A Baseball Player Portrait

by Terry Cannon

One of baseball's most controversial and outspoken players of the 1960s and 1970s was right-handed pitcher Dock Ellis.

Ellis spent the majority of his 12-year career (1968-1979) with the Pittsburgh Pirates (1968-1975; 1979). He also donned the jerseys of the New York Yankees (1976-1977), Oakland Athletics (1977), Texas Rangers (1977-1979) and the New York Mets (1979). In that era, a number of black players, emboldened by the civil rights movement, spoke out publicly against what they perceived as widespread racial prejudice in the game. For manifesting their freedom of speech and speaking their minds regardless of consequence, players such as Dock Ellis, Curt Flood, and Dick Allen were labeled "militants" by the press, the baseball establishment, and many of the white fans who preferred their players to be "good slaves" -- docile, humble and grateful.

Controversy followed Dock throughout his baseball career, yet he steadfastly refused to compromise his principles. Dating back to his formative years in Los Angeles, he refused to play baseball at Gardena High School in protest against the coach's racism. While in the minor leagues in 1964, he went into the stands and swung a leaded bat at a racist heckler in Batavia, New York.

Perhaps the centerpiece of Ellis' stormy career came with the Pittsburgh Pirates on June 12, 1970., when he threw a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres while under the influence of LSD. "I can only remember bits and pieces of the game," Ellis said later. "I was psyched. I had a feeling of euphoria. I remember hitting a couple of batters and the bases were loaded two or three times." He walked a total of eight batters in what might be described as one of the most bizarre no-hitters ever thrown.

The year 1972 found Ellis back in the headlines when he was maced by a security guard at Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium who wouldn't let him into the Pirates clubhouse. (After an investigation, the Cincinnati club apologized to Ellis and fired the security guard.) Another flap ensued in 1973 when he started wearing hair curlers to the ballpark, after Ebony magazine ran a feature on Ellis' various hairstyles. Supposedly an order came down from Commissioner Bowie Kuhn's office to cease and desist wearing curlers on the field.

Perhaps Ellis' most startling act occurred on May 1, 1974 when he tied the major league record by hitting three batters in a row. In spring training that year, Ellis sensed the Pirates had lost the aggressiveness that drove them to three straight division titles from 1970 to 1972. Furthermore, the team now seemed intimidated by Cincinnati's "Big Red Machine." "Cincinnati will bullshit with us and kick our ass and laugh at us," Ellis said. "They're the only team that talk about us like a dog." Ellis single-handedly decided to break the Pirates out of their emotional slump, announcing that "We gonna get down. We gonna do the do. I'm going to hit these motherfuckers." True to his word, in the first inning of the first regular season game he pitched against the Reds, Ellis hit leadoff batter Pete Rose in the ribs, then plunked Joe Morgan in the kidney, and loaded the bases by hitting Dan Driessen in the back. Tony Perez, batting cleanup, dodged a succession of Ellis' pitches to walk and force in a run. The next hitter was Johnny Bench. "I tried to deck him twice," Ellis recalled. "I threw at his jaw, and he moved. I threw at the back of his head, and he moved." At this point, Pittsburgh manager Danny Murtaugh removed Ellis from the game. But the strategy worked: the Pirates snapped out of their lethargy to win a division title in 1974, while the Reds failed to win their division for the first time in three years.

Unfortunately, the perception of Dock Ellis as a hostile ballplayer overshadowed many of the largely unpublicized acts of charity and conscience which were the hallmarks of his career. Ellis worked for the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, helping to rehabilitate black prisoners. In 1971, he and a group of black athletes started the Black Athletes Foundation for Sickle Cell Research, an organization whose purpose was to lobby and raise money for research and treatment of sickle cell anemia. For his loyalty and charitable acts, Ellis, much like Muhammad Ali, earned the respect of the black community. In poet Donald Hall's gritty and candid 1976 biography, Dock Ellis in the Country of Baseball, fellow ballplayer Willie Crawford expressed his and the black community's admiration for Ellis:

Dock is the here as Richie Allen. Because newspapers were trying to make them bad guys in the public's eyes instead of making them heroes like Jackie Robinson. Jackie Robinson didn't fight for blacks until he left baseball. Dock made his fight while he has been in baseball even though he put his job in jeopardy. There should be more black athletes doing this.

At an early age I knew he was searching to really leave his mark in life. He found it in his fight for his people. I know somebody said all the trouble he's getting into, it really hurt his mother. His mother would talk to me sometimes and say, "What's wrong with Dock?" I told her he's fighting for equality for us, for all black people, and the kids that come behind us so that they have the opportunity to express themselves freely. The whole key to success in anything is self-expression.

After retiring from the game, Ellis worked in community hospitals and served as a substance abuse counselor. Today he lives in Fort Worth, Texas where he is employed as the Director of Communications and Manager of Human Resources for a manufacturing firm.

Dock Ellis was no mere footnote to this transitional period in baseball history. Rather, his insistence on speaking his mind without regard to consequence and his commitment to conscience over salary made him one of that era's most important advocates for change in our National Pastime.

Copyright © 1999 by Terry Cannon


Posted to the Newsgroup alt.drugs
Subject: Baseball
Date: 15 Jul 91 20:29:10 GMT

You may have heard about "no-hitter" that Bob Milacki's of the Oakland A's pitched last week. No-hitters are pretty rare and this one made the news everywhere. One of the local TV stations refered to it as Milacki's "no-no," a term that originated with Dock Ellis's no-hitter back on June 20th, 1970 for the Pirates.

Dock pitched that game on acid. That fact didn't come out until almost 15 years later. Here are some interesting excerpts from Eric Brothers account of the game in the August 1987 issue of High Times magazine:

Dock woke up late. Why shouldn't he? As far as he knew, the team had an off day and he planned to take full advantage of it. Three hits of LSD were ready and waiting in the refrigerator.

A few minutes later, his girlfriend returned with coffee, donuts, and the morning paper. At noon, they dropped acid. Dock put on a record, while his girlfriend read the paper.

"Dock, it says here you're pitching today!"

"Whaaaa...? " vsaid Dock groggily. He snatched the paper, scanned the box scores, and read:

PITTSBURGH AT PADRES DOUBLEHEADER (6 P.M.) - Ellis (4-4) vs. Roberts (3-3)

He makes it to the game and after having someone help him find his locker, he suits up and enters the game.

Dave Roberts, the Padres' pitcher, had an easy first inning, ending with Roberto Clemente hitting one back to the box. Dock marched to the mound, wondering if he'd last the inning.

His fingers tingled as he squeezed the ball. He squinted to see catcher Jerry May's hand signals. He nodded his head and went into his windup, falling slightly off balance in the process. The ball hit the ground about two feet in front of the plate and skipped into May's glove.

May signaled for a fastball outside. Dock wound up and threw a hot one over the the corner of the plate - a swinging strike! In was no ordinary pitch: The ball burst from Dock's hand and left a blazing, cometlike tail that remained visible long after the ball was caught.

Dock felt wobbly on the mound and his stomach was churning with acid cramps. His concentration, however, was superb. As long as he kept to his fastball, the comets kept burning across the plate. All he had to do was steer the ball down the multicolored path. Dock had a crazed look in his eyes and his lack of control was evident to the batters, many of whom were feeling increasingly vulnerable in the batter's box. Dock easily retired three batters in a row [in the second inning].

[In the seventh inning] the Pirates were clinging to their 1-0 lead. Dock was staring at the scoreboard when he realized he'd pitched hitless ball for seven innings. He smacked Cash on the arm.

"Hey, look," said Dock, pointing at the scoreboard. "I've got a no-no going!" Cash gave him a blank look. "A no-no?" asked Cash. He'd never heard the term before. But Cash wanted to keep the pitcher loose and happy, so he smiled and said nothing.

He finished the game without a hit. Dock had a pretty good year in 1970. He went 13-10, and helped the Pirates win their first of three divisional championships. The fact that he pitched his no-hitter on LSD was not revealed until April 8, 1984.

When Dock Ellis came out from Fort Worth, TX to Southern California to accept his induction into the Baseball Reliquary's Shrine of the Eternals, a sportscaster from the local Fox TV affiliate interviewed him. I was in attendance. Dock said something that I had never read about or heard about before. He said that he was experimenting with different drugs in the late '60s and that Dr. Timothy Leary (he referred to him as "Dr. Leary") provided him with the acid that he used in 1970 when he pitched his no-hitter.

--Terry Cannon

Dock Ellis, July 1999
Photo by Larry Goren


TERRY CANNON is the founder, president and executive director of The Baseball Reliquary, Inc. The Reliquary was founded in 1996 as a nonprofit, educational organization to promote baseball appreciation. The Reliquary which collects and maintains baseball artifacts is physically located in Monrovia, California.

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JCBA 18 Doc Ellis
Published: December 18, 1999
Updated: December 20, 2008