Monday, September 7, 2009

The Passion of Dock Ellis: Part 1

It's almost a year now since Dock Ellis passed away, so recent that BB Reference hasn't yet updated his stats page with the date he passed (12/19/2008). The lifetime stats are right at league average (ERA+ 104) so it's easy to forget the player he was and focus on his outsized personality. HIs best year was 1971, when he went 19-9 with a 3.06 ERA, 11 CG, and 2 shutouts, and that was during a 5-year run when he was one of the better pitchers in the game. He made his only AS appearance that year, and according to his bio (up to 1975) Ellis played the media a bit to get the NL start against the AL's Vida Blue. On June 12, 1970 he no-hit the Padres in a game most famous for reasons other than being a no-hitter.

Ellis is the kind of player we should refer to as a "stuff" guy, one who has immense talent, flashes of utter brilliance, who constantly turns corners and begins to cash in on his potential only to remain tantalizingly, amazingly, almost but not quite great. In short, the only thing a guy like that doesn't have is the results.

None of that is to take away from Ellis's career, which was solid. He is, after all, a player I collect. It's just that, even in the bio, he himself says over and over that the elusive 20+ breakout season is up ahead, right around the bend...only it never materializes. Tomorrow I'll go into the bio a bit, but for now wanted to get to these:
1975. One this that's evident is that Dock Ellis had a rare, under appreciated sense of humor. You've seen this spring training, behind the removable batting cage shot on baseball cards since the 1950's, but check out Dock's right hand. Isn't that a batting glove!? These shots tend to be so over posed and odd that I've often wondered if players would exaggerate their follow thoughs and swings on purpose. Dock Ellis's batting glove suggests that Ellis relishes the artifice of it all, and genuinely enjoys tossing in a wink that, apparently, no one caught or decided to remove.
1976, the year Ellis was traded to the Yankis. I imagine the Topps people wasted hundreds on paint airbrushing his Pirates uni into Yanki pinstripes. And it's sad, really. Dock was pretty much run out of town. Through his poker face on both cards you get a sense of anxiety, and none of the playfulness of the year before. The stadium is empty, the fans have gone home (or not shown up, or not shown up yet?) and Dock Ellis is virtually alone with his worry amidst the echoes.

These three are the only Docks I have, so I'm obviously open to trades.

Have a great one!

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