Tuesday, December 23, 2008

RIP Dock

If you know who Dock Ellis was, then you know why I'm writing this one. If not, well let's start by saying Dock was a ballplayer, baseball to be exact. To me, though he was more than some guy who played in th 60's and 70's. He had a style, panache, a flair about him. As a kid seeing that wicked FU Manchu you knew this guy was a serious character. Arriving at the ballpark with your hair in curlers was sure to get attention, but this guy was good.

He played a big part helping the Pirates win the series in '71. When the Pirates got tired of the Dock and traded him to the Yankees, that lefty arm was perfect for Yankee Stadium and his character was perfect for the so called Bronx Zoo Yankees. Dock could still pitch well and did. The Yankees won the pennant in '76, the first time in over decade. I know if you're a Cubs or Indian fan you say big deal, but for the Yankees a barren decade is like 50 losing years for other clubs.

Anyway, Dock arrived a Yankee Stadium with an unknown bonus. The Pirates had included Willie Randolph, an untried second baseman in the deal. In the end, Randolph became much more valuable to the Yankees, winning rings as a player and a coach joining the Yankee pantheon of stars. However, I like to think that Willie is the sort of bonus you get in life when you embrace the spirit of life, the absurdity of the moment and the characters around you. At that moment, then you get a glimpse of the reward of living, a merger of peace and happiness. It quickly ducks away once you realize it, but for a moment you can taste it, feel it, almost touch it.

Sure, now that he's dead, some people now will want to focus on the circus aspect of Dock, like throwing a no-hitter on LSD, but what's important was his natural passion. Obviously, he didn't live his life in the cookie cutter good way. Playing it safe is a great lesson for life in some newspaper, but life isn't lived in the abstract. Perhaps, later on reflection like most, he would have done many things different, but that's also not such an uncommon thing. His spunk, his funk, his fiestiness; that was uncommon then and seems rarer now in sport and in life.

If you embrace that natural spontaneous passion in life, then the bonus, the hidden gem, the "Willie Randolph" will appear. So much of life, especially public life now is scripted, pre-planned, pre-packaged. The spontaneity as we discover the joy of being human is locked down. That didn't seem like Dock.

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