Ex-pitcher Ellis dies of liver disease

Updated: December 20, 2008, 9:46 AM ET
By Jerry Crasnick | ESPN.com

Dock Ellis, the former major league pitcher best remembered for his flamboyance and social activism as a member of the great Pittsburgh Pirates teams of the 1970s, died Friday of a liver ailment in California, his former agent, Tom Reich, confirmed. Ellis was 63.

[+] EnlargeDock Ellis
AP PhotoDock Ellis, seen here in 1974, won 138 games over 12 major league seasons.
Ellis spent 12 years in the majors with Pittsburgh, the New York Yankees, Oakland, Texas and the New York Mets. He retired in 1979 with a record of 138-119, but was best known for several colorful incidents on and off the field.

His wife, Hjordis, told The Assocaited Press he died at the USC Medical Center in Los Angeles.

"It's a tremendous loss to the family," she said. "He's been struggling for about a year with the end stages of liver disease."

In his autobiography, "Dock Ellis in the Country of Baseball,'' Ellis revealed that he threw a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres in June 1970 while under the influence of LSD.

In May 1974 -- in an effort to inspire a lifeless Pittsburgh team -- Ellis drilled Pete Rose, Joe Morgan and Dan Driessen in the top of the first inning. After walking Tony Perez, Ellis threw a pitch near Johnny Bench's head and was lifted from the game by manager Danny Murtaugh.

Ellis also gave up Reggie Jackson's memorable home run off the Tiger Stadium light tower in the 1971 All-Star Game in Detroit.

Off the field, Ellis spoke freely about racial issues, once telling reporters that he wouldn't start against Oakland's Vida Blue in the All-Star Game because Major League Baseball would never start "two soul brothers'' against each other.

[+] EnlargeDock Ellis
Focus on Sport/Getty ImagesEllis went 19-9 in 1971 for the Pirates, who beat the Orioles in the World Series.
"Dock Ellis was my first client in baseball, and he gave me as much joy as anybody outside of my family," Reich said. "He was so unique. He was viewed by some people as an outlaw, but he was far from that. He was so ahead of his time. He was so intuitive and smart and talented and independent. And he wasn't about to roll over for the incredible prejudices that existed at the time.

"He was a very special person and he had an absolute army of fans and friends. He was at the cutting edge of so many issues, and he never backed down. I was proud to be his friend and stand with him."

Ellis suffered from cirrhosis of the liver and was placed on a list to receive a liver transplant in May. The Los Angeles Times wrote that Ellis had no health insurance, but received help paying his medical bills from friends in baseball.

Bill Scaringe, an agent who represented Ellis after he retired, said Ellis worked for years in the California department of corrections helping inmates transition from prison back to the community. He also ran a drug counseling center in Los Angeles.

"It's very disheartening," Scaringe said. "Dock was such a likeable person -- very gregarious, very outgoing. I would set up personal appearances for him, and after like 30 seconds, people were like relatives or neighbors. Dock was very easy to talk to. He was just a pleasure to be around."

Jerry Crasnick is a senior baseball writer for ESPN.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Jerry Crasnick | email

ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer