involved in many worthwhile causes. 

 

Substance abuse and bad behavior are as much a part of baseball’s history as America’s history.

In the roaring '20s, plenty of players were drinking and living it up at their favorite speakeasy, despite alcohol’s illegality. Most recently, drugs for performance enhancement have been brought forth to the public eye.

While substance abuse is in no way a major component of baseball, it’s a portion that can be looked at like a mirror, in order to see a sector of our country that often has a blind eye turned to it.

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