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J.P.: This is random and out of order. When you came up in the 1970s, did you feel that African-American ballplayers still had to overcome a certain perception that if they were’t playing well, or if they weren’t giddy over being drafted, that there was a perception of arrogance or laziness?
E.V.: Uh, I don’t know if that was a perception. At that time I think people were very highly influenced by the Jackie Robinson era. And they kind of—there might have been that perception; it might have been rather covert. But during that era they had to draft African-American ballplayers. And they did. That soon dissipated over the years after that era played out its course. And you have to look at the era—we struggled as African-American players back in the day because we had very little support. There were no black coaches. We had very few mentors back then. So after the game it was really tough. I can really take my hat off to Larry Doby. Larry was my batting instructor in Triple A. And also briefly in Montreal. And for the first time in my career I had an African-American I could relate to after the game, other than a player.
And I would sit, and Doby would school me on some things. However, he wasn’t around long enough with me to mentor me through a lot of my own personal things. And first of all, I didn’t realize I had personal things going on. I was totally oblivious to that. I was kind of out of touch with my emotions, with my person, with my reality. Because I was so gifted, and I used to live on a statement my mother told me all along—she used to always say to me, “Son, if you play baseball everything is going to be fine.” So that’s what I did. I listened to my parents, and Mom told me, “Just play baseball and everything is going to work out.” And so, I trusted her in so many ways. In everything. And my first agent embezzled $60,000 from me in less than four months. My mom became my financial manager. A lot of stuff happened, and a new dynamic formed. That’s a whole other story. But going back to Doby—Larry Doby, he was one of the best things that ever happened to me in my baseball career.
The first best thing that ever happened to me in my baseball career, from a professional standpoint, was my relationship with Karl Kuehl. Karl Kuehl was our Triple A manager, and this guy [Jeff’s note: Here, Ellis gets very emotional, and needs some time to regroup] … in Memphis in Triple A this guy told me, “I’m going to get you to the Big Leagues next year.” And he took me from a singles/line-drive hitter who occasionally hit a home run to a long-ball threat. Along with everything else I had going.
J.P.: How did he do it?
E.V.: We went to the ballpark every day in Memphis. It’d be 90-plus degrees, humidity over the top, sweating, grinding it out. And he stood about three feet in front of the mound on the grass, behind a pitching screen, and he pitched to me. And he worked my hands, and I became the hitter that you saw in the Big Leagues. And I don’t care if he was sick, he had family problems, he had organization problems with the team. Whatever was going down, he showed up every day for me prior to our team batting practice and pre-game workout. And we hit for an hour. And he said, “No matter what happens, when you get to the Big Leagues you’re not gonna miss this pitch.” And he was right.
Perhaps not as accurate as those guys, but Valentine could throw absolute lasers from right field.
SoSH just checked a few clubs and that is a killer figure. The Jays of the mid-80's had Barfield getting 20+ assists and Bell was getting 10-17 but still couldn't hit 50 (40+ a year but not up to 50).
I know childhood memories can't be trusted, but I recall him throwing out a player at 1B on a line drive to RF, and I remember him going back to back to back (presumably with Tony Perez and Cary Carter, though Dawson may have been there), and I just had him built up in my head as the greatest force in the universe.
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