At the Major League level, baseball is not an easy sport. Most people never even make it to that level, much less excel at it, even while playing completely sober. So one would think that playing well while under the influence would be near-impossible, right?
On 12 June 1970, Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis hurled the first no-hitter of the season in San Diego against the Padres. The Pirates recorded a 2-0 victory, in spite of Ellis’s eight walks and hitting Padres center fielder Ivan Murrell. He also struck out six. When it came time for post-game interviews, Ellis attributed his wild pitching to his efforts to keep the ball away from hitters, which seemed like a completely reasonable explanation.
Fourteen years later, on 8 April 1984, Ellis came clean, admitting to the press that he threw the no-hitter under the influence of LSD. He hadn’t planned it that way, of course. The day before the game, Thursday 11 June 1970, had been an off-day for the Pirates, and Ellis celebrated by dropping a hit of the drug. On Friday at noon, mistakenly believing it was still Thursday, he took another tab. Shortly thereafter, his girlfriend noticed, while flipping through a newspaper, that Ellis was slated to pitch that evening. Ellis rushed to the airport and made it to the stadium just in time.
He described his experience of the game itself:
“I can only remember bits and pieces of the game. I was psyched. I had a feeling of euphoria.
“I was zeroed in on the (catcher’s) glove, but I didn’t hit the glove too much. I remember hitting a couple of batters and the bases were loaded two or three times.
“The ball was small sometimes, the ball was large sometimes, sometimes I saw the catcher, sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes I tried to stare the hitter down and throw while I was looking at him. I chewed my gum until it turned to powder. They say I had about three to four fielding chances. I remember diving out of the way of a ball I thought was a line drive. I jumped, but the ball wasn’t hit hard and never reached me.”
How anyone could pitch so well while in that state of mind is a marvel in itself. Perhaps it was because Dock Ellis realized that he had to force himself to focus more than usual. Or, perhaps, it was because all his inhibitions had been removed, and he was literally unable to over think his performance.
Some speculation remains over whether Ellis was being completely honest when he came forward about the no-hitter or if he was merely trying to create a stir. Either way, at this point, the only thing we really have to go off is his testimony about that night. Even his teammates’ perspective on Ellis’s state of mind that night is limited, as superstition dictates that players not talk to a teammate who is in the midst of throwing a no-no.
Over the course of his career, Ellis won 138 games and had the honor of being the National League’s starting pitcher in the 1971 All-Star Game. All this, in spite of a long history of drug and alcohol abuse. Upon retirement from Major League Baseball, Ellis served for many years as a substance abuse counselor.
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“Dock Ellis Says He Pitched 1970 No-Hitter Under The Influence of LSD.” Lysergic World 16-19 April 1993, San Francisco.
Goldstein, Richard. “Dock Ellis, All-Star Pitcher Who Overcame Longtime Addictions, Dies At 63.” New York Times 20 December 2008, New York ed.: A43.
Hall, Donald. Dock Ellis in the Country of Baseball. New York: Fireside P, 1976.
Hruby, Patrick. “The Long, Strange Trip of Dock Ellis: Meet the Man Behind Baseball’s Most Psychedelic Myth.” ESPN: Outside the Lines. ESPN Internet Venues, August 2012. Web. Accessed 19 March 2013. http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/eticket/story?page=Dock-Ellis