Obituaries

Dock Ellis, 63; Talented Pitcher Was Known for Erratic Behavior

Dock Ellis, in 1974 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, was a heavy user of drugs and alcohol in his career. He later counseled on the dangers of drugs.
Dock Ellis, in 1974 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, was a heavy user of drugs and alcohol in his career. He later counseled on the dangers of drugs. (Associated Press)
By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 21, 2008

Dock Ellis, an eccentric baseball pitcher who once threw a no-hitter while high on LSD and who later counseled athletes and prisoners on the dangers of drugs, died Dec. 19 at the University of Southern California Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was 63 and had cirrhosis of the liver.

Mr. Ellis was a talented right-hander who won 138 games during his 12-year career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Yankees and other teams. But he might have been best known for his erratic behavior, combative nature and appetite for alcohol and drugs.

Few would have disagreed with Mr. Ellis's assessment of himself as "arrogant, flamboyant, controversial." He threw at batters, argued with managers and opposing players and even chased hecklers in the stands. He once appeared in the Pirates' bullpen in hair curlers, claiming that the resulting moisture on his head helped him throw his illegal spitball.

Nothing in his career was more notorious, however, than his performance June 12, 1970, when he pitched a ragged no-hitter against the San Diego Padres. The day before the game, Mr. Ellis flew to his native Los Angeles and passed his time using drugs with friends.

He took LSD the next morning and lost track of time until a companion noticed in a newspaper that Mr. Ellis was supposed to pitch the opening game of a double-header at 6:05 p.m. in San Diego. By then, it was already 2.

Mr. Ellis jumped on a plane and arrived at the stadium at 4:30.

"I can only remember bits and pieces of the game," he said years later. "I had a feeling of euphoria. I was zeroed in on the [catcher's] glove, but I didn't hit the glove too much."

He usually had excellent control, but that night he walked eight batters and hit another with a pitch. Still, he somehow didn't allow a hit, and the Pirates won the game, 2-0, on two home runs by Hall of Famer Willie Stargell.

It wasn't until 1984 that Mr. Ellis revealed that he had been high on LSD during the game. He never again took the drug during the baseball season, he said, but he routinely popped amphetamines while pitching and ingested huge quantities of liquor and cocaine off the field.

"I never pitched a game in the major leagues [when] I wasn't high," he told the Los Angeles Times in 1985. "I couldn't pitch without the pills."

Dock Phillip Ellis Jr. was born March 11, 1945, in Los Angeles and was an excellent 6-foot-3-inch basketball player in high school.

When he was caught drinking wine in a school bathroom -- "I was destined to be a drunk. It was in my genes," he said in 1989 -- he was told he had to join the baseball team or risk being suspended from school.


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