Today is the 47th anniversary of Dock Ellis' acid-fueled no-hitter
On June 12, 1970, Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis did something that, by all rights, should be completely impossible: He went and threw a no-hitter despite being high as a kite on lysergic acid diethylamide, otherwise known as acid. Facing the Padres at the old San Diego Stadium, Ellis took the mound having dropped acid earlier that day and blanked the Friars, walking eight batters and hitting another (otherwise known as an A.J. Burnett Special). It was the first and only no-hitter of Ellis' career, and almost certainly the lone MLB no-hitter pitched under the influence of LSD. (If you know otherwise, drop us a line.)
The details of how that game came to be are almost as much fun as the fact that it happened. According to Ellis (and, it should be noted, all of this is according to Ellis), he went to visit a friend in Los Angeles the day before his start, took some acid and stayed up late into the night drinking and doing drugs, subsequently losing track of which day it was. The day of his start, he woke up and, thinking he was supposed to pitch the next day, took another hit of acid at noon, only to learn two hours later from his friend that he was, in fact, supposed to be on the mound against the Padres that evening in San Diego. Ellis got on a plane an hour later and made it to the park 90 minutes before first pitch.
That Ellis even managed to get from one point to another while high on acid is miracle enough, but it's beyond belief that he then managed to throw a nine-inning no-hitter despite, as he says, being unable to feel the ball or see his catcher (or much of anything else). "I started having a crazy idea in the fourth inning that Richard Nixon was the home plate umpire, and once I thought I was pitching a baseball to Jimi Hendrix, who to me was holding a guitar and swinging it over the plate," he recounted of his start in 1984, when he first told the world of his trip. "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."
The veracity of Ellis' claim is impossible to ascertain. Ellis waited 14 years to share the story for the first time, and a few reporters have casted doubts on his LSD no-no. MLB has never released the full footage of the game; only bits and pieces of it exist for public viewing, as compiled in the 2014 documentary "No No: A Dockumentary."
Nonetheless, it's an incredible story attached to an incredible career and life—one unfortunately overshadowed somewhat by the no-hitter. As a player, Ellis was equal parts ferocious and flamboyant. Once, in 1974 against the Reds, he made it his mission to plunk every Cincinnati batter in an attempt to intimidate the nascent Big Red Machine; he got five hitters into it, nailing the first three and throwing over the heads of Tony Perez and Johnny Bench, before he was pulled. Another time, as a member of the Athletics in '77, he he took pitching charts he'd been ordered to fill out and burned them in the locker room, setting off the sprinklers. And he had to be expressly told by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn in '73 not to wear hair curlers onto the field. Ellis was more than just a character, though: He was a key part of the 1971 World Series champion Pirates and the '76 Yankees, who won the pennant, and started the '71 All-Star Game for the National League opposite Oakland's Vida Blue—the first time two pitchers of color had ever started the Midsummer Classic.
Off the field, Ellis was ahead of his time. He was outspoken on the rights of black players in baseball and frequently attacked the sport for its institutionalized racism, and was an early champion for free agency. He was also open about his substance abuse and the proliferation of amphetamines—known as "greenies"—in the game, which he used before virtually every one of his starts, including the acid no-hitter. After baseball, he got sober and started a career as a counselor for drug addicts, focusing on helping prisoners kick their addictions.
Ellis died in 2008 of cirrhosis of the liver, but his legacy lives on, regardless of whether or not the acid no-hitter was a flight of fancy or a real, lunatic day.