Saturday, December 20, 2008

Unintended Remembrances
Earlier this week I was reading Bruce Reed's take on the last-ditch effort of Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) to get his record, if not his reputation, expunged. Craig, of course, became infamous in the summer of 2007, when he was arrested on indecency charges--specifically, trying to pick up a dude for sex--in a bathroom at the Minneapolis airport. He copped to the crime, a misdemeanor, that August, and has tried again and again to change his plea in the year-plus since.

Craig, whose political career previously was characterized by homophobia and general reactionary positions on social issues, is both despicable and sad. But it still struck me as a bit poignant that this man, who after all can boast of having served three terms in the United States Senate and nearly three decades total in Congress, will be remembered above all else for the words "wide stance"... even though he never actually used those words.

So I was thinking about this again today when I read the news that Dock Ellis has passed away. Ellis was a baseball pitcher of considerable accomplishment in the 1970s, winning 138 games over his 12-year career and earning a world championship with the 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates. But my first thought upon hearing the news, and I'm sure that of many people, was "oh--the guy who threw a no-hitter on LSD." deems that this legendary tale is, in fact, true, though the site is at pains to point out that its verdict relies on Ellis's own account, and that there is considerable room for interpretation in it: even if he did take the hallucinogen, the effects might have largely worn off by game time. But--as with Larry Craig and the words "wide stance," sometimes the legend is so much better than the truth that qualifying details aren't really welcome.

In the case of Ellis, though, I'm left with the sense that the guy probably deserves better than to be remembered for an accomplishment some will regard as deviant. By most accounts, he had a strong sense of social responsibility, and he spent his post-baseball years working with formerly incarcerated individuals attempting to rejoin their communities--a challenging and important undertaking for which I have new appreciation, informed by some work projects I have going--and counseling young ballplayers to avoid drug and alcohol addiction. And he was just 63 years old. His former agent said today, "'I've been in this business for 40 years and there was never a more standup guy.''

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