Last Friday night, six Seattle Mariners pitchers combined forces to hurl a no-hitter against the Los Angeles Dodgers. A quirky affair, to say the least, the Seattle no-no was only the second in MLB history to require that many arms (a sextet of Houston Astros pulled off the same feat in 2003). M’s starter Kevin Millwood left the game after six innings with a no-decision and a sore groin; amid the flurry of pitching changes that followed, only Seattle catcher Jesus Montero seemed aware that the Dodgers still hadn’t put an “H” on the scoreboard – closer Tom Wilhelmsen notched the game’s final out without having any idea that he’d just made baseball history.
But as weird no-hitters go, the M’s six-man band didn’t have anything on the late, great Dock Ellis. Forty-two years ago this week, while pitching for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Ellis no-hit the San Diego Padres in a game that was shrouded by fog and continues to be cloaked in legend – though it didn’t achieve its legendary status until long after the last out actually occurred. Dock – who didn’t realize until the last minute that he was supposed to pitch that day – happened to be “high as a Georgia pine” at the time on LSD and Dexamyl, a situation which surely accounted for his uncharacteristic wildness (he walked eight Padres batters and hit another), and which he understandably waited until well after his retirement to reveal.
This belated revelation turned Dock into something of a folk hero, especially among those of us who prefer our baseball heroes a trifle more colorful than the bland, clean-cut ideal that’s been foisted upon us since the days of Frank Merriwell. Instead of talking about how he “just went out and gave 110 percent” that day, the gregarious Ellis (who sadly passed away in late 2008) reminisced to interviewers about the challenges of throwing a ball that kept changing size and weight to a shadowy series of batters – one of whom appeared to be Jimi Hendrix swinging a guitar – with President Richard Nixon umpiring the game from behind the plate.
Dock’s lysergic outing has inspired songs (Barbara Manning’s “Dock Ellis,” Todd Snider’s “America’s Favorite Pastime”), animated shorts (James Blagden’s “Dock Ellis and the LSD No-No,” which has racked up nearly 2.5 million YouTube views to date), a feature-length film (the forthcoming No No: A Dockumentary) and, in its own indirect way, this column. But as Donnell Alexander’s fascinating new multi-media iBook Beyond Ellis D reveals, there was so much more to the man’s complex life and career than just that acid asterisk: He was an intense competitor, an incorrigible prankster and a righteous crusader for social change, who steadfastly refused to draw a distinction between the way he lived between the foul lines and the way he lived outside of them. “Whatever goes on in life,” he told Alexander, “it goes on in life in sports.”
A respected drug counselor during his last decades, Dock wasn’t one to bullshit about his experiences with illicit substances. But there are still skeptics who dispute his LSD no-hitter story, doubting that such a thing would even be possible; and, truth be told, we do only have the late Dock’s word to go on. So this week, we ask our esteemed panel of rock & roll seamheads: Do you think Dock Ellis actually threw a no-no on LSD? And, if so, does this essentially constitute the greatest athletic feat of all time?
I believe! I know musicians who have played shows while in the throes of an acid trip (some good, some awful). The concept is absolutely horrific to me, but I suppose it can work for certain people. Now I know Dock didn’t pitch in that state by choice, and I don’t think he enjoyed it, per se, but I don’t see any concrete reason not to believe him. And while a no-hitter is an accomplishment under any circumstances, one can hardly say this was a masterful performance. Dock walked eight, hit a batter, and had three guys steal bases off of him. (I guess this is what they call “effectively wild.”) I’ve written a song for the next Baseball Project album about another notorious Ellis outing, in which he tried to bean each Reds batter he faced in the first inning until manager Danny Murtaugh pulled him. That seems almost as bizarre to me as the acid story, and it’s definitely something that could never happen in today’s game.
I was, without a doubt, the worst athlete that Texas ever produced. A perennial benchwarmer in all sports, I never played baseball above sandlot level. I did, however, take a lot of acid. And I play some guitar. So . . . if it was possible for Carlos Santana to execute the blistering solo he played in “Soul Sacrifice” at Woodstock while tripping his brains out, then I reckon Dock Ellis could have pitched a psychedelic no-no. In either case, more of a spiritual plateau than a feat of physical prowess, in my opinion.
I totally think it’s possible! Dock Ellis was trippin’ in the zone, and that allowed him to be more creative and dangerous with his pitches! It truly was an amazing feat!!!!
I’ve read Doc’s account of his LSD no-hitter, and it sounds pretty damn convincing.
I’m pretty sure Doc was under the influence of LSD. Apparently, he didn’t even see the batters – he said it was like shadows to the left or the right. I had some drummers over the years who were clearly more focused and just more in the pocket when they were on drugs. Pitching is such a mental game. The concentration, the fear, etc. – so if a guy is just not in his head, I can understand how it can work. Either way, it sure is an amazing story!
There are few things in sports I want to believe in more than Doc Ellis’s LSD-fueled no-hitter. Even if he did make the whole thing up, he was such a great storyteller that the vibrancy of the tale is as impressive as the feat itself.
Name: Alice Cooper
Mark “The Bird“ Fidrych did it for the Tigers, and he might have won a lot of his games while on something. He sure acted like it.
Name: Daniel Zott
Band: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
Position: Vocals, Guitar
I believe him. Justin Verlander pitched a no-no after eating a plethora of Taco Bell delights. Anything is possible.
I don’t know if it’s true – but if it is, God bless that sick bastard!!! Maybe acid will make a comeback in MLB, and be the new steroids.
Name: Scott Ian
I believe this 100%. I know another similar story from a more recent pitcher who also threw a perfect game under the influence (though not LSD), so I think it’s true. I’ve never done LSD, so I don’t know if it’d help or hurt the ability to pitch at the major league level. It didn’t hurt Dock!
Hey, I’m sure some of the best rock concerts have been played on acid. Not that I think that Peter Townshend could have pitched a no-hitter, but I’m also fairly certain that Dock Ellis couldn’t play the “Overture from Tommy.” Of course he was tripping. Why would you lie about a thing like that? I’ve always been more impressed that David Wells pitched a perfect game with a hangover. Doing something great while peaking is easy, doing it while that moment is a painful, distant memory – now THAT’S impressive.
I really like to believe he did. I DO believe he did it. I think it’s an amazing feat. Dock’s commentary regarding the event is absolutely enriching. It’s a great baseball story. But true or false, I don’t think it’s the greatest athletic feat of all time. Not by a long shot. This has nothing to do with me being a prude, which I am not. But as great athletic achievements go, Dock’s no-hitter is on par with a middle-schooler sinking a buzzer-beater from way back in his own paint.
I think you should never let the truth get in the way of a good story. Yes, I believe he did it . . . and I think if you give people enough time to think, and THE INTERNET, a million different opinions will surface. Who gives a shit? HE DID IT! But no, the greatest athletic feat of all time is Joe Theismann’s knee bending the OTHER WAY during a crippling tackle by Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson. That, and Bruno Sammartino beating “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers in under a minute to gain the WWWF World Championship in 1963.
Dan Epstein‘s book, Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging ‘70s, is now available in paperback.