Pirates saddened by Ellis' passing
Righty recalled as a talented competitor and good friend
PITTSBURGH -- Never one to shy away from speaking his mind and always one to challenge the social norms of his generation, former Major League pitcher Dock Ellis died of a liver ailment on Friday in California. He was 63.
Ellis became notorious as much for being a controversial presence in baseball as he did for his on-field results. A 12-year Major League starter, Ellis spent the first eight seasons of his career (1968-75) with the Pirates. He then pitched for the Yankees, A's, Rangers and Mets before returning to Pittsburgh for a brief stint just prior to retiring.
"All of us at the Pittsburgh Pirates are deeply saddened by the passing of a member of our Pirates family, Dock Ellis," Pirates president Frank Coonelly said on Saturday. "Dock was a special person who cared deeply about his teammates, the Pirates organization and the community. Those that knew him well speak often of his outgoing personality, how comfortable he was to be around and the way he could immediately light up a room."
Ellis finished with a career 138-119 record and a 3.46 career ERA. He was 96-80 for the Bucs and had his best season in 1971, when he finished with 19 wins and the Pirates won a World Series title.
"He had as good of stuff as anybody," said Chuck Tanner, who manager Ellis during Ellis' brief three-game return to the Pirates in 1979. "He was a great competitor on the field. He had all the attributes to be successful. He was one of the top pitchers the Pirates ever had."
Ellis ranks 19th on the Pirates' all-time win list.
In 1970, Ellis became just the fifth pitcher in franchise history to throw a no-hitter. Years later, in his autobiography, the eccentric right-hander revealed that he threw that no-hitter against the Padres while he was under the influence of the hallucinogen LSD.
Ellis played his entire career as a colorful personality, never afraid to speak his mind on controversial issues dealing with race or drug use. He once candidly told reporters that he would not be starting an All-Star Game against Vida Blue of the A's since "two soul brothers" would never be allowed by Major League Baseball to start in the Mid-Summer Classic.
"He was a different person," Tanner said. "He was a good person, a good guy on the club. He was a great competitor on the field. He had as good of stuff as anybody."
Still, Ellis dedicated much of his life after retiring from baseball to working with those in prison or struggling with drug use. According to his post-career agent, Ellis worked for the California Department of Corrections in recent years to help inmates return successfully into society.
In 1986, the Yankees hired Ellis to talk with the organization's Minor Leaguers about drug and alcohol use. He also helped at a drug counseling center in Los Angeles.
"Dock Ellis was my first client in baseball, and he gave me as much joy as anybody outside of my family," Tom Reich, Ellis' former agent, told ESPN.com. "He was so unique. He was viewed by some people as an outlaw, but he was far from that. He was so ahead of his time. He was so intuitive and smart and talented and independent. And he wasn't about to roll over for the incredible prejudices that existed at the time.
"He was a very special person, and he had an absolute army of fans and friends. He was at the cutting edge of so many issues, and he never backed down. I was proud to be his friend and stand with him."
Ellis had been battling cirrhosis of the liver and had been placed on the liver transplant list in May.
"Dock began and ended his career with the Pirates and he will always be remembered in Pittsburgh as a key member of our 1971 World Series championship team," Coonelly said.
"Our deepest sympathies, thoughts and prayers go out to his wife, Hjordis, his family and friends. He will be missed."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.