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JUNE 29, 2009 2:26PM

The Day Dock Ellis Threw A No-Hitter On LSD

Rate: 13 Flag

                                      Dock_Ellis 1

Last night I was listening to the terrific new Todd Snider album (The Excitement Plan), when I was sidetracked by his song “America’s Favorite Pastime.”

The song is a shaggy dog story about the great Pittsburgh Pirate pitcher Dock Ellis who, legend has it, threw a no-hitter while under the influence of LSD on June 12, 1970.

Dock Ellis was certainly one of the more colorful characters during his 1970s heyday. A great inning eating pitcher, with a nasty slider and fastball, Ellis is best remembered for his on-field antics and his social activism.

In 1974, for example, he attempted to bean every player he faced in a game against the Cincinnati Reds (he hit the first three players, walked the fourth, and was yanked from the game after throwing at Johnny Bench’s head).

In the late 70s he took to wearing hair curlers when MLB executives began complaining about his hair.

                             Dock Ellis 2

*****(Side note: where have all of baseball’s “characters” gone?—where are the beautiful weirdoes and freaks that used to populate the game? Baseball is a lesser sport without these intrepid individualists)*****

But the LSD no-hitter is what Ellis is best remembered; a feat that will forever enshrine him into baseball lore.

On June 11, Ellis was partying—smoking pot and drinking. He mistakenly thought that the 12th was a day off so, after waking up around noon, he dropped 3 hits of Purple Haze LSD.  

About an hour later, as the effects of the drug began to take hold, Ellis was informed by his girlfriend (who was also tripping) that the newspaper listed him as the starting pitcher that day.

Ellis was, at the time, in L.A. while the team was set to play the Padres in San Diego. So a tripping Ellis had to jump on a plane to pitch a Major League baseball game.

Ellis has no clear memory of getting to the stadium. What he does remember was throwing back about a half a dozen amphetamines (“greenies” and “bennies” as they were known during the 70s—it was rare that a player didn’t use one of these stimulants during the 70s), and preparing to pitch the first game of a double header.

Ellis claims that he couldn’t tell whether the opposing batters were facing him from the left or right side of the plate, and the only way he could find the plate was that his catcher had applied reflective tape to his fingers.

According to Ellis: “There were times when the ball was hit back at me, I jumped because I thought it was coming fast, but the ball was coming slow. Third baseman came by and grabbed the ball, threw somebody out. I never caught a ball from the catcher without two hands, because I thought that was a big ol' ball! And then sometimes it looks small. One time I covered first base, and I caught the ball and I tagged the base, all in one motion and I said, ‘Oh, I just made a touchdown.’”

He was also extremely wild that day—he walked eight with one hit batter—a fact which, ironically, may in some way account for the no-hitter; the opposing batters must have been terrified of the crazy looking stoned dude on the mound with dilated pupils, throwing wildly, without apparent rhyme or reason.

                             dock-ellis 3

This is perhaps how Ellis was perceived by opposing batters that fateful June day.

There’s actually a twisted logic that someone under the effects of LSD (as well as amphetamines) would have his third eye perfectly squeegeed and could enter some sort of “zone” to pitch the game of his life. The only drawback would be the risk of the pitcher conversing deeply with the feathered serpent deity Quetzalcoatl through some alternate plane of reality. That would not help a pitcher’s ERA, to say the least.

At any rate, there are a few pitchers for the Mets I wouldn’t mind seeing buying ‘cid at a Widespread Panic concert (I’m looking at you Pelfrey, you lout!)—hell it couldn’t hurt!


Sadly Dock passed away in December of last year—fortunately his legend will live on.

                        dock_ellis 4

Todd Snider (w/ producer Don Was) singing his ode to Dock Eliis "America's Favorite Pastime"

I read the folowing articles to write this post
"Balls Out" by Keven McAlester of the Dallas Observer (great article about the man, as well as his famous LSD no-hitter). 

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awesome post, yeah I can see this happening!
that is very cool- and the pictures were great :D the one in curlers made me have to gasp for air I was laughing so hard
I friggin' love the Doc Ellis story. People go on and on about performance enhancing drugs in baseball, but no one's talking about LSD and Ellis' no hitter. I think that's great.

Another interesting factoid: His name shows up on the box score as "Ellis, D." Heck yeah.
A character indeed. I think you're probably right that Ellis's wildness helped him that day. I sure as hell wouldn't have wanted to dig in!
I too miss the crazy characters from the past. Today's ballplayers have amazing focus and concentration, but, as a result, they're a little bit like gunslingers: a little too stern and not goofy enough. We need iconoclasts like Bill "Spaceman" Lee and goof-offs like Rick Dempsey. Once, in the '70s, when Dempsey's O's were playing the Red Sox, a long rain delay stopped the game. The ground crew pulled out the tarp, and everybody sat there watching nothing happen. (This was back in the day when TV stations didn't cut to other programs.) Then, all of a sudden, Dempsey came out of the O's dugout with a pillow stuff under his uniform shirt, a bat in his hand, and a bandy-legged walk. He then proceeced to act out Babe Ruth calling the lengendary homer in the 1935 World Series. After Dempsey mimed his swing, he rounded the bases--sliding into each and every one of them along the rain-slicked tarp, with a final, huge, rooster-tail making, belly flop at home. It was absolutely hilarious.
i love that observer article! and yours is great too. i don't have the attention span for sports, but i love the characters!
I remember the game well. Doc was an athlete aching to be a cartoon.
rated for psychedelic folklore
i've heard this before. what a crazy story.

more importantly, Todd Snider has a new album?
I'm surprised an opposing batter didn't figure something was up early on and bunt back to him. A few years ago the Cubs noticed the Sox pitcher David Wells had a stiff back, though he was throwing well. They bunted three or four straight times and forced him to leave the game in the first inning. One of those sky-high infield pop-ups would have been interesting.
"There’s actually a twisted logic that someone under the effects of LSD (as well as amphetamines) would have his third eye perfectly squeegeed and could enter some sort of “zone” to pitch the game of his life." As someone who took an enormous quantity of LSD, I believe that logic, although I never did enter that kind of a "zone". Well written and I appreciate that you referenced what you read. Well done.
trig--Yeah, I wonder how many times players dosed before games back then.

hyblaean-Julie-- That curlers pic is classic--can you imagine that happening today?

shaggylocks--dude, "Ellis, D" I laughed for about an hour! As to the steriods thing, I agree. Ball players have been taking stuff since the dawn of baseball--I remember reading that during the 1890s teams used to keep a keg of beer on the third base line for incentive. Now that's a league I could get behind!

Athomepilgrim--what a cool story. I think players are afraid of offending potential advertisers and sponsors these days--they're so plain these days.

bstrangely and owl--thanks for stopping by, glad you enjoyed!

Mr. Mustard--you seem to be correct (this was a bit before my time though)--I enjoy these characters from baseball history, and it's why I think baseball is different from other sports.

Roy--glad you enjoyed

Cap'n--hells yeah, new album called the excitement plan--his best in years.

jimmymac--honestly, from what I read I think people were scared of Ellis--he seems to have come from the Bob Gibson school of "I will ruin your face if you challenge me" baseball. Intimidating guy.

MB--Really, it makes total sense to me : )
well, i'm with MB in the club of people who took an enormous amount of LSD and while, acceding to the possibility of there being such a zone that might allow one to pitch a no hitter at the major league level, never entered said zone my own self.

todd snider is a memphis boy like me though and i'm down with anyone who can combine him with a story about tripping and america's favorite pastime.
While pitchers have always had a rep for being a bit squirrelly, I think the '70s fostered that kind of "let it all hang out" 'tude in pro sports. In basketball, the ABA was doing a lot of the same. The NFL had its share of mavericks, Lord, the Raiders alone were filled with them.
Funny shit. And I agree about the characters. Where's Mark the Bird??

As for the Mets - oy. Doncha git me stahted....