Friday, December 26, 2008

Ellis Didn't Think Sparky Had The Courage To Start Him In '71 All-Star Game

Dock Ellis wanted to see if Sparky Anderson was bluffing. And Sparky saw the bet and called Dock on it.

It was the days leading up to the 1971 All-Star Game in Detroit, and it springs to mind in the wake of the news of Ellis's death last week at age 63.

Ellis was the African-American pitcher who claims to have pitched a no-hitter on LSD. There's still some doubt about that. But Ellis was also the pitcher who purposely hit the first four Reds batters in a game in the 1970s, and there's absolutely no doubt about that.

And Ellis was part of All-Star history -- history that Ellis never thought Sparky had the guts to make.

Anderson, all of 37 years old in '71, was to manage the National League by virtue of his Cincinnati Reds capturing the NL pennant in 1970. The AL was managed by Earl Weaver, who had named Oakland A's lefty Vida Blue as his starter before Sparky announced his starting hurler. Ellis was having a fine season with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and his name was bantied about as a possible starter for the NL.

But Dock wasn't buying it.

"They'll never put two brothers against each other," Ellis said, referring to the fact that both he and Blue were black. Indeed, it had never happened before -- two black men as the starting pitchers in an MLB All-Star Game.

Sparky read the papers. He knew what Dock Ellis said. Whether Ellis had intended his comment to be a dare of Anderson's gumption or not, the end result was that Sparky indeed chose Ellis as his starter. And whether Sparky intended it or not, the fallout was that the manager came out looking better than the outspoken pitcher.

But Ellis one-upped Sparky in terms of lasting impressions. For it was Ellis who served up the pitch that Reggie Jackson famously swatted into the light transformer on Tiger Stadium's right-center field roof. It might be the most talked about home run in All-Star Game history.

Ellis serves and Reggie feasts in '71 All-Star Game in Detroit

Despite drug troubles, a battle with alcoholism, and a volatile personality, Ellis managed to win 138 games in his MLB career. But he lost the hand he played with Sparky Anderson prior to the '71 All-Star Game. Or maybe he won. Dock did want to start the game, after all -- and he got his wish.


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