Make a selection






Born 3/11/45, Los Angeles, California


One of baseball’s most controversial and outspoken players of the 1960s and 1970s was right-handed pitcher Dock Ellis, who spent the majority of his 12-year career (1968-1979) with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He also donned the jerseys of the New York Yankees, Oakland Athletics, Texas Rangers, and New York Mets. 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 as "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 Ellis 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 hair styles. Supposedly an order came 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 a 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 his 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 same 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. That they have the opportunity to express themselves freely. The whole key to success in anything is self-expression."


Back Next 
[Collections Index]