Dock Ellis got sober in 1980, the year after his notable major league career came to an end. From what I can gather, he spent his remaining years helping others. In fact he had already begun reaching out to help others during his career, often going into prisons to talk to inmates, where he learned not only that he could get through to people in difficult situations but that it was for him something of a calling.
In a 1989 epilogue to Dock Ellis in the Country of Baseball, author Donald Hall provides a glimpse into Dock’s post-baseball career:
“Dock’s desire remains clear and passionate, or it remains passionate and turns clearer. He wants to work with addicts from the ghetto who, in support of their addiction, turn to crime and are slammed away. . . . He works with young, mostly black, who never had anything, by talking. Dock has always been a talker; now it is his profession and moral duty. ‘The first thing they tell you, they didn’t have anybody to talk to. No one to talk to.’ In order to talk to them, he is prepared to settle down after a lifetime of jetting around. ‘If I’m working with kids, I’m doing what I want to do.’” (pp. 333-334)
Dock always had the guts to do what he wanted to do. During his years as a high profile major league star, this kind of bravery made him an outspoken, polarizing character, vilified by some but honored by others, including Jackie Robinson, who near the end of his own life personally reached out to Ellis to encourage him to continue taking stands when he saw fit.
Ellis’ exploits could fill a book, as indeed they did in the aforementioned classic by Ellis and the future United States Poet Laureate. It’s certainly worth it to spend some time today remembering Dock, who passed away on Friday, as he was in the 1970s spotlight, and the links below are provided toward that end, but think also of the Dock who existed out of the spotlight, away from the game, where his life could be an illustration of the line in the Wailers “Pass It On”: “Live for yourself, and you live in vain. Live for others and you live again.”
Check out Jay Jaffe’s Futility Infielder for an excellent retrospective of Ellis’ career. Be sure to follow the link Jaffe provides for a great rock song inspired by Ellis.
Click on this link to hear audio (below a slide show) of Ellis describing the no-hitter he pitched while on acid. At the end of the audio there is the actual radio call of the final out.
Visit the Griddle’s post on Ellis’ passing (this is where I learned the sad news) to read a story by commenter Eric Enders about a friendly and memorable meeting with Dock Ellis at the site of old Forbes Field.
And, finally, check out some video about Ellis’ appearance as an All-Star game starter in 1971: