BY: ROB HOFFMAN
In one of the most memorable games in Major League baseball, Dock Ellis—a pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates—threw a no-hitter while he was tripping on LSD. Ellis was an incredible player, and arguably an even greater person—a powerful voice behind the black rights movement and also becoming an addiction-counsellor later in life. But in the year 1970, Ellis somehow ended up on the pitching mound for a Major League game against the San Diego Padres, high off his ass on LSD.
When Ellis and the team initially arrived in San Diego, he asked the manager if he could go home, seeing as the game wasn’t until the next day. Immediately after getting the managers approval, Ellis popped some LSD—right in the airport. Then, Ellis “took off with the car because I knew where it would hit me: in L.A.” Ellis found his way to his friend’s girlfriend’s house, fell asleep, woke up in the middle of the morning and took more acid. His sense of time lost under a blanket of acid-haze, Ellis had accidentally taken the second dose of acid the morning before his game in San Diego. So he hopped on a plane and made his way to the field where he tried to straighten out with some Benzedrine (an amphetamine).
“So there I was out there, high as a Georgia pine, tripping on acid.” Said Ellis. “I couldn’t even see the hitters. All I could see was if they were on the right side or the left side. As far as seeing the target, the catcher put tape on his fingers so I could see the signals.” Still, Ellis contends, “It was easier to pitch with the LSD because I was so used to medicating myself. That’s the way I was dealing with the fear of failure.”
Before the LSD incident, Ellis would frequently take Dexamyl before his games—an amphetamine referred to by the players as “greenies,” because of its colour.
“I would say over 90% of the Major League was using Dexamyl. When I was playing, we were all high,” said Ellis. This claim is backed up by most other Major League players from Ellis’s era, including Scipio Spinks who claims the players would often “try to see who could out-amphetamine one another.” But Dock could handle drugs with the stamina of a bull-moose, taking “15 – 17 pills,” before a game.
Pirates trainer, Tony Bartirome, was completely against the use of amphetamines on the field. But Ellis made a good point in 1973 when he said, “Pitcher and poet were up to the same tricks.” Society will glorify a poet for their rampant drug use then turn around and condemn an athlete for the same thing. Of course, they’re two very different fields. But when it comes to a psychedelic like acid, Ellis contends, “All I’m trying to do, is fool em…always remember, Sandy Koufax spoke of pitching baseball as ‘the art of intimidation’.”
And batters were afraid of Ellis. If you pissed him off, he’d hurdle the ball right at your face. According to Ellis, The Cincinnati Reds called his team “dumb.” So when they squared up on the field, Ellis aimed for the kidneys and walked the first three batsmen that came to plate, breaking records for the most consecutively hit batsmen. Ellis also beaned Reggie Jackson for hitting a home-run off him.
Ellis was in high gear on and off the plate—using his wit to pull the strings of the media, and other times, just straight up fucking with people. One time Ellis showed up to a game in brightly coloured hair-curlers, which actually pissed off the Commissioner of Major League Baseball enough to send him a cease and desist letter of sorts. But even then there was a method to his madness, and his stunts were usually designed to draw attention to issues of racial disparity. About the curlers, Ellis simply maintained, “They didn’t put any orders about Joe Pepitone [white Yankees star] when he wore a hairpiece down to his shoulders.”
“Dock was a psychologist, too. Dock would set people up, and the media would fall for it.” Said seven-time All-Star player, Al Oliver.
Ellis once made an offhand comment to a nearby reporter that there was no way that National League manager, Sparky Anderson, would have two black pitchers start a game. As Ellis surely predicted, this statement spun the media into a frenzy, inspiring what would become the first All-Star game to feature two black pitchers. His team, the Pirates, later became the first team in Major League baseball with an all black starting lineup.
Jackie Robinson even sent a letter to Ellis out of gratitude and respect, sending advice to be careful because “[He] would look over [his] shoulder and [his] brothers wouldn’t be there, because of the things [he] stood for.”
Ellis later went to play for the Yankees, to which he claimed, “I just hate that I was not sober when I played for the Yankees. I can only vaguely remember some of that.” Still, Ellis won 17 games for the Yankees.
When Ellis retired, he became an addiction-counsellor, and always talked about his days on the field while on LSD with a tone of regret and embarrassment. He could barely remember the greatest game of his professional career. “I pitched every game in the Major Leagues under the influence of drugs,” says Ellis.
Some people, as I’m sure Ellis did, wonder if he would have thrown the no-hitter if it wasn’t for the influence of LSD. But the fact is, he did. And as Ellis put it, “Yeah I hit a couple guys—it was an ugly no-hitter and I got letters about it. But it was a no-no.”
Dubbed “Muhammad Ali of baseball”—Ellis will go down in history as baseball’s greatest badass.