Wednesday, June 12, 2013

June 12- Pittsburgh Pirates

When I first started this daily New Era Cap blog quest I did with the anticipation that I would finally arrive to this date to write about this particular event. I’ve always been fascinated with the lesser known, and sometimes eccentric stories of Major League Baseball’s past to the point where it’s borderline obsessive. Call me weird, crazy or a bit off if you will, but this moment still ranks within the Top-five of the greatest spectacles this sport has ever seen.

I first heard about it in 2007 when I was sitting on the couch at my first house in Eugene, Oregon as I had just started my first term at the University of Oregon. My roommate Lyle Birkey had a copy of “Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader” sitting on the coffee table and I immediately began flipping through it. Ever since I was a kid I’ve always had a thirst for knowledge. If there was ever a book I had never read before that looked interesting, I would stop what I was doing and flip through it for an hour or so. This particular habit has yet to escape me into my adult years. That day I learned more about particle combustion, how to make wine and a flurry of other useless facts and hobbies that I otherwise never would have given two thoughts about. When I reached the section on “unusual sports records” I knew I was in for a treat. There were quite a few that I knew about, but as I dug deeper and deeper I found myself wanting to go beyond the brief snippet I read in the book. Eventually I came to a section labeled “The LSD No-No” and zoned in with intent wonder… but I’ll get to the story of that here in a moment.

One of the things that really bothered me about my time in the MLB Fan Cave this last year was the amount of censorship that we were put through. Granted, we’re not talking about a dictatorship rule by Joseph Stalin in Russia kind of censorship, but a few, in my opinion, odd things that we weren’t allowed to mention publicly despite the fact that we were supposed to be representatives of MLB’s entire fan base. For instance, we could talk about fights that occurred on the baseball diamond. I always found this to be an unusual free pass considering that I’ve never been in favor of violence in sports. Yes, when adrenaline gets pumping in “the heed of battle,” things can blow out of proportion like in moments when a pitcher intentionally beans a batter. What’s even more unusual is that MLB has stockpiles of fight footage from the last 40 years to help back up my point. Now, of the things we weren’t allowed to talk about: PEDs, drugs, gambling, injuries, off color remarks and Jose Canseco rounded out the list. All of these topics have been hot discussions for the last 30 years, and are most prevalent topics of barroom and fan board discussion. However, in the Fan Cave it was all off limits. Take for instance that story I’m about to unfold. Even though I have a tattoo in tribute of the “LSD No-No,” I was never allowed to talk about it. And yes, this was a topic of conversation that was brought up a lot in my Fan Cave campaign and after I made it to New York City. To be honest, at this point in time, 43 years later, it’s really more comical if anything and something that sports fans alike can appreciate and tell their friends about. I don’t know. Maybe I was just brought up with a different set of moral values. I’m not saying that I advocate drug use or performance enhancing drugs of any sort, but there is something to be said about them as opposed to James Shields and Coco Crisp slugging it out in front of 37,000 people at Fenway Park and especially in front of the thousands of people watching at home. Most people have the mindset that drugs and cheating are wrong. It’s a rule that’s branded heavily into our minds when we’re kids. Likewise, we’re also brought up with the idea that violence should only be used in particular circumstances. Only bring up your fists as long as you intend to use them, but only if there isn’t any other option. I guess the last thing to be pointed out in all of this is that any kid, adult, thug or dweeb can pick up their hands and throw a punch without really thinking about the consequences. It takes a whole other set of mental commitment to consider, purchase and use any kind of drug or performance enhancer. Which do you think I more damaging?

I have to say that I really lucked out in picking up this hat as I literally was able to purchase it five-and-a-half hours before I started writing this. Before this season it was one of the hardest hats to find. The Pittsburgh Pirates rocked this cap in 1970 as their alternate cap and used it as their full-time game cap from 1971-1975, ditching the classic black cap with a yellow “P” until it resurfaced again in 1987. Like the Chicago White Sox, the Pirates have been great about reviving their classic uniforms and caps for the last 10 years, wearing them on their Retro Sunday days at PNC Park. Had it not been for this season, I probably would be wearing this cap as we speak. The one thing that needs to be pointed out about this particular model is that it’s not a straight-mustard yellow like most people are lead to believe. If I had to call it anything, I would go with Dijon. No so much Grey Pupon, more Heinz Spicy Brown, because after all, Heinz IS Pittsburgh. In fact, the yellow caps that most people mistake for being mustard yellow back in those days are the batting helmets. Batting helmets generally don’t change throughout the season, even on special throwback days in a lot of cases. Yes, there have been a few moments where this has occurred; however, back in the 1970s this was not the case. Everyone pretty much used “their” batting helmet from Opening Day until the last game of the season, and it rarely ever varied in look.

I promise I’ll do this story some kind of justice. Something as big as this is something I don’t particularly want to screw up on, so please go easy on me if I blow it. I’m fragile. :D

6/12/70: A little history first: Dock Phillip Ellis, Jr. was born and raised in Gardena, California. Ellis first started taking recreational drugs when he enrolled at Gardena High School at the age of 14 in 1955. He played for the school's basketball team, recording 21 assists in one game. He also played baseball as an infielder for a local semi-professional team called the "Pittsburgh Pirates Rookies", along with future major leaguers Bobby Tolan, Roy White, Ron Woods, Reggie Smith, Don Wilson, Bob Watson, and Dave Nelson; the team was managed by Chet Brewer. However, Ellis refused to play for the Gardena High School baseball team, because a baseball player referred to him as a "spearchucker". When Ellis was caught drinking and smoking marijuana in a high school bathroom during his senior year, the school agreed not to expel him if he agreed to play for the school's baseball team. He appeared in four games and was named all-league. Ellis then attended Los Angeles Harbor College (LAHC), a junior college.

While Ellis attended LAHC, various MLB teams attempted to sign him to a professional contract, but as he heard the Pittsburgh Pirates gave out signing bonuses of $60,000, he held out until the Pirates made him an offer. He was arrested for grand theft auto, and given probation. Brewer, working as a scout for the Pirates, signed Ellis to the Pirates; as a result of the arrest, the Pirates offered Ellis $500 a month and a $2,500 signing bonus. He was happy to accept it.

Ellis played for the Batavia Pirates of the A New York-Pennsylvania League in 1964. The next season, he played for the Kinston Eagles of the Class A Carolina League and the Columbus Jets of the AAA International League. Ellis pitched in an exhibition game for the Pirates against the Cleveland Indians in July, receiving the win. After the season, the Pirates added Ellis to their 40-man roster.

In 1966, Ellis played for the Asheville Tourists of the AA Southern League, pitching to a 10–9 win-loss record, a 2.77 earned run average (ERA), and an the All-Star Game appearance. The Pirates called Ellis up to the majors near the end of the season, but the team did not use him in a game that year. Ellis started the 1967 season with Columbus. He believed that he wasn't on the major league club because the Pirates already had a number of African American players; he felt that the team did not want to alienate white fans. Ellis was sent down to the Macon Peaches of the Southern League, which Ellis believed was due to the length of his hair. Ellis said that he was promoted back to Columbus after shaving his head. He had a 2–0 win-loss record with Macon and a 5–7 record with Columbus.

During his minor league career, Ellis once chased a heckler in the stands with a baseball bat. He also used pills when he pitched, specifically the amphetamines Benzedrine and Dexamyl. Stressed by the pressure of his "can't-miss" status as a prospect, Ellis became addicted. Ellis later said that he never pitched a game without using amphetamines. He eventually needed 70 to 85 milligrams (1.1–1.31 gr) per game, between five and twelve capsules, depending on their strength. Ellis acknowledged that he began to use cocaine in the late 1960s.

Ellis held out from the Pirates in February 1968; he came to terms with the team in March. The Pirates optioned Ellis to Columbus, who moved Ellis from the starting rotation to the bullpen. At Columbus, Ellis credited his work with manager Johnny Pesky and pitching coach Harvey Haddix for improving his performance. Finally, on June 18, 1968, Ellis made his Major League debut; one inning of relief in which he allowed one hit and struck out Ken Boyer in the Pirates 3-2 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers. Ellis was credited with the win. Ellis went 6-5 with a 2.50 ERA and 52 strikeouts that season. He started five of those games, going the distance in two of them.

In 1969 Ellis was a full-fledge member of the starting rotation. That season he had one of the worst years of his budding career. He went 11-17 with a 3.58 ERA and 173 strikeouts. As a result of the ever-building stress he was under to succeed, he popped pills like tic-tacs, trying to “overcome the fear of defeat.”

By the time June 12th had come around Ellis was 4-4 on the season with a 4.28 ERA; not exactly top notch stuff. His last outing before that day was a game against the Dodgers on June 6th in which he only lasted five innings and a no decision in the Pirates’ 7-6 victory over the Dodgers. Now, it’s June 11th, a day off for the Pirates before playing a double header against the San Diego Padres the next day. For this part you have to watch this video put together by the New York City-based clothing line called No Mas. Some of you may have seen this video in the past, and if you have, watch it again. It’s truly an amazing spectacle in narration by Ellis and flawless animation.

One of the things that I first need to point out about this video, other than the fact that it’s absolutely hilarious, is the part about second baseman Dave Cash. If you ever find your self looking at the boxscore you’ll see that Cash was not playing second base during that game; Game one to be exact. Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski had defensive duties at the keystone for that game while Cash took over duties for Game two. Anytime Cash mad reference to the “no-no,” it was while the team was in the dugout for their at-bats. The offensive hero of the game was Hall of Famer Willie Stargell who provided the entire offense for the Pirates by crushing two solo home runs for the 2-0 victory. Lastly, the manager, Danny Murtaugh. I only bring him up because his name is awesome. It would have only been made better if one of his assistant coaches’ names happened to be Riggs. In the end though, Ellis walked eight batters and plunked Padres centerfielder Ivan Murrell, but still escaped with the only known no-hitter under the influence of a controlled substance. In conjunction with my point about MLB and their avoidance of something so taboo, try finding any copy of the actual footage from that game. It's almost as if it doesn't exist.

Ellis went on to win 13 games and lose 10 with a 3.21 ERA and 128 strikeouts. In spite of his spot in history, Ellis’ best came in 1971 when he went 19-9 with a 3.21 ERA and 137 strikeouts. That season he made his one and only All-Star Game appearance as the starter for the National League. He also finished in fourth place for the NL Cy Young award, his only finish in his 12-year career. The Pirates also won the World Series that season. Ellis went 138-119 with a 3.46 ERA and 1136 strikeouts for his career. Despite pitching in only three games out of the bullpen in 1979, he won a second World Series ring that season.

On May 5, 1972, Ellis, Stargell, and Rennie Stennett missed the team bus to Riverfront Stadium. A security guard asked the three for identification; Stargell and Stennett complied and were allowed in, but Ellis did not have identification with him. The guard said that Ellis did not identify himself, appeared drunk, and "made threatening gestures with a closed fist." Ellis countered that he was showing his World Series ring as evidence of his affiliation with the Pirates. In response, the guard maced Ellis. Ellis was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.

The Cincinnati Reds sued Ellis for assault and Ellis countersued. Before going to trial, the Reds dropped the suit and wrote Ellis a letter of apology. The municipal court dropped the charges against Ellis, though Ellis stated that this incident made him "hate better". Ellis finished the 1972 season ninth in the NL in ERA (2.70), sixth in winning percentage (.682), fourth in walks per nine innings pitched (1.818), and first in home runs per nine innings ratio (0.331). The Pirates won the NL East that year and faced the Reds in the 1972 NLCS. The Pirates pitched Ellis with a sore arm, but the Reds won the series.

Ellis said that the scariest moment of his career was when he attempted to pitch while sober in a 1973 game. During pre-game warm-ups, he couldn't recreate his pitching mechanics. Ellis went to his locker, took some amphetamines with coffee, and returned to pitch. In August 1973, pictures circulated of Ellis wearing hair curlers in the bullpen during pre-game warm-ups.

The Pirates told him not to wear curlers on the field again. Ellis agreed, but charged that the Pirates were displaying racism. Ebony devoted a spread to Ellis about his hairstyles, which was inspired by the hair curlers.

After Ellis defeated the Reds by a score of 1-0 in a 1973 game, Joe Morgan claimed that Ellis threw a spitball. Anderson had the umpire check Ellis, but found no evidence. In his 1980 book, Ellis admitted that wearing hair curlers produced sweat on his hair, which he used to throw a modified version of a spitball.

Ellis attempted to hit every batter in the Reds lineup on May 1, 1974, as he was angry that the Pirates were intimidated by the Big Red Machine. Ellis admired Pete Rose and was concerned about how he would respond, but Ellis decided to do it regardless. Ellis hit Rose, Morgan, and Dan Driessen in the top of the first inning. Cleanup batter Tony PĂ©rez avoided Ellis's attempts and drew a walk; the first pitch to Perez was thrown behind him and over his head. Ellis threw two pitches that he aimed at the head of Johnny Bench, at which point Ellis was removed from the game by Murtaugh. Ellis's box score for the game reads as follows: 0 IP, 0 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 0 K. Ellis tied eight other players for the MLB record with the three hit batsmen in the inning. Ellis retired from baseball in the spring of 1980, saying that he lost interest in the game. That year, Ellis entered drug treatment, staying for forty days at The Meadows in Wickenburg, Arizona. In 1984, he revealed that he had pitched his no-hitter under the influence of LSD.

Ellis lived in Apple Valley, California. He worked in Victorville, California as a drug counselor. He also counseled prisoners in Pittsburgh and at a prison in Adelanto, California. The New York Yankees hired Ellis in the 1980s to work with their minor league players, including Pascual Perez, who he counseled for drug problems. In 2005, Ellis began teaching weekly classes for individuals convicted of driving under the influence. Ellis also appeared in the 1986 film Gung Ho, directed by Ron Howard.

In 1989, Ellis served a player/coach for the St. Petersburg Pelicans of the Senior Professional Baseball Association and went 0–2 with a 1.76 ERA and seven saves as a part of the team's bullpen. In 1990, he allowed no earned runs and recorded two saves for the Pelicans before the league folded. He continued to play in the Los Angeles Veterans League.

Ellis was diagnosed with cirrhosis in 2007 and was placed on the list for a liver transplant. Though he had no health insurance, friends from his baseball career helped him to pay his medical bills. However, Ellis suffered heart damage in his last weeks of life, which made a transplant impossible. Ellis died on December 19, 2008 at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center due to his liver ailment. Services were held at the Angelus Funeral Home. He is interred at Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, California.

If you didn’t notice from the picture at the top of the screen I’m wearing a limited edition No Mas shirt commemorating Ellis’s no-hitter. This is hands down one of my favorite shirts of all time especially when it comes to unusual attention to detail. To me, the first that that springs out is the placement of Ellis’s name on the back, “Ellis D.” It’s definitely one of the more mindboggling coincidences for a particular feat to have your name also closely spelling out the substance in which he was on when he chucked his no-no.

Lastly, the tattoo.

There’s actually a double meaning going on here that most people are completely unaware of. First, look at the eyes of the Pirate Parrot, the mascot of the Pirates. I had them filled in with different colors as well as added the marks above its head to emphasize how Ellis felt on the mound that day. I pretty much have the animation in the video to thank for that. The second thing has to do with the Pittsburgh cocaine trials of the 1980s, something I’ll go more in-depth on down the road, but one of the biggest figures in the trafficking of the drug amongst players was in fact Kevin Koch, the man who was inside the mascot outfit. Like I said, I’m a sucker for detail.

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