Dock Ellis would have been 67 today. The man died way too young, felled by cirrhosis of the liver in December 2008, but there's no question he lived his own life to the fullest and — despite his erratic behavior during his playing days — made a positive difference in a lot of other people's lives, both on and off the field.
Yes, he pitched a no-hitter on LSD (one of the most amazing feats in the history of sports, when you think about it), wore curlers in his hair in the bullpen, and once tried to bean the entire Reds lineup — to name the three things he's probably best known for — but Dock was no mere flake or fuck-up; there was an intense competitive streak and a pure cosmic embrace of existence lying behind so much of what he did. Dock's life was a huge inspiration to me, both as a writer and a person; I never had the opportunity to meet or interview him, but I tried to do him justice with this tribute I penned on my other blog, La Vie En Robe, in early 2009.
One of the interesting things that I wasn't really able to fit into Big Hair & Plastic Grass was Dock's relationship with Billy Martin. When the Pirates traded Dock to the Yankees in December '75 (pretty much as a throw-in on the deal that brought Ken Brett and Willie Randolph to New York in exchange for Doc Medich), most folks figured it was only a matter of time before the legendarily erratic hurler would clash with the legendarily volatile Yankee manager, but the two got on famously. Martin recognized and respected Dock's competitive fire, while Dock recognized and respected Martin's managerial savvy; Billy kept the New York press off Dock's back, and Dock responded by going 17-8 with a 3.19 ERA in 32 starts, despite only fanning 65 batters (as opposed to the 76 that he walked).
I spoke at length about Dock's time in pinstripes last month for No No: The Dockumentary, the forthcoming documentary on Dock's life and career; hopefully it'll make the final cut. But even if it doesn't, I've seen some of the other interviews and footage these guys have assembled for the project, and I can't wait to watch the whole thing. Dock may not have had Hall of Fame numbers, but he was definitely a Hall of Fame character, and someone infinitely worthy of an in-depth filmic salute.
He's also worthy of a truly awesome musical salute — and while I know some of you out there dig Todd Snider's "America's Favorite Pastime" and The S.F. Seals' "Dock Ellis," I don't think either song comes close to capturing his funky, firey spirit. To my mind, the perfect Dock Ellis tribute would involve hard-grooving Latin percussion (he grew up in LA, remember), some bad-ass wah-wah pedal action, and a screaming Eddie Hazel guitar lead, not to mention some lyrical bon mots from Dock himself, a la "We gonna get down. We gonna do the do. I'm going to hit these motherfuckers!"
Ah well, a man can dream, can't he? Until that comes to pass, I'm just gonna rock "Shaft" by Isaac Hayes, and sing "Dock!" in the chorus. He was a complicated man, after all... Rest in peace, Dock; you are truly missed in this country of baseball.