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