It seems as if the last few weeks have been filled with an inordinate amount of news about folks’ untimely passing. Some are celebrities, some are friends, some are co-workers or friends of friends of mine … it certainly seemed in the last week as if there were far too many sad Facebook status updates by my friends honoring folks they knew who were gone too soon …
Maybe it’s something about December. My mother and three of my four grandparents all passed away in December (two of them, in fact, on Dec. 15).
However, I was definitely shaken, for some reason, by the news this morning of the passing at age 63 of former pitcher Dock Ellis.
I’d been a fan of the colorful Pittsburgh hurler as a kid, even before I knew some of the more unusual stories behind some of his on-the-field (and off-the-field) exploits.
And shortly into my then-budding career as a sportswriter I had the pleasure of getting to chat with him at a spring training game in Dunedin, Florida (I can’t pinpoint the year but it would have been late 1980s) … he was just there in stands taking in BP and when I approached him to chat he could not have been nicer, more of a gentleman, and taken more time just to talk some baseball.
As a voracious reader, I have a bookshelf filled with baseball books of all shapes, sizes and, admittedly, quality. But I can say without reservation that the book that Ellis co-authored with Donald Hall, Dock Ellis In The Country Of Baseball is outstanding, a true must-read. Originally penned in 1976, an updated paperback version was published in 1989 with some very interesting post-scripts by the author. Most notably, in the original book, Ellis and Hall talk of his having pitched his 1970 no-hitter against San Diego drunk on screwdrivers. In truth, as is now known, he was actually tripping on acid. The story behind the decision to “creatively edit” is an interesting one and, frankly, certainly not the first or the last time the “truth” may have been played with a bit in a player’s biography/autobiography.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough and, in fact, I am looking forward to honoring Ellis’ memory this weekend by re-reading it … I’m overdue.