Born: December 21, 1947
Town: East Orange, New Jersey
Elliott Maddox was born December 21st, 1947 in East Orange and grew up in Union. He was a bright student and gifted athlete. Elliott looked up to his older brother, Willie, who preceded him into Little League, where both were star players. Elliott could play any position on the field and had a rifle arm.
After attending an all-African-American elementary school, Elliott enrolled at Union High School, which was around 90% white. Proud and articulate, he stood up to teachers whom he felt treated black students unfairly. He would never be afraid of challenging authority during his life. Meanwhile, Elliott was playing shortstop, hitting homers and leading the Farmers to a state championship in 1966.
Elliott was drafted by the Houston Astros as a senior, but decided to attend college. He received scholarship offers from the nation’s top universities, including Columbia and Brown. He opted to attend the University of Michigan. He immediately took an active role in campus politics, helping to form the first Black Student Union and pressuring the administration to accept more African-American applicants.
Elliott wanted to become a doctor, but the demands of a pre-med curriculum were impossible to meet as a student-athlete, so he switched to history. Among the other courses Elliott took at Michigan were Judaic Studies; he converted to Judaism in the mid-1970s.
Elliott batted .467 as a sophomore in 1968, leading the Big Ten in his first varsity season. That spring, he was drafted in the first round by the Detroit Tigers. He played two seasons in their minor league system before making his debut in the big leagues in 1970.
That winter, Elliott was part of a blockbuster trade between Detroit and the Washington Senators. The Tigers packaged him with Denny McLain and Don Wert— two starters from their 1968 championship team—in exchange for Joe Coleman, Eddie Brinkman, Aurelio Rodriguez and Jim Hannan. Washington gave up a lot of talent; manager Ted Williams demanded that Elliott be part of the deal, predicting he might win a batting title some day. Elliott played three years for the Senators (including two after they move to Texas and were renamed the Rangers). He did not live up to the Splendid Splinter’s great expectations.
In 1974, Texas sold Elliott to the Yankees during Spring Training. They did so at the behest of manager Billy Martin, who was not a fan of Elliott’s. Martin did not like people he felt flaunted their intelligence, and was intimidated by Elliott’s intellect and outspoken nature.
Elliott manned center field for New York, replacing veteran Bobby Murcer, who moved to right. While Murcer found it difficult to hit in the team’s temporary Shea Stadium home, Elliott boosted his average over .300. He helped keep the Yankees in the division race until the final week, and finished 8th in the MVP voting that fall.
In 1975, Elliott slipped on the turf at Shea and suffered a knee injury that permanently robbed him of his speed. He later sued the Yankees (and Mets and the City of New York) for negligence but the case was tossed out of court. Elliott was a member of the 1976 Yankees club that won the pennant—ironically, for Martin. Elliott played in five postseason games. He was traded to the Orioles for Paul Blair after the season.
Elliott finished his career with the New York Mets, returning to the scene of his injury when the team signed him as a free agent. After the Mets released him, he tried to catch on with the Phillies. At 34, he didn’t have much left. He played 58 games with their Class-AAA farm team before calling it a career. Elliott ended up playing 11 big-league seasons and retired with a .261 average in 1,029 games. He was a superb outfielder, covering huge amounts of real estate and rarely making mental or physical errors.
Elliott became an investment banker, social worker and world traveler after his playing days. He coached baseball and football in Israel, and established the first Little League teams in Poland. He returned to baseball as a hitting instructor with the Yankees in 1990 and 1991. In 2004, he was inducted into the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. At last count, he had undergone 13 surgeries on his damaged knee.