At some point every one of the 9,903 San Diego fans who watched Dock Ellis throw a no-hitter against the Padres on June 12, 1970, surely wondered the same thing: Does this guy have any idea where he's throwing the ball? The answer was no. Years later the Pirates' righty revealed that he was tripping on LSD that day. Ellis's expanded mind told him that Richard Nixon was the plate umpire and Jimi Hendrix was swinging a guitar at the plate; after covering first on a groundout he thought to himself, "Ooh, I just made a touchdown." No wonder he walked eight and hit a batter in his, uh, gem.
The tale has inspired pop songs, poems and paintings—and now a clever animated short film, Dock Ellis & the LSD No-No, that rocketed around the Internet last week. (See it at nomas-nyc.com.) Brooklyn-based illustrator James Blagden's quirky, cartoonish animation captures Ellis's psychedelic spirit perfectly. But the real joy is listening to the voice-over by Ellis himself, taken from a radio interview the pitcher did with American Public Media nine months before his death in December 2008. Ellis's commentary is comical—What happened to yesterday? he wondered after awaking mid-trip and realizing he had to pitch that day—but it's also a glimpse into the long history of drug use in baseball, performance-enhancing and otherwise. (Ellis recalls grabbing a pregame handful of amphetamines from a dealer sitting in the front row at San Diego Stadium.) "It was easier to pitch with the LSD because I was so used to medicating myself," Ellis says. "That's the way I was dealing with the fear of failure."
The film sparked so much buzz that Blagden, 27, was invited to submit it for the 2010 Sundance and South by Southwest festivals. "People like the bad-boy element," says Blagden, who has also done a short featuring Muhammad Ali and a drawing based on the 1986 Mets. "But it's lighthearted. Nobody gets hurt. It's a Dock Ellis thing. The story is so great, it's going to be hard to top this."