I GREW UP HEARING the refrain “Baseball and Ballantine” sung on endless commercials while watching Phillies games on television in Northeastern Pennsylvania in the early ’60s. Ballantine was a local beer and sponsor of the broadcast of the games, and what goes better together than beer and baseball?
Well, howzabout LSD and baseball? And rather than answer that question, take a few minutes out of your day and watch this brief, entertaining, enlightening video about just that topic . . .
The animated piece above about Dock Ellis’s no-hitter was brought to my attention by my friend John Styklunas.
Dock Ellis’s Long Strange Trip
For the interested reader, the passages below are from “The Long, Strange Trip of Dock Ellis” by Patrick Hruby for ESPN’s Behind the lines. They are slightly edited for this blog. It addresses one of the most astounding accomplishments in the annals of major league baseball, although not one that MLB brags about.
On June 12, 1970, Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis pitched a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres. But not any no-hitter: Ellis claims to have been under the influence of LSD when he did what so few pitchers have ever done. The feat remain a bone of contention forty-five years later!
“An Electric Kool Aid No-No. Did Ellis or didn’t he? Tony Bartirome, a former Pirates trainer and longtime friend of the pitcher, is skeptical. Dock only gave up one hard hit that night, on a ball fielded by Mazeroski. He might have said that just to jerk somebody off. Maybe so—not that it really matters.
By now, the myth and man have become inseparable. So far this season , major league pitchers have thrown six no-hitters and three perfect games. None resonate like Ellis’ long, strange trip.
For the psychedelically inclined, the mere notion of a LSD no-no stands as the counterculture answer to Babe Ruth’s called shot, the pinnacle of mastering one’s high. For everyone else, the game is far out, man, a funky bit of sports folklore, appropriated and embellished, passed around like an old baseball card.
Robin Williams riffed on the no-hitter during a stand-up routine. A New York City art gallery displayed and sold a baseball coated with acid. Ellis became the subject of psychedelic paintings, T-shirts and surfboard designs. Blagden’s Internet short film has been viewed more than 2.5 million times.
An online petition demands that Major League Baseball release broadcast footage of the no-hitter, and the lack of said footage has prompted conspiracy theories. (No such footage is believed to exist, although a Pirates team photographer did record a few grainy, black-and-white minutes of Ellis throwing and slipping on the mound, later broadcast by HBO.)
Over time, the game has become the thing; the acid, the story. As for the pitcher himself? Blotted out. Just like his pain. The article in High Times reported that Ellis saw a comet tail behind his pitches and a multicolored path to May. A few years ago, The New York Times claimed that Ellis saw Nixon behind the plate, calling balls and strikes. So goes the myth. . . .
Fact is, Ellis didn’t remember much: When sportscaster Curt Gowdy interviewed him the next day during a nationally televised game, the pitcher was still blotted out, as high as a Georgia pine. This was by design.”
Baseball is a difficult game to play
The folks at Snopes.com took a far more skeptical look at the situation (and this is slightly edited for this blog):
“Only Dock Ellis knows whether or not he actually took LSD the day he pitched his no-hitter, and therefore we have to take him at his word. Even if Ellis did ingest LSD that day, however, judging by the extent to which the drug was affecting him by the time he took part in the evening’s game is problematic.
Baseball is a difficult game to play at the major league level, even for skilled professionals free from the effects of mind-altering substances, yet Ellis managed to pitch a complete game that evening; [he] apparently did not act so unusually that his teammates or manager took notice; and [he] was quite lucid while conducting post-game interviews with the press.
Although Ellis might correctly be described as having ‘been under the influence of LSD’ during his no-hitter, quite possibly the drug’s primary effects had peaked and were wearing off by game time.”
So, like, was he experienced?
This is a reasonable assessment and almost makes me believe that the Snopes writer has been ‘experienced’ (as in Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced?). Had Ellis been ‘rushing’ or ‘peaking’ on anything resembling a decent dose of acid, it is almost impossible to imagine that it was not evident to his teammates.
Many trippers have a difficult time forming a pair of back-to-back sentences that are both coherent and related to one another. That Ellis pitched nine innings and then gave a “lucid” post-game interview would argue that he was, at best, way past the peaking period—or even way past the initial ‘coming down’ stage.
Still, Dock Ellis and his psychedelicized no-hitter are now a part of baseball lore, American lore, and psychedelic lore. And a fine piece of arcana it is. Whatever happened that day, it went to the Void with Mr. Ellis on December 19, 2008. And that is where it belongs . . .
FEATURED IMAGE: Here is a nice photo of Dock as he appeared to the batters he faced every fifth day in 1970.
DOCK’S STATS: Dock Ellis pitched 2,128 innings and gave up 2,067 hits, with an Earned Run Average of 3.46. He finished his career with 138 wins and 119 losses for a Winning Percentage of .537. Dock had a solid, respectable career that would have ensured him a position on any team’s rotation.